Happy New Year and Welcome to Arrakis!

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Happy New Year to all our readers.  Clan McClarey spent New Year’s Eve in our usual fashion in watching the movie Dune (1984) a movie so wretchedly bad that it is good, if watched as  an unintentional comedy!  When the film was originally released the introduction to the film consisted of the above video by Princess Irulan, portrayed by Virginia Madsen, a very minor character in the film.  When it was determined that the introduction merely confused already confused moviegoers more, at least those who had never read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, a new introduction was made up when the film was released on television:

Upon its release the film was nearly universally panned.  David Lynch, the director, disowned the film, and adopted the pseudonym of Alan Smithee, a name traditionally adopted by directors of films that turn out so badly that the directors do not want their names attached to it.  The film earned the title of worst film of the year by film reviewers Siskel and Ebert.  Janet Maslin in the New York Times gave the film one star, and regarded it as completely incomprehensible: “Several of the characters in Dune are psychic, which puts them in the unique position of being able to understand what goes on in the movie”.

Why is Dune such a grand buzzard of a film?

1.  Confusing.  Audiences were simply asked to take in too much of an immensely complicated science fiction setting.  Now if they had simply had this catchy tune at the beginning of the film, perhaps some of the confusion could have been eliminated:

2.  Overacting.  A prime example:

3.  Sting.  Dune was the movie where Sting amply demonstrated that he could not act to save his singer soul.  His role is actually fairly minor.  But he does have a climatic fight scene where he jumps around like a deranged gerbil and comes off as silly rather than menacing:

4.  Wasted Talent.  Some fine actors and actresses appeared in Dune and their talents were completely wasted.  Jose Ferrer, who gave an unforgettable performance as attorney Barney Greenwald in The Caine Mutiny, portrays Emperor Shaddam IV and is stuck in a two-dimensional bit role, used primarily for expository purposes:

5.  Gross.  This scene says it all:

6.  Overblown music:

7.   No sense of the ridiculous.  Demonstrated by the “My name has become a killing word scene”:

8.   Sting in a bathing suit.  Not a sight for the faint of heart:

David Lynch sums it up:

I started selling out on Dune. Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I probably shouldn’t have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world. But I got strong indications from Raffaella and Dino De Laurentiis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn’t have final cut. 

Everything that could go wrong with a film went wrong with Dune:  overstuffed, meandering, incomprehensible in parts due to butchering of the film to get it down to a manageable size, taking seriously the dime store politico-religious “philosophy” that Frank Herbert ladled into his novel, and the list could go on and on.  Viewing Dune as a serious film is akin to watching a troupe of Shakespearean actors performing a three-hour length Three Stooges “short”  written by Sartre.  However, when viewed as a black comedy commentary on just how woefully bad a film can be, the film can be hilariously funny, and thus it gave the year a humorous send off last night, and laughter is always the best way to end a year and begin a year.  Best wishes for all our contributors, commenters and readers in 2012!

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  1. Happy New Year Don, and all posters and commenters on TAC.

    Our year has begun as it finished – wet, cool (as in almost cold) which has dampened the ardour throughout much of the country for raging parties, outlandish behaviour, and – just as a bonus – virtually no arrests or murders throughout the country because the weather has been too bad.

    Actually, the weather has been shocking for a month or so – we had a warm Spring which promised much, but then the La Nina side of ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation{of the Pacific}) – which brings low pressure – kicked in. We had a series of fronts come up from the Southern Ocean sveral weeks ago, and a couple of weeks before Christmas a tropical cyclone from the Coral Sea headed SE, brought minor flooding to Queensland and NSW, then packed itself in the Northern Tasman, joined the cold fronts coming up from down south, and has given us a few weeks of dirty, cold weather, bringing serious flooding to Northalnd, the northern region of the South Island and c entral North Island.

    So much for AGW. The met. office is predicting a warmer and drier summer than usual – I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Can’t really complain though, I reckon we’re not as cold here as some of you guys up in the northern US and Canada are right now 🙂

    God bless all.

  2. Actually, Lynch didn’t disavow the original, only the extended TV version.

    And Dune is about as good a translation to cinema as could be expected from Herbert’s crypto-totalitarian pseudoi-mystical epic.

  3. Happy New Year Don. The weather in Central Illinois has been drier and warmer than usual. However today it is pretty cold, which is typical for Illinois in January, although we often have a thaw toward the end of the month.

  4. I enjoy Dune too in all its silliness. Back in school it was my go to sick movie. Whenever I had a cold and was bleary with fever and cold medicine, I’d pop in Dune. It makes more sense that way. I read a few of the Dune books, and I really wish I hadn’t. There’s just enough in them to make me think they could be good if only the author’s philosophy made more sense. Or if he stopped taking himself so seriously! Happy New Year from Arrakas.

  5. “There’s just enough in them to make me think they could be good if only the author’s philosophy made more sense. Or if he stopped taking himself so seriously!”

    How true Mrs. Z. The novels grew more philosophy ridden and unreadable as they went on. The first three aren’t that bad, but the last three are putrid. Herbert’s son Brian and Kevin Anderson have written an additional 13 (!) novels in the series, none of which I have bothered to read.

  6. I agree, Don. I gave up after number 4, with the giant worm hybrid emperor. They began to read like someone put words from major world philosophies and religions into a random word generator to spit out “deep” sentences.

    Since you seem to like the science fiction/fantasy books and movies, any recommendations? I can’t seem to find anything I like as much as C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. Maybe the bar is too high.

  7. 1. The Incomplete Enchanter Series by the late L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt.


    2. The Honor Harrington series by David Weber.


    3. The Legion of Videssos series by Harry Turtledove.

    4. The Kris Longknife series.


    5. The CoDominium series by Jerry Pournelle

    6. The Hammer’s Slammers stories by David Drake (Fairly gritty and somewhat depressing)

    7. Anything by the late Poul Anderson. (Personal favorites are the High Crusade and the Nicholas Van Rijn stories.)

    8. The Starfire Series by David Weber and Steve White:

    9. The Retief series by the late Keith Laumer. (Howlingly funny and politically pointed.)

    10. A Canticle for Leibowitz by the late Walter Millis. (Ignore the truly dreadful sequel.)

    11. The Childe Cycle by the late Gordon R. Dickson.

  8. (Guest comment from Don’s wife Cathy): 12. Most things by Elizabeth Moon, esp. her fantasy novels, and especially “The Deed of Paksennarion” trilogy (which has additional related books, both from a while back and quite recent).

  9. The movie WAS pretty darn awful, although I have a soft spot in my heart for it.. mostly because the cast was ridiculously awesome. Von Sydow, Prochnow, Jones, Jordan, Hunt, Stewart, Annis, Phillips, Ferrer, Dourif.. I mean.. WOW.

    Too bad a good cast can’t rescue a dismal screenplay.

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