Tuesday, May 04, 2010


David Lynch’s movie version of Frank Herbert’s thought-to-be-unfilmable science fiction novel Dune landed in front of largely perplexed audiences during the Christmas movie season of 1984. Alejandro Jodorowsky had made extensive plans to make the movie years before, but those plans were derailed. Lynch’s vision of Herbert’s dense universe (however bowdlerized) would be the one that history would ultimately judge as a well-intentioned misfire by a young director previously responsible for only two features (only one of which had anything close to a typical industry budget) who found himself suffocating under the pressure of delivering a post-Star Wars science fiction spectacle under the most difficult of conditions.

Being a Lynch fan at the time, I was able to forgive the movie its many flaws and I appreciated it then, as I do now, as an authentically deranged adaptation of a signature work that is almost fatally true to its source material (Universal provided a glossary of Herbert-speak to audiences who braved the opening weekend) while at the same time having clearly been born of its director’s unique, dream-linked manner of conjuring images. David Lynch’s Dune is as close to an actual space opera (in the term’s most grandiose sense) as we are likely to get, meaning that it is often overwrought and head-spinningly, jaw-droppingly conscious of itself, its form and its references, while arguably never collapsing into incoherence. It has a fever, which may be derived from Lynch’s capacities working desperately to forge the material into something digestible for general audiences, or perhaps simply from the tension generated by Lynch working in concert with, and creating friction against, the expectations of Herbert’s estate and fan base.

Like it or despise it, Lynch’s Dune is a unique beast— it was fortunate to have come into existence before Blade Runner had begun to cast its shadow across the breadth of science fiction and shows little sign of the kind of vision-cribbing from Scott's film that would become standard operating procedure for filmmakers working in a futuristic mode ever since. Not that Lynch would have acceded to much visual theft from another work anyway— even the artistic conceptions in his film that can be linked directly to the illustrations of Dune illustrator John Schoenherr still seem filtered through Lynch’s own unmistakable, sexually conflicted sensibility. The movie also has a sense of humor, though a twisted one, something the novel itself and subsequent rather more sober filmed visits to Herbert’s worlds lacked. Dune may not be a great film— and many would argue that it’s not even good— but it is a film that despite its vast technology (some of which seemed quaint even at the time of its release) feels made by human hands, imperfect, inquisitive, daring, emotional and for a movie based on a beloved novel, quite original.

(David Lynch’s original theatrical cut of Dune is now available on Blu-ray.)

Sean Young (or Sean Young, Pariah, as she is apparently billing herself these days) was part of the enormous cast that landed in Mexico City to shoot Dune in 1983. As if to emphasize the humanity behind the spectacle (or folly), the actress herself shot some Super-8 home movies on the set which provide welcome glimpses of many of the principal filmmakers involved. There's lots of footage of people looking happy, especially while eating dinner. This was, after all, a Dino De Laurentiis production, so if anything you have to believe the on-set catering was molto delizioso. (Thanks as always to David Hudson for the tip.)



elgringo said...

Hey Dennis,
I'm hosting the My Best Post blog-a-thon.
It goes from May 21st-23rd. Want to be a part of it?
It's pretty easy. You've already written your entry.
Just send me a link to your best/favorite/underrated blog post! Thanks!



Are you a Blu-Ray convert, DC?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Well, my wife bought me a Playstation3 for Christmas year before last, and I have quite a few titles on Blu-ray, so I guess so. It certainly looks and sounds great, but then again the PS3 upconverts DVDs and makes them look just about as good too (720p vs. 1020p). And then there's Netflix Instant Play...

But yeah, I do like the Blu-ray stuff I've seen so far. The problem isn't so much the technology as what they're willing to market on that new technology. Gimme more of the classics!

WelcometoLA said...

Well, damn, every time I'm ready to dismiss Sean Young...

L XGPower said...

Universal's 1984 slate HAD to be the weirdest thing ever... Dune being exhibit A, of course, but every Uni movie of that year has this weird, TOTALLY 1984 vibe, always in this AWFUL film stock with grayed-out colors and a bad SHEEN.

Just some really off-the-wall films across the board, and the studio must've gotten a discount in '83 and '84 on film stock that managed to look like overcast 1987 Cannon Films-- to this DAY, things like Doctor Detroit, Videodrome, D.C. Cab, Wild Life, Dune, Sixteen Candles, etc., all look more dated than 1939's Jesse James, and they all look like they were shot through my apartment's laundry room LINT FILTER.

But, yeah, Dune, Wild Life, Repo Man, Firestarter, CRACKERS, Terror in the Aisles, Lonely Guy, TANK, Hard to Hold, Streets of Fire, Last Starfighter, Cloak and Dagger.... almost all of them SO WEIRD and wan and drab and depressing... and awesome.

