Space witches, boxes full of imaginary pain, giant sand worms, Christ-figures, and intergalactic travel - these are what make Frank Herbert’s Dune nearly impossible to adapt. While it’s one of the most influential science fiction books ever written, it’s not exactly a film-friendly novel. This did not stop the De Laurentiis family from trying. Dune the film went through a series of directors - first Alejandro Jodorowsky, then Ridley Scott, before the the apex eccentric himself, David Lynch, stepped up.
Lynch’s Dune is a fever dream because all of his weird obsessions are on full display. Characters are covered in viscous liquids, beautiful women contort their faces, and the his manipulation of sound is overpowering. Even though Lynch had a major budget to play with, the film flopped tremendously, but not just because he included his strange obsessions - Lynch didn't receive final cut, the three-book length story was condensed into two hours, and the effects vary from scene to scene.
Lynch himself denounced his adaptation of Dune, and he went on to make the cult-classic Blue Velvet with the De Laurentiis group just two years later. Dune is a dark adaptation that is decidedly very bizarre.
The Characters Speak Complete Nonsense
The characters in Dune constantly speak in garbled phrases. Lines like "The sleeper has awakened" and "For he is the Kwisatz Haderach" pass by as if the audience is supposed to know what any of those words mean.
Even people who enjoy the books realize that the novels are thick tomes that require a ton of explanation. If any movie needs an audience insert, it's Dune.
There's A Lot Of Whispering
If you grew up watching Dune on VHS like a generation of young sci-fi fans, then you probably spent a lot of time working the volume buttons to try to understand what anyone was saying. In order to show internal monologue, Lynch had characters whisper their lines and overdubbed the audio.
The film alternates between the prolonged whispers of Paul Atreides and a Bene Gesserit witch screaming in his face. The interior monologue isn't just the opposite of what science fiction fans are looking for, it's also quite jarring.
The Final Battle Doesn't Make Any Sense
The final battle does not make sense in connection with the film's convoluted narrative. Early on, House Atreides's weirding modules (the machines that help people shoot lasers with their screams) are ruined. Yet the Fremen somehow use the modules to take down House Harkonnen in the endgame.
It's never explained how Paul Atreides gets his hands on hundreds of the modules, or how he's able to build them in a desert with no raw materials.
It's Hard To Tell Where Anything Is Happening
Almost every scene in Dune takes place in an ornately designed throne room, an intricate sand ship, or a sparse cave. While the design of the film is eye-catching, David Lynch does not show the audience where these sets are actually located. The film jumps around from Arrakis to Caladan to a mystery planet where the emperor of the galaxy lives. It's unclear where the action takes place, and the only real distinction between rooms is the characters inside the space.
Lynch told Extrovert Magazine that he "saw tons of possibilities for things [he] loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world." Although each set is quite detailed, Lynch doesn't give his viewers any keys to understanding Dune's physical space.