Film Reviews

Dune (1984) – Blu-ray Review

In 1984 David Lynch and Raffaella De Laurentiis brought us Dune. A box office bomb on its initial release, it has divided moviegoers ever since; a cult classic that is the Marmite of sci-fi epics. This Limited Edition Blu-ray presentation from Arrow Video (also available in UHD) is set to capitalise on the wave of interest that will no doubt be generated by the Denis Villeneuve reimagining, scheduled for release in September. But is it a simple cash in re-release, or a special edition worth owning?

Dune is a movie that has been reviewed, discussed, castigated, and triumphed for almost 40 years, as such there seems little need to retread the film itself; its successes and shortfalls are well documented. So moving past any review and straight onto looking at the restoration work, it’s important to remember that Dune is, in every way, an epic and visually startling production. It demands to be seen in as grandiose a format as possible.

As such, any quality restoration is most welcome, and Arrow have done a fantastic job. It’s clean, watchable, and yet at no time does it feel like the original print has been altered in any way. There are times that the restoration can draw the eye to some of the more dated visual effects – though Carlo Rambaldi’s miniatures work is still gorgeous – but it is immaculate work. The other big joy is the quality of the audio. This has been fully cleaned up and restored and it’s a pleasure to crank the volume up and allow ourselves to be drawn into this entirely alien world.

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But what of the special features? Anyone who is a fan and already owns the 2005 DVD release will recognise a lot of them, as they are packed onto the first disc. Each one is interesting and enjoyable, and will be of huge interest to anyone who hasn’t already seen them. In addition there are other archive interviews, trailers, and image galleries to pore over. But it’s not just re-hashed featurettes that we’re given in this edition, there are also brand new features to enjoy. The first, ‘Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune’, looks at the range of toys and other items that were created to promote and profit from the film. After all, which eight year old wouldn’t want a Star Wars style playset based on this Lynchian nightmare? 

Dune was scored by the rock band Toto, plus a contribution by Brian Eno, and in ‘Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune’, we get to enjoy interviews with Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, the keyboardist Steve Porcaro, as well as film music historian Tim Greiving. The sound quality of the interviews is low, and are voice only presented over film footage and images, so it seems likely these were recorded outside of a studio situation. But that is a small gripe to bring up about a thoroughly insightful featurette. Finally, there is a riveting interview with make-up effects artist Giannetto de Rossi, including insights into his relationships with the cast and crew, with some great moments talking about Rambaldi and Kit West. Dune presents its audience with a recognisable yet alien world, and presented those working on it with a myriad of challenges.

Unusually for special features, these all manage to be interesting in their own right. This is perhaps because, given the near comprehensive archival material already part of this set, these newly created features are the very definition of the word ‘niche’. Yet this level of specialisation is what can make something so fascinating to fans and non-fans alike.  

There are also two separate commentaries. The first of these is from Paul M. Sammon. Though likable enough and interesting at times it feels as though it is more about him than the movie itself. It also seems that Sammon has assumed his listeners have no knowledge of the film at all. This is a mistake. It’s unlikely that anyone listening to a collector’s edition commentary needs the rough and slightly drawn out analogy at the beginning comparing Dune to ‘Game of Thrones on a desert planet’. Any fan will feel condescended to at best.

The second commentary comes from Mike White, from the Projection Booth Podcast, who pitches a far more fan friendly commentary, one that contrasts heavily with Sammons. Rather than personal experiences and anecdotes, White gives the kind of facts, observations, and in depth analysis only someone passionate about the Dune universe – both this film and the books – can bring. On top of this mountain of digital special features the release also includes a 60 page book, a double sided poster, and six double-sided postcards, (none of which were available for review).

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The final question must be whether Arrow has done enough to justify the RRP of £29.99 for a 35 year old film? Without seeing the physical goodies it’s hard to give a resounding ‘yes’. There are a huge number of special features, yet fans of the film might not find much that is new to them. Yet the restoration and one of the commentaries are excellent, plus the new features are genuinely enjoyable. In the end there can be no doubt that, despite its age, flaws, and niche appeal, David Lynch’s Dune remains a movie beyond your imagination.

Dune is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray and UHD on 30th August from Arrow Video.

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