Movie Recap: Dune (1984)

On December 14, 1984, the movie Dune opened in U.S. cinemas. David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel was a critical and financial flop. Lynch and his star, Kyle MacLachlan, would quickly salvage their reputations with the film Blue Velvet and the series Twin Peaks. There’s been a TV-miniseries and many novels since. A starry remake was announced in 2020.

I knew that Kyle MacLachlan played space Hamlet and that there were sandworms. I decided to watch the film blind last night and attempt a recap. Spoilers ahead.

Act One: Assassination

Dune 1. Krang.
The Emperor (José Ferrer) and Krang.

Scene One: EMPEROR’s BLACK PALACE
NARRATOR: I am the exposition Princess. A clear sign that this film’s been cut to ribbons. I’m here to tell you many things. Most of all that the drug called Spice is very important.
EMPEROR: I’m going to make Duke A and Baron H fight over control of the Spice mines on planet Dune.
KRANG (a brain in a jar): I’ll need you to kill the Duke’s son, Kyle MacLachlan, while you’re at it.
NUN: Uh-oh.

Scene Two: DUKE A’s OCEAN PLANET
PATRICK STEWART (A soldier): You need to train for Planet Dune, Kyle.
(Kyle fights Patrick Stewart and a training robot.)
ANOTHER NUN (?): I’ll train you with my Psychic Voice. “Put your hand in the torture box.”
(Kyle puts his hand in the box. It burns. He takes his hand out. It’s fine.)
NUN: You’ll be the Chosen One, but your father will die.
KYLE: Screw you nun!

Thoughts, 30 minutes in

Dune 2. Kyle and the Nun.
Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) is tested by the Nun (Siân Phillips).

So far so good, though many characters have been introduced and I’m not sure of names or which ones are important. Kyle’s seen Sting and a woman with blue eyes in his dream. Kyle’s mother’s been introduced as well as a doctor and another man with big eye brows. I’m not yet sure whether the Nuns in scene one and two are the same character.

Scene Three: BARON H’s GREEN PLANET
BARON H (A Gross Floating Vampire): The emperor wants Duke A gone. There’s a traitor in his palace.
STING (His nephew): Awesome.
(Baron H eats a slave boy. Sting and his henchmen laugh.)

Scene Four: PLANET DUNE
DUKE A: Let’s have a look at our new Spice Mines.
KYLE: (Thinks) “The Spice is increasing my psychic powers!”
(A Sandworm attacks the Spice Mine. Duke A helps the miners escape to the castle.)
DUKE A: This was a trap.
(Kyle is attacked by an assassin droid that looks like a floating syringe. He escapes.)
KYLE: Someone here is a traitor.
DOCTOR: It’s me! The doctor!
(DOCTOR shoots the Duke and lowers the castle shields. Baron H’s army overruns the castle.)
DOCTOR: Baron H has my wife. Or she’s dead or something. It’s not clear. He wants me to kill you. But I’m going to kill you both by planting a bomb in your tooth.
DUKE A: That sounds needlessly complicated.
(Baron H kills the Doctor. The bomb kills Duke A and the Baron’s henchman. Baron H escapes.)
BARON H: You thought I was only the first act villain. But I’m still alive! BWA-HA-HA!

Thoughts, 60 minutes in

Dune 3.5. Doctor and the Duke
Doctor Yueh (Dean Stockwell) betrays the Duke (Jürgen Prochnow) for… reasons.

I keep calling the film “Doom” in my notes. Prophetic? I’m still following the Space Hamlet plot but things are getting choppy. It’s unclear what happened to Kyle between the assassin droid and the Duke’s murder.

Is the Baron drinking the slave boys’ blood or the water in his body? I remember the villain in Tank Girl did the latter. He initially looked at the Slave Boy like he was going to molest him, so he’s presumably a lavender coded villain.

Time to sort the villains. Krang outranks the Emperor who outranks the Baron who outranks Sting who gets more screen time than Other Nephew. But who’s most important to the story? Is Sting going to pull a Kefka and kill his way up the ranks?

The fight scenes and robots have been disappointing, though it’s clear that money was spent on them. If this film wanted a Star Wars audience, we’d have had merch-able creatures and comic relief right now.

Act Two: Rebellion

Dune 4. The Thunder Plains.
Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan) and his Mother (Francesca Annis) cross the Thunder Plains.

Scene Five: AN ESCAPE
(Baron H’s henchmen take Kyle and his Mother to the desert.)
HENCHMEN: This film’s not family friendly. If you had any doubts, we’ll dispel them by molesting Kyle’s pregnant mother.
KYLE: “Let her go.”
(Kyle’s Jedi mind trick Psychic Voice works on the henchmen. Kyle and his Mother escape.)
KYLE: I’ll avenge you father!

Scene Six: MOISTURE CAVE
KYLE: Mother it’s a sandworm! Run to the cave!
SANDWORM: ROAR!
(Sandworm corners them. Blue Eyed Warriors lure it away.)
BLUE EYED WARRIORS: Kyle, join our army.
KYLE: Okay.
BLUE EYED WARRIORS: Mother, take this Water of Life and your unborn child will gain super powers.
MOTHER: Okay.
CHANI: Hi Kyle. I’m your love interest that you briefly saw in a dream sequence.
KYLE: Okay?

