A PLACE BEYOND YOUR DREAMS.
A MOVIE BEYOND YOUR IMAGINATION.
Following a notorious aborted attempt by Alejandro Jodorowsky in the 1970s, Frank Herbert’s bestselling sci-fi epic Dune finally made it to the big screen as the third film by emerging surrealist wunderkind David Lynch, featuring an all-star cast that includes several of Lynch’s regular collaborators.
The year is 10,191, and four planets are embroiled in a secret plot to wrest control of the Spice Melange, the most precious substance in the universe and found only on the planet Arrakis. A feud between two powerful dynasties, House Atreides and House Harkonnen, is manipulated from afar by ruling powers that conspire to keep their grip on the spice. As the two families clash on Arrakis, Duke Atreides’ son Paul (Kyle MacLachlan, in his screen debut) finds himself at the centre of an intergalactic war and an ancient prophecy that could change the galaxy forever.
Though its initial reception ensured that Lynch largely eschewed mainstream filmmaking for the rest of his career, Dune has since been rightly re-evaluated as one of the most startlingly original and visionary science fiction films of the 1980s. Its astonishing production design and visual effects can now be appreciated anew in this spellbinding 4K restoration, accompanied by hours of comprehensive bonus features.
Arrow Video brings David Lynch’s take on Frank Herbert’s Dune to 4K UHD Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a triple-layer UHD disc. The presentation has been encoded at 2160p/24hz with Dolby Vision and is sourced from a new 4K restoration performed by Koch Films and scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. Arrow only includes a 4K presentation. There is no 1080p presentation.
Going into this I was expecting a generally strong picture limited by the visual nature of the film (and its effects work), and while those expectations were mostly met there are plenty of wonderful little surprises. It’s an incredibly dark film, feeling to take place primarily in subterranean lairs, dark rooms, or caves. Even the moments out in the day on the film’s titled planet look dark thanks to a rather heavy sepia/yellow filter. But this is where 4K and Dolby Vision really get to show off, the improved dynamic range allowing for better gradients in the shadows, which, in turn, lead to stunning levels of detail and definition. Impressively the presentation doesn’t go mad with the highlights, allowing them to stick out but not in an overly aggressive manner, with bright lights maybe getting a bit heavier, yet they too never come off looking blown out. Reflections look great, and shots of the water pool are also striking. There are a handful of shots that can get a little dark and murky leading to a little bit of crush, but this may have to do with the original photography or the optical effects work.
This leads me to another impressive aspect of this presentation. Admittedly I haven’t seen the film in maybe a couple of decades (and I haven’t seen the Extended Version, which isn’t available on this edition) but from my vague recollection I swear the optical effects look better here. To be clear, I don’t think they’ve been digitally touched up or altered, but I feel, at the very least, the contrast has been adjusted. I swear the optical effects really stood out in this film thanks to the varying contrast of the layers, but that’s actually not much of an issue here, the seams only slightly showing. I could be wrong, and please ignore if you know better, but I really felt the optical shots looked better.
Having said that, there is still a dupiness to some of these effects that one just can’t get around. There are also a handful of shots that look a little softer compared to the rest of the film, which otherwise looks razor sharp and crisp, to where even individual grains of sand show up, though so do the wire effects around the floating Baron (something that I assume was hidden better on previous home video releases). Digitally, this presentation is also about as clean as one could hope, grain rendered impeccably, leading to a crisp, photographic look. Colours also look sharp, with some vibrant greens (like those found in the Baron’s lair) and some great pops of reds and violet, with the latter making a strong showing in that Lynch-ian scene around a milking cat! Even Sting’s red hair jumps out at you.
Again, some elements around how the film was shot and how the effects were assembled can hold things back, but I really thought this looked great. I haven’t seen Universal’s Blu-ray, but there’s no way that comes anywhere close to this.
(The SDR screen grabs below were taken from the source disc in full resolution as uncompressed PNG files. They are presented here as downscaled 1920x1080 JPG files. Though they should offer a general idea around the presentation's quality they should not be taken as exact representations.)
Arrow includes two audio tracks: a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. I only viewed the film with the 5.1 soundtrack.
