Check another item off the list of things I want to do before I die. This list does not include only to-do’s that I think will generate pleasure or provide meaningful experiences. Some items are on the list simply so that once I have done them, I can say that I have done them. Why? In some cases, because I’ve tried in the past, and failed….
With good reason, with respect to item # 10191: Watch the 1984 film version of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Many science fiction fans consider this the greatest science fiction book not written by Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Verne, or Wells. I have not read the book, which has spawned countless sequels, including ones written by Herbert’s children.
My father, who has a finely honed sense of detecting junk movies (and just as finely honed an appetite for watching them), I have observed, cannot bear to tear himself away from this movie whenever it is one. He thinks the film is great. So, astonishingly, do many critics – and not just ones who now claim the film was “misunderstood” when it came out.
In situations where I was too tired to walk out of the room – or not enough of an adult yet to demand the remote, I watched the film as he did. Perhaps “watched” is the wrong word – I observed the images and sounds emitting from my television, but the story, from when I was about eight until twenty-eight, seemed by turns murky, non-existent, convoluted, self-indulgent, nonsensical, overstuffed and yet overthin. The visual effects and photography – Yuck!, I thought. The movie is shot in some kind of brownish hue that makes the characters appear that they are always against a backdrop of grime, must, mildew and pus (some of the characters are literally against that last one. You’ll have to watch for yourself).
One day, after having “observed” little snippets, each wholly unsatisfying and none memorable, I tried to watch the whole film on my own. This was about, I think, five years ago. I couldn’t get past the opening narration. Since then, I’ve tried watching it whenever it is one, and regardless of what point the movie is at. I’ve failed each time.
Subconsciously, after these experiences, watching this film became a “to-do” that I had to…do. Since I wasn’t about to plunk down three dollars (or less, or more) to rent the DVD or the VCR, or to watch the VCR copy at home (my father might have interrupted me, and he knew that every time the movie was on, I would yell, “This is garbage”; I did not want to give him the satisfaction, however false, he would derive from noticing that I was watching something I called garbage), somewhere, in the cobwebs of my mind, in its darkest recesses where ideas are never formed yet somehow activate themselves on a moment’s notice, I decided, without deciding, that the next time the film was on, I would watch it. All of it.
It was on this past Saturday night. Three nights of viewing, and now I’m done. To call the movie “good” or “bad” is to call cheese “belligerent” or “tranquil”. David Lynch makes movies in a way that forces you to either dismiss them altogether or to evaluate them, to some degree, on his terms – how good are his dreams, and that sort of thing.
I would give the film two stars, and a C-. It was surprisingly watchable once I committed myself to watching it. It has some of the most wretched dialogue ever written, a soundtrack that deserves to be vomited out the window, some truly awful performances, one of the biggest messes of a screenplay the film world has ever been made to suffer, and the worst closing line in movie history. The special effects are atrocious, as is the music. Not a minute is anchored in reality, or manages to replicate so much as the tiniest sliver of what most of us would recognize as human emotions.
And yet…. And yet… It is often said about certain films that they are so bad that they are good. As I said above, I cannot evaluate this film by describing it as “good” or “bad,” so this maxim does not apply to this film. The following, however, does: never, EVER have I been at such an utter loss when it comes to describing the qualities – the qualities that make a film a film – of a film as I have been with this film. It somehow defies critical analysis in a way that I cannot explain. I cannot even explain what I mean when I say that I cannot explain.
So, please go forth and see this film. It’s an experience that you won’t forget, although you won’t know why, or how….