Scene Seven: VILLAIN’s LAIR
BARON: I’m going to make my prisoners drink from a magic cat. It’s the antidote for a poison.
STING: I’m wearing a thong and a silly cod piece.
BARON: I am aroused by my nephew, Sting, in his thong.
OTHER NEPHEW: I show up a lot but haven’t said anything. It’s still not clear if I’m important.

Scene Eight: TRAINING MONTAGE
KYLE: I need an army to overthrow the Baron and the Emperor.
(Kyle destroys rocks with his Dragon Shout Psychic Voice. Trains his soldiers to do the same.)
KYLE: I need a pet Sandworm.
(Kyle lures a Sandworm with a Thumping Hammer. He fastens ropes and rides it.)
SANDWORM: Hey gurl hey!
(Kyle’s army destroys the Spice Mines.)
KYLE: Once we control the Spice the Baron and the Emperor will come.

Act Three: War

Dune 5. Sting.
Feyd Rautha (Sting) serves the beefcake.

Scene Nine: TWO YEARS LATER
NARRATOR: There’s been some problems in the editing room. It’s two years later and everyone’s still fighting. PATRICK STEWART’s back for some reason and Kyle’s SISTER has grown up.
KRANG: We must kill Kyle before he drinks the Water of Life and develops super powers.
KYLE: “What was that? You want me to drink the Water of Life?”
KRANG: Are you psychic spying on me? Stop that!
KYLE: “Too late!” (Kyle drinks the Water of Life. Krang dies? Maybe?)
SANDWORMS: Oh, hi there Kyle! Since you’re on drugs we’ll sing you a song. “The worms are the spice and the spice is Kyle and now Kyle controls the universe.”
KYLE: I don’t get it.
SANDWORMS: You’ll need to read the books.

Thoughts, 120 Minutes In

It’s clear we’ve reached the “We had to cut an hour but we need to tell you who these characters are” montage. A bunch of narration, quick glimpses of new people, and some ridiculous glimpses of Kyle MacLachlan kissing his cardboard love interest. “And that’s what you missed on Dune!”

I’m a Dune newbie but it seems like they could have cut down the Duke’s first act and expanded on Kyle’s second one, rather than the reverse.

Kyle’s been reduced to shouting jargon at his army. Hopefully Timothée Chalamet will get some better dialogue in the 2020 film.

Scene Ten: BIG BATTLE

Dune 6.5 Kid Sister.
Kid Sister Alia (Alicia Witt) strikes a pose.

OTHER NEPHEW: I’m dead. Guess I wasn’t important after all.
EMPEROR: You’ve failed me Baron! Who is this child?
SISTER: I’m Kyle’s adorable kid sister! “He’s coming to kill you.”
(BOOM! Kyle blows up a wall. His army rides in on Sandworms. Everybody shoots everybody.)
EMPEROR: Pew! Pew! Pew!
KYLE: Pew! Pew! Pew!
***
(Sister stabs the Baron and feeds him to a Sandworm.)
SISTER: Tee-hee!
***
STING: I challenge Kyle to a duel!
(Kyle and Sting duel while a band plays drums(?) Kyle wins.)
NARRATOR: And thus, Kyle brought about a new era of peace.
KYLE: ROAR!
(Kyle smashes Sting’s skull.)
***
KYLE: Did I mention I can control the weather?
(Kyle sings and it begins to rain.)
SISTER: You’re so cool!

THE END

Thoughts, Afterwards.

Dune 7. Staircase.
Everett McGill, Kyle MacLachlan and Patrick Stewart strut down a staircase.

“I’ve told this story a billion times. It’s not the film I wanted to make. I like certain parts of it very much — but it was a total failure for me.” ~ David Lynch, 2020 interview

Oof.

Introducing an adorable kid sister to kill the Flying Vampire Baron was the campiest moment in a very campy film. I assume she’s very important to the later novels.

Sting didn’t get much to work with but made an impression through sheer force of will… and the cod piece.

Characters that could have been cut: The love interest, the cat, the cat drinking prisoner with the eyebrows. There’s no real payoff for Krang either. I saw his henchmen in the final scene so maybe he didn’t die?

Kyle MacLachlan’s Chosen One seems like a power-hungry monster. The exposition princess narrator tells us he brought “peace” to the land. It felt ironic though the film didn’t seem that self-aware. An Avocadoan wrote me that Kyle’s character sees the future, and knows his quest for vengeance will come to nothing. This fills him with despair.

Sounds like you could make a movie out of that. Maybe Denis Villeneuve will attempt to do so in the remake.

Kyle MacLachlan promo image
Kyle MacLachlan poses for a calendar. © 1983 Universal – Image courtesy mptvimages.com

Have you read the 20+ novels? Did you see the film before or after reading the first? Did you watch the 2000 mini-series? Did I leave your favorite character or detail out of this recap? Can you explain what the deal was with the sandworms? Are you excited about the new films?