Even though I haven’t seen the film in a long while I do recall the audio being one of the more frustrating aspects to this film: it could be very hard to hear what was being said thanks to a lot of dialogue, particularly the voice overs, being spoken in whispers. Unfortunately, I still think that holds true here, with the added detriment being there is also a flatness to the voices.
Past that, the rest of the mix has its impressive aspects. Brian Eno’s and Toto’s music sounds particularly sharp and is mixed nicely through the surrounds, while some of the action scenes show some decent splits and panning. Like other Lynch films there is a very aggressive sound design in other areas, with background rattling and low frequency rumblings popping up throughout. Things are split nicely between the speakers around the viewer with smooth movement, and the sub-woofer handles those lower frequencies nicely.
I still have issues with the mix around spoken dialogue (and I’ll even say that it could just be me) but the rest of the mix is nice.
Arrow’s 2-disc limited edition loads on a good amount of material, as expected, yet a lot of it is made up of programs previously produced by Universal for their DVD and Blu-ray editions, which ends up leaving a couple of gaps to be filled.
The first disc houses all of this Universal material, starting off with the 2003 Impressions of Dune, which features interviews with producer Rafaella de Laurentiis, cinematographers Freddie Francis and Frederick Elmes, editor Antony Gibbs, critics David Ansen and Harlan Ellison, actor Kyle MacLachlan, and production supervisor Golda Offenheim. The 40-minute talking-heads piece is divided into sections covering the various steps in development, from Lynch first coming on board to getting the film’s eclectic cast, accompanied by stories revolving around the production. Unsurprisingly, we also learn that those foam-looking costumes were not the most comfortable to wear while filming in the high temperatures of Juarez, Mexico, though Max von Sydow liked how they made him look. It doesn’t get much into the issues that arose during production, which is saved for elsewhere on this disc, but it does touch on its release and failure, with Ansen and Ellison piping up to defend the film. It’s a decent overview of the production, but not much else.
Designing Dune is a 9-minute overview on the film’s sets and overall look, the feature's participants (Giles Masters , Ron Miller, Kevin Phipps, Benjamin Fernandez, and Steve Cooper) talking about creating distinct looks for the central worlds/civilizations in the film, a lot based on drawings Lynch made on napkins. Dune FX (featuring Kit West, John Baker, Trevor Wood, Rodney Fuller, Jon Hatt, and Gary Zink) is a quick 6-minute look at how some of the film’s effects were done. Though there is some detail about Baron’s floating (wires obviously) and the training robot early on, a lot of the feature is devoted to explosions and creating black smoke, the latter of which was done by burning tires (this is mentioned in Impressions of Dune, MacLachlan explaining it was hard to speak if you breathed the stuff in).
To expand on the effects is the short featurette Dune Models and Miniatures, which looks at the worms (the film’s biggest challenge), the ships, and worlds in the film, featuring interviews with De Laurentiis, Offenheim, Charles Finance, Emilio Ruiz del Rio, Brian Smithies, and Eric Swenson. Finally we get Dune Costumes, a 5-minute piece around the film’s costumes featuring Bob Ringwood, Debbie Phipps, Michael Jones, and Mark Sieger. This one is especially amusing because it appears that while every other department had a lot of time to get their stuff done, costumes were being designed and assembled literally up to the night before shooting the sequence they were required for. For example, Sting’s infamous cod piece was added last minute since he was (apparently) supposed to do the scene nude.