Plus wasn't all of this the WEIRD Universal era where they'd do all these INSANE TV cuts of their big theatrical movies, where you'd watch Halloween II or Slap Shot or Midway on regular TV and every single scene was changed and redubbed and recut?

What was the reasoning behind that? Dune is a pretty good example of that, too, when it finally made it to syndicated television... Repo Man's notorious TV cut being another. Even the Smokey and the Bandit TV prints had like every line of dialogue redubbed, badly, into total nonsense?

Did mid-80s Universal just have some insane plot to make movies as WEIRD as humanly possible? Isn't there some CRAZY TV print of THE THING from the mid-80s where they added some NARRATION that explains all the characters in these terse, Jack Webb-style tones?

Imagine a 2010 where THERE WILL BE BLOOD hits NBC over two nights and it starts out with a weird, ERNIE ANDERSON-style voiceover on a freeze-frame of Daniel Day Lewis saying: "This... is Daniel Plainview. He is a man who likes drinking, mining, and growing moustaches." Then it cuts to 35 minutes of extaneous football footage from Horsefeathers and when the movie is rejoined, DDL is redubbed by Scatman Crothers.

THAT'S how weird Universal TV cuts and director's cuts were in the '80s. For 25 years I've wondered why they did stuff like that and NO ONE has ever answered.

See also: REFILMING an extra hour of bank robbery footage for the absolutely NOTHING theatrical Two Minute Warning when it hit TV.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this, Dennis! Sean Young provided some very engaging and fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes goings on that I always wondered about. I do like Lynch's version even though it's a bit of a mess. It is still visually arresting and with so much detail to look at. It's a damn shame that Lynch has no interest in revisiting it and assembling his preferred version.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I'm so glad I clicked on this to read the comments...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Why, whatever are you referring to, Mr. P? ;)

Don Mancini said...

Regarding Universal's weird TV cuts: They pioneered the "art" of padding a feature in order to stretch the running time to fit a given time slot. Usually (as with EARTHQUAKE, TWO-MINUTE WARNING, MIDWAY, and AIRPORT '77), they would do it in order to create a viewing "event" over two consecutive nights, even going so far as shooting additional material, as Lex points out.

I had my own odd experience with this phenomenon. CHILD'S PLAY 2 was a Universal film. The theatrical running time was 85 minutes. So when the movie showed up on commercial TV, the studio re-instated material that we'd cut, in order to fill out a 2-hour time slot (with commercials). They did this without consulting the filmmakers -- resulting, in this case, in a very odd viewing experience. We'd originally shot a bedroom argument scene with Jenny Agutter and Gerritt Graham. Director John Lafia covered the scene from many different angles; one particular shot began on Agutter and Graham, then dollied out of the room, down a hallway, and ended on young Alex Vincent, listening to the argument in the next room. When he edited the scene, Lafia decided to omit all the coverage except for this dolly shot, so that we hear the bulk of the argument off-screen, as the camera moves down the hallway. It played fine.

But whoever edited the TV version obviously did so without paying attention. They re-instated the "in the bedroom" coverage, obviously thinking they had stumbled upon a completely deleted scene. So when you see the movie on TV, you witness the (one-minute) argument between the actors, and then, as the camera dollies out of the room and down the hallway, you hear the now-off-screen characters INSANELY REPEATING THE EXACT SAME ONE-MINUTE ARGUMENT!

My point: They do it for business reasons, but they should consult the filmmakers, or pay closer attention to what they're doing.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Jenny Agutter. Sigh.

Universal certainly wasn't the only studio to play different versions of their films on network TV--I can remember the two night extended SUPERMAN being kind of a big deal--but it's interesting how they seemed to practically have an in-house unit there just for this purpose. Of course, they're also the studio that released the pilot versions of a few of their shows to theaters during the late 70s as well. And why is the old Scope Universal logo slightly different from the flat logo? Why does the logo at the start of E.T. run backwards? Why? WHY?

Incidentally, in June the New Beverly is running THE WILD LIFE. No way am I missing that.

The Mysterious Ad[ri.an B)e;ta]m.a.x. said...

That was an awesome video. Thank you, Sean Young!!

The Mysterious Ad[ri.an B)e;ta]m.a.x. said...

haha Thanks L XGPower and Don Mancini for that awesome side discussion and anecdotes..!! That film stock stuff with those films' weird look is dead-on L XGPower.

I recall the Zucker brothers movies (Airplane I & II and Top Secret) being excitingly different in their TV versions-- lots was censored, but inexplicably there were tons of new gags. They mostly all fell flat and you could see why they were cut out, but it was still fascinating to watch.

