I’ve seen Lynch’s Dune more times than I can remember. On VHS (standard and widescreen). As clips embedded in the CD-Rom version of Cryo Interactive’s classic (at least it was to me when I was a kid) videogame. On innumerable DVDs (TV cuts included but not that Japanese DVD edition I held in my hands then saw the £100 price tag in the Cinema Store circa 1999) and finally on one of the three different Blu-Rays I’ve imported from all over the world.
It’s an obsession.
I once tried to win some of these at a hospital fund-raising fete I went to with my Nan. I tried and failed.
That it’s a complete disaster of a film is pretty much accepted by this point (a perception egged on by Lynch). The second and third acts are truncated to the point of parody, doubly so if you luxuriated in the Freeman sequences from the novels, here reduced to a few brief scenes. And then there was a massive, planet-wide uprising that stopped all Spice production…in a montage…for five minutes.
But it’s worth every oblique glimpse into the film it could have been. If you place the screen in your peripheral vision you can sometimes catch the true film underneath. So scarred by the experience was Lynch that he barely speaks of it, only rejecting that there was a 4 hour cut and talking extensively about the Mexican wood used in the sets. It’s a folly then, a gigantic $50m folly and it’s so glorious and transcendent and perfect at being just that. It manages to be both a fantastic evocation of the novel and completely apart from it.
And then there was Toto.
Given Lynch’s hatred of the 70s and pretty much everything Toto represent I’ve never been able to understand their involvement. What’s even more baffling is that what came out is this weird, operatic, digital new age music that’s not anything like the plains down in Africa. Not universally, of course, there’s still some questionable stuff on there.
There’s a simple theme that runs throughout that Lynch seems to have locked onto as it acts as a bed to the vast majority of the film, no doubt pushing out some of the other pieces Toto wrote. The best of several realisation of this being ‘Paul Meets Chani’. Full on digital pan pipes from the off the Vienna Symphony Orchestra soon gets in on the act, creating this rolling, multifaceted look at the same simple theme over and over again. Perfectly grandiose and mystical and operatic in all the ways the film tried (and eventually failed*) to be.
Toto – Paul Meets Chani
What seemed to make vastly more sense was getting early 80s Eno involved. Straight off the back of the Apollo documentary Soundtrack (later re-edited and released as For All Mankind) Eno was deep in the planetary scale Ambient. His Dune is the Dune of the desert night. Of spiritual forces flooding up from beneath the sand and into the stars. Of a God’s eye view of the dunes and a psychic sense of the worms that move below them. It’s called the Prophecy Theme and it perfectly compliments Lynch’s symbolic interpretation of Pauls precognition. Apparently Lynch shot far more of these symbolic montages than made the film. It’s also rumoured that Eno had produced an entire Dune score and that this was just an excerpt. That I’ll never experience either of these things is deep and unremitting sadness.
Brian Eno – Prophecy Theme
There are several versions of the soundtrack out there. One from 1984, then a different version from 1997 with all sorts of technical problem, then finally a 2001 version with the technical issues fixed but which only got a tiny release. Filmtracks has loads of good info here.
Lynch’s Dune is 30 this year and I love it more than ever. And that, not its anniversary, is why I wrote this post.
Bonus Lynch interview from back when he seemed quite optimistic about the film.
*it “tried and died”.