The disc also includes about 14-minutes’ worth of deleted scenes, all upscaled from standard-definition, including what appears to be an alternate opening prologue. They look to be unfinished and are a bit rough. Accompanying this is a 3-minute introduction by de Laurentiis, who explains how the film had to be severely compressed down to just over 2 hours, and she feels cutting the film down is the key thing that harmed the film. This also included Lynch having to do reshoots in order to replace a number of sequences with one shot that explains everything in a couple of minutes. In what may be a disappointment to fans, the Extended Version of the film has not been included in this set, and I assume it’s because Lynch loathes this version. While that’s understandable, a nice compromise may have been to include some of those scenes separately
The disc then includes some promo material around the film. There’s a 6-minute EPK featurette called Destination Dune made in 1983, offering some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, even pushing Lynch’s involvement after the success of The Elephant Man. There are then three US TV spots, a theatrical trailer and teaser trailer, followed by the VHS trailer promoting the film’s release on video. Arrow also includes an incredible number of stills through five image galleries, all of which play on their own with the option to skip through using the next/prev buttons on your remote. The galleries are surprisingly large, the production stills consisting of 336 photos. There is also a collection of production design drawings and paintings consisting of around 205 images and cast portraits consisting of 262. In the case of a few of these galleries we’re getting many different takes of the same pose or composition, Kyle MacLachlan and Sean Young taking up a lot of the photos found in the cast portraits (MacLachlan giving off a Men’s Health cover photo vibe in a few). There are also some behind-the-scenes photos (where you get to see those infamous tires all burning in the background) and there is a gallery devoted to posters and home video art (as well as scans from the Japanese program). It's an extensive collection of material that I think is actually worth the time to go through.
Though I can’t speak as to the galleries on Universal’s previous releases (they could sometimes be large themselves) all of this material is, again, mostly recycled from Universal’s previous releases.
Arrow does add some new exclusives, though not as much as I would have expected.
They do include a couple of excellent audio commentaries, one featuring John M. Sammon, the other with Projection Booth podcaster Mike White. Sammon offers a firsthand account around the film’s production as he was there to help with the promotional aspect of the film, having produced the Destination Dune featurette. Here he recounts the previous attempts to get the film made (as far as he knows) and then talks about his discussions he had on set with members of the cast and crew, recounting their impressions of the project. He had a good relationship with Lynch, who he recalls being incredibly friendly towards him, and he was impressed at how well he worked with both actors and members of the crew. But eventually, as Sammon recalls, Lynch became a little more stand-offish, and that had to do with Universal and other studio executives coming down on him, with Lynch then seeing Sammon as a “studio guy.” It’s here where Sammon feels things started falling apart, Lynch becoming less interested in the film thanks to a 2-hour-and-17-minute cutoff time imposed by producers, along with Lynch not getting final cut (Universal also wanted something more like Star Wars, which was clearly not what they were getting). Sammon was working for Universal and was on set a good majority of the shoot, so he ended up gaining a lot of insight into the production and his stories, along with details around the original script, prove to be incredibly valuable.
White’s track proves to be a worthwhile listen as well. The only other commentary of White’s that I have listened to is the one he did for Arrow’s The Last Starfighter. I admit I wasn’t wholly enamored by it, though—to be fair—it was the last track of three that I listened to for that disc and I think it was all just getting a little exhausting by that point. This track is structured similarly in that White works to provide as much trivia and detail that he's been able to dig up around the film, but this one comes across as more passionate than the one he did for The Last Starfighter and, in turn, ends up being more engaging.
He talks about the production and the various attempts to adapt the film that preceded this one (including one David Lean was tied to briefly), mentions the influences behind certain moments, details around everything from sets to costumes (pointing out how some costumes were made from used body bags, a fact also mentioned in the costume featurette), and shares random trivia (like how Dean Stockwell was actually cast), yet what I found most valuable is his discussion around the genesis of the script and the original source novel, allowing him to explain the expanded Dune universe outside of the film. He talks about the origins of words in the film, places them in their proper context, and relates everything to what Herbert was trying to convey in his stories, which the film entirely misses (Herbert’s book warns of how a demagogue comes to power while the film treats them like a hero). What I also appreciated is how White, who is clearly a fan of the film (almost giddily so I’d say) he recognizes the film’s many faults and isn’t afraid to point them out, even questioning why Lynch made some of the choices he did. He even closes off the track by reading Janet Maslin’s full pan of the film to give an idea as to how the film was accepted.
It’s a good track and I really appreciated it, along with Sammon’s, because otherwise there isn’t anything else in this set offering anything nearly as in-depth about the film’s production and troubles. Arrow had originally included a new documentary called The Sleeper Must Awaken in their original specifications, but it was later dropped when Arrow announced it wouldn’t be done in time (I assume they didn’t want to delay the release since the remake is coming out soon). I am going to guess it would have appeared on the second disc of this set (which is now a standard single-layer Blu-ray disc) as the rest of the material feels pretty scant.