Is this Lynch theatrical cut much longer? I recall old Film Threat discussions of 4- or 5-hour cuts of Dune and Apocalypse Now.

Although I also recall people pooh-poohing those as simply rough cuts that Film Threat editorial staff had had the privilege to see, and that the filmmakers never actually intended 5-hour versions... Nevertheless, it's tantalizing to think about..

blaaagh said...

Wow, this is the best comment thread I've seen--or rather, my favorite thread--in some time! I love the Sean Young film & her comments, too. So interesting to see all those folks behind the scenes...like Kyle M. with his big ol' '80s glasses. I had seen him in Romeo & Juliet at Ashland in the Summer of '81, I believe. I remember seeing DUNE at the studio in one of those get-invited-on-the-street-because-you're-the-right-demographic preview screenings, and though I could find fault with it, I still loved it.

Remembering all those padded TV versions makes me grateful they're not doing that anymore. The story about CHILD'S PLAY 2 is incredible! For me, the ultimate example of that is the "Special Edition" of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, for theaters, which added poorly-shot, badly-matched footage to the ending which pretty much spoiled the emotional punch, for me--and restored some terrible scenes which had been rightly cut from the original release...like the family meltdown "you cryin' baby" sequence.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

L XGPower: I completely get that junky look that many of Universal's movies had-- especially in the '70s I think many of their movies that were in-house productions must have been shot with an eye toward fast TV-style production and no fuss over fancy lighting-- just as long as it registered on the light meter, shoot it. But I can't say that it was only Universal-- there were a lot of movies shot in the '70s and '80s I can think of that looked like garbage that didn't come from that studio.

I never saw Repo Man theatrically, but I always thought it looked pretty distinctive, even on home video. But Videodrome and Dune I did see theatrically, and I think both of those movies are visually stunning on a purely photographic level. Dune was shot by Freddie Francis, no slouch when it comes to black-and-white or color photography, to be sure, and Mark Irwin shot Videodrome, as he has most of Croenberg's output. Sure, Irwin's work often betrayed that bland, flat look that often signifies a Canadian movie. (Was this because the landscapes were always bleak, or does the Canadian Film Board only have access to grainy film stock?) But Irwin's work has that Canadian feel while sure looking better than something like House by the Lake or Meatballs or just about any other Canadian feature of the period.

And I remember that extra hour of Two-Minute Warning. God, that movie was already nothing but filler.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

J.D.: I agree. Lynch's movie is a bit of a mess, but that's part of what makes it compelling to me. If someone else had made it (not Jodorowsky) I may hae thought twice about even seeing it, so put off was I by post-Conan fantasy film-making during this period.

Don: Your story was the last thing I read before going to sleep last night, and though I completely relate to your annoyance and confusion over such nonsense, it sure did feel good to laugh! Now I'm going to be looking out for Child's Play 2 on TV in the hopes of seeing this weird echo-chamber sequence. How avant-garde!

Mr. Peel: The most memorable "extensions" for me had to be NBC's two-night taffy-pull they did on Earthquake-- Debralee Scott, who had been cut entirely from the picture for theatrical release, got a new lease on life as the airplane passenger whose plane lands just as the rumbling starts. (I believe they used her agonized moments just before touchdown as the cliffhanger bridge between the two nights.) But I also recall a version of Blazing Saddles that aired on CBS that had, as MAB describes with the Zuckers, all-new sequences and reshot gags to make them more TV friendly. Fortunately I remember very little of this attempt by CBS to save the morals of our children.

I also remember breathlessly anticipating the first TV showing of Carrie because I just had to see how they were going to be able to show the opening credits on network television. Imagine my surprise when I turned it on and saw all those hot high school girls showering and snapping towels in their bras. The practice of refilming scenes sans objectionable material was well under way in 1977, though, because several scenes in Animal House, including ones I participated in, were first shot in their anticipated "R" versions and then again in a "cleaner" version that could be easily inserted when the movie eventually made it to network TV. "What the (heck) happened to the Delta Tau Chi I used to know? Huh?!" Indeed!

MAB: I don't think an actual longer David Lynch cut of Dune exists. The longer version seen on TV has the dread "Alan Smithee" signature. Lynch has always disavowed any version other than the theatrical one, and as J.D. said, has always told anyone who asks that he's not interested in revisiting it. The longer TV version is composed of footage Lynch shot, but was edited without his approval or participation.

