|Written by Noah Fleming|
|Monday, 19 April 2010|
In 1984, "Dune" was released and was not a major hit. It has since developed a cult following, but it lacks that "blockbuster hit" status. Not to say that is a bad thing. I believe what holds this film back is the ultra-slow beginning and heavy name-dropping.
The story of "Dune" involves several political groups and races spanning the known universe. Without having read the book first the audience is overwhelmed with foreign names and struggle to understand who everyone is and the plot at the same time. This remains valid despite an introduction, which seems to skip a few chapters. As the film progresses the audience is able to get the hang of what is going on, but all the interesting details in the book that draw fans in are too complex or absent altogether from the film.
The problem is that while the film gets better as it moves along, it is going to be tough for viewers to keep the film turned on until they would get to the point at which they would perhaps enjoy the film. This doesn't really happen until about an hour or so into the film.
The story follows the production of a "spice" that only grows on one planet in the known universe. Whoever controls the spice controls the universe. I cannot remember all the names and relationships, but essentially, there is a Baron that plans to destroy a Duke on the command of an Emperor and take over spice control on the planet. However, the Duke's son is foretold to be the chosen (you will pick up on a "Star Wars" feeling while watching this film). He will be able to gain such power as to truly control the entire universe.
"Dune" leaves science fiction behind and becomes fantasy. There is far too much magical influence in the film for it to be science fiction. That being said, the film gives off a "Star Wars" meets "Labyrinth" meets "The Dark Crystal" vibe. There are obvious elements from each incorporated into this film. While two of those films were released after "Dune," viewers equate certain things like internal monologues with "The Dark Crystal" rather than "Dune."
To say the least, the film is odd and yet intriguing at the same time. This film would receive a much higher rating if it were to have been more seamless in the integration of supernatural powers and motive explanations. As it stands, "Dune" is a political film masked by the fantasy world. Regime changes, alliances and war are all a part of this story.
The film comes to Blu-ray with a surprising video transfer. While the quality is by no means great, it is far beyond what I would have expected for this 1984 film. Overall, the video has some impressive aspects, but it spirals downward in some major areas. For those watching a Blu-ray on something less than a 65-inch TV pretty much anything is going to look spectacular. However, when projected onto a 9-foot screen, video quality suffers from even the slightest mishaps. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer retains a filmic quality. The source print seems to be preserved with practically every piece of dust and every scratch readily apparent. I actually didn't mind this print noise in the image as it allowed me to believe I was watching a really film print. Still, in terms of preservation on the Blu-ray format, those scratches and light flicks should have been minimized. Colors are bleak as to be expected due to the original intentions. Still they retain some depth. Contrast is flat, also part of the original intentions. Black levels are stable but far from strong. Where the transfer truly lacks in establishing shots. Aside from soft shots, the transfer has trouble handling background objects. They are jagged, with stairstepping edges, as well as being unfocused. This is quite distracting when establishing shots are paired with the more close-up range. Close-ups retain much detail, but not a lot of texture. Still, costumes are seamless and sets are of solid 80's style. The visual effects are cheesy to say the least, however, one probably knows what they are in for when choosing to view a fantasy 1980s film.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag. It is leaps and bounds better than I anticipated, but it has some issues. First, the dialogue is darn near perfect, even by today's standards. The dialogue has weight and it well prioritized in the mix. There are only a couple instances in which the dialogue succumbs to the dominance of the sound effects. Sound effects are much more balanced than I would have thought. I expected the sound effects to be thin and tinny. While that is the case at times, for the most part the sound effects carry their own weight. Surround channels contain some directional effects, bled music and ambience. Once again, it is terrific considering the original source. Where the track shines is in the LFE channel. This track will work your subwoofer more than anything in recent times. It even challenges the LFE output of "Transformers." The great thing about the LFE is that it is tight and nicely balanced. It doesn't span the entire low-frequency spectrum, creating that muddy soundfield. Overall, Universal has done a tremendous job with the audio track for this film.
The Blu-ray contains the supplemental features that were present on the previous standard DVD release of the film. All the features remain in standard definition. There is a collection of deleted scenes that spans about 20 mins. The other special features include self-explanatory featurettes: "Designing 'Dune,'" "'Dune FX,'" "'Dune' Models & Miniatures" and "'Dune' Wardrobe Design." The disc is also BD-Live enabled and has D-Box motion control.
"Dune" will leave many mystified but I do advise giving it a chance. The film is an interesting trip back in time. It even has the first performance by Alicia Witt and one of the first performances for Sean Young. And let's not forget Sting, Dean Stockwell and Patrick Stewart. Despite the mediocre success of the original film, a remake of "Dune" is planned for 2012. Here's to hoping that the remake bests the original and the 2000 miniseries. In the meantime I recommend taking a look at this film if you are unsure about your enjoyment level of it and recommend it as a necessary upgrade for all "Dune" fans.