There’s a fun little piece on the toys and merchandising around Dune called Beyond Imagination: Merchandising ‘Dune,’ hosted by the producer of Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us, Brian Sillman. This 23-minute video ends up being a real trip because I remember a lot of this stuff even though I never owned any of it (my dad being dead-set against engaging in this film in any way, so any toys or books would have been out of the question). Sillman not only talks about the small number of action figures made, which includes the actual worm, and their surprisingly good quality, he also touches on the colouring books (also mentioned by White in his commentary), the read-a-long books, a 3D pop-up book, and even the ViewMaster sets. He also shares his thoughts on why the merchandising failed, feeling it’s not as simple as the film just being a commercial failure.
The disc also houses a video essay by music historian Tim Greiving called Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring ‘Dune,’ which offers a look at the band Toto’s involvement with the score and features audio interviews with band members Steve Lukather (guitarist) and Steve Porcaro (keyboardist). The 25-minute segment chronicles how they came to be involved, the band turning down providing tracks for the film Footloose, and how they approached the score. We also learn details around the recording sessions and the many problems that arose as the band learned how to properly score a film.
The disc then closes off with a collection of “additional” interviews. There’s the full 26-minute interview recorded with Golda Offenheim for the Impressions of Dune feature, where she shares a few stories around the production. Sadly, the ones that sound most interesting are ones she feels she can’t really delve too deeply in, and there are a number of moments where she says something along the lines “but I can’t get into that.” There’s also a short 9-minute excerpt from the documentary Paul Smith: The Reddest Herring (which Arrow points out can be found on the Blu-ray editions of Pieces available in the UK by Arrow and in the US by Grindhouse Releasing) featuring the actor recalling some stories from the set, including around eating a cow tongue and then being called upon to throw crew and/or marketing executives into a pool. Make-up effects artist Christopher Tucker then pops up for 3-minutes to discuss his very minor contributions to the film. He also shares how he thought the film was “too long."
Arrow does provide one new interview here, and that’s with make-up artist Giannetto de Rossi, running 17-minutes. De Rossi doesn’t appear to be terribly fond of the film, calling it “a wasted opportunity” and empty, but he has fond memories of his work on the film and of Lynch, calling the director a “class act” and “peculiar, but in a good way.” His collaborations with Lynch were rewarding and the director basically gave him carte blanche, allowing his imagination to go into overdrive. This led to some of the film’s more wild and memorable aspects, like the bald Mothers, which Lynch apparently loved and, rather surprisingly, Silvano Mangano was all gung-ho for. It’s a fun inclusion.
Arrow’s limited edition houses the two discs in one of Arrow’s standard 4K cases alongside a double-sided foldout poster (featuring one of the original Dune posters on one side and the new artwork on the other) and a 58-page booklet, loaded with a number of essays and articles. Andrew Nette provides a brief essay on Herbert’s novel and Lynch’s take on the text. Christian McCrea then provides an essay detailing its production, the disappointment that came with its release, and what the film means today. There are then a couple of pieces around the sounds of the film, including an essay on the music by Charlie Bridgen followed by a reprint of a very lengthy and very technical article/interview around sound designer Alan Splet’s effects for the film, written by Ric Gentry for American Cinematogrpher. Arrow also provides an excerpt from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch, featuring Lynch talking about his experience on Dune, one of the few times I know of him talking about the film in such a forthcoming way. At one point he expresses that it never really felt like his film and that it belonged more to Raffaella de Laurentiis. The booklet then closes with a reprint of the “Dune Terminology” sheet that was handed out at showings of the film, since Universal feared audiences wouldn’t understand it. White, to his credit, does a decent job in the commentary trying to cover as much of this as possible, but it’s great getting an actual booklet here.
In all, Arrow has put together a nice set of extras, I’m just disappointed the documentary didn’t make it on here. Other than the Extended Version of the film—which, again, Lynch hates—the documentary is the one missing piece that would have really sealed the deal on this release.
Arrow delivers a sharp looking 4K presentation for the film, but the supplements lack that one big thing that would make this the comprehensive edition fans have been longing for.