Blaaagh: I had a feeling you'd think MacLachan's glasses were pretty funny. I just love the nonchalance of seeing all these actors all mixed together in such an unlikely way and seeming so everyday and unaffected while they eat. Undoubtedly being on that set was a lot of hard work and very little fun, especially for Lynch, but you can't necessarily tell that from Young's footage.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

The first time I ever saw BLAZING SADDLES was on CBS so I guess you could say that it wasn't really the first time I saw BLAZING SADDLES. It reminds me of how for years the only version I knew of THE JERK was the one shown on network TV so for the longest time I thought the dog was named Stupid. Anyway, I remember a few of the extra BLAZING SADDLES scenes and I think they're on the DVD also.

Strangely, I don't remember ever seeing the network version of ANIMAL HOUSE and can't help but wish that I could see extra footage of any kind from that movie.

I'm also reminded of the time when I broke up an argument outside of a midnight show of SUPERMAN because some guy insisted that scenes were missing--naturally, he was remembering the TV cut.

The Mysterious Ad[ri.an B)e;ta]m.a.x. said...

Maybe the wan look L XG Power is referring to came from nascent telecine (and VHS quality levels) that were creating the murky look that we remember on VHS and TV.... Many of those films came out in the early years of VHS (along with Cannon)...

Although I suspect L XG Power saw these all in the theater, owing to his fervent religiosity in the matter, so I shall not question the superiority of his photographic memory recall for anything in the realm of cinematic "sheen"...

blaaagh said...

Mr. Peel,
You can bet that Dennis and I agree with you on wishing to see additional footage from ANIMAL HOUSE...well, except sometimes I think we're better off not seeing that stuff...but I recently heard from the Oregon casting director that all the additional footage was destroyed, because at the time silver nitrate could be recycled from the film, and that was more valuable than saving film stock from some low-budget Summer release.

L XGPower said...

Heh, was going to clock in to say this, but the esteemed Mr. Betamax beat me to it:

Yes, in recent years I've seen things like "Wild Life" and "Repo Man" on Starz/Encore channels in what are obviously new transfers, and of course "Dune" on DVD... and I was like, "Whoa, what are these PRIMARY COLORS doing here?" So I'm thinking they looked fine in theaters, but memories of their muddy TV prints are forever seared into my conscience.

Yeah, as a Gen X-er child of the '80s and part of the VHS/HBO generation, so many of these movies were first seen by me either on washed-out rental tapes, or recorded on SLP off of Cinemax at 3:30am, and they all looked like a bad ABC print of "...And Justice For All," or the 8mm footage that sends Nic Cage out on a rampage in SCHUMACHER'S MASTERPIECE.

Universal movies in particular seemed to have this grey, wan, DEPRESSING "sheen" when they hit HBO or VHS (they also often had songs re-looped with cheesy soundalikes back in those days.) Man, just think of how vibrant and timeless Dean Cundey's cinematography is on THE THING, a movie that to this day looks like it was shot last week, with those great icy blues and blacks.

None of which were in evidence on the version that played HBO every other day back in '83-'84. I still have an ANCIENT TDK VHS of it that you'd swear was shot in black and white. So many movies looked like this on cable. If any other HBO kids remember what "Back to School" (Orion*) or "Howard the Duck" (Uni) looked like back in the pay TV heyday, I'm sure they'd concur that they looked like they were shot through the exhaust fumes that Chong used to kill his neighbor's flower bed in "Next Movie" (heh, which, of course, had a TERRIBLE "sheen" of its own back then, but looks okay now.)

And actually, Dennis, I might've been a little off in picking on "Videodrome." Even in its awful, "Scarface-ian" VHS copies and Cinemax prints, it was always the brightest and most colorful of Cronenberg's pre-"Fly" movies.

I mean, "Dead Zone" was the very same year, and Paramount to boot (home of the "Beverly Hills Cop"/"Jekyll and Hyde Together Again" sheen), and that was as wan and Canadian as anything has ever looked, ever. Bob Clark's "Breaking Point" looks like an MGM musical fantasia compared to the drabness of the Zone.

Okay, I'm sure I have sheened everyone out by now.

P.S. Don M.'s Child's Play 2 story was the greatest thing ever, and reminded me of the WEIRD TV print of "The Guardian," which cuts off the entire Dwyer Brown chainsaw revenge LAST ACT. (And who doesn't need more DWYER BROWN in their lives?)

When asked about this ALAN SMITHEE TV cut on the DVD commentary, WILLIAM FRIEDKIN (caps to convey his usual commentary decibel level) goes APESHIT and denies that such a thing exists, screaming "I don't know what you're talking about!"

Pretty sure after that foghorning, he goes right back to ranting about how My movies are about THE THIN LINE between COPS and CRIMINALS."

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