? Nearly every nerd has his or her primary field of expertise/obsession. Of all the numerous nerdified interests and fandoms one may be involved in, most of us can name one subject, genre, or property that we claim as particularly dear. For the past 26 years, mine has been Frank Herbert’s magnificent Dune books. But as dearly as I adore these novels, it was David Lynch’s somewhat… less than magnificent film adaptation that first introduced me to this phenomenon. Sure, at 8 years old I understood the film even less than the critics that it utterly perplexed, but it struck a chord with me. Eventually, I sought out the books — and even learning how vastly inferior the movie was by comparison never totally soured me on it. Still, Lynch overstuffed it with completely superfluous additions that range from the oddball, to the confusing, to the downright sacrilegious. I’m perfectly aware that a director will inevitably want to put his or her mark on a project, even one based on pre-existing material — but there’s a fine line between expression and desecration: Here are 10 examples that ride a sandworm right over it.
10) Mentat Eyebrows
Why? (You’ll be hearing that question a lot.) Mentats already have an in-canon distinctive feature: The red stains on their lips that make them look like they were putting on lipstick while driving over gravel. This comes from drinking Sapho, a mental stimulant drink (think Red Bull, only less vile). Oh, what’s a Mentat? A Human Computer: An individual trained from childhood for amazing feats of logic and computation. Mentats are employed by most of the Great Houses and other powerful groups to replace traditional computers, which are now illegal. This is a good first example of a pointless addition that does nothing save for contributing to Lynch’s bizarre aesthetic.
9) Weirding Modules
I agonized over including these because, quite frankly, in an era when various things that go ZAP! permeated sci-fi cinema, these are definitely a cut above the rest: Weapons that amplify the human voice into destructive energy are a nifty idea. Problem is, not only do they exist only in Lynch’s mind and have no analogy in Herbert’s novel, but half the damn movie is based around them: These things conquered a multi-galactic empire for fuck’s sake! Gone was all of Herbert’s wonderful exposition of the Fremen as fierce, implacable warriors — you could have given these things to your average kindergarten class and achieved the same result! One of the novel’s most interesting features was an idea of a futuristic military culture where hand-to-hand combat was the principle means of battle. But post-Star Wars audiences wanted their damn ray-guns (or so Lynch seemed to believe), and ray-guns they got… clever take on them, but in the end — just ray-guns.
8) Bald Bene Gesserits
Once again: Why? I’ll admit the robes were spot on, a credit to costume designer Bob Ringwood (who would later design the Batsuit in the ’89 Batman), but making them bald was not only pointless, but actually in conflict with the novels. Despite the way they’re portrayed by Lynch, Bene Gesserit are not creepy bald nuns from the future (and they DON’T have telepathy–I don’t know where he got that idea). They are highly trained women who have achieved a level of control over mind and body that gives them physical and mental capabilities beyond average humans. And one ability that nearly all of them possess is that of seduction. Granted, they don’t get into much detail about that in the first novel, but it’s certainly implied. And unless men with a bald fetish are the only partners you wish to entice, wouldn’t the Yul Brynner look be… I dunno, counterproductive for a seductress? Just sayin’.
7) The Third-Stage Guild Navigator
This entry is interesting: Yes, it is something Lynch added, but it’s NOT something he created. The Navigator depicted here is almost certainly inspired by Edric, the Guildsman who appears in the second book, Dune Messiah. If this is true, then it’s nice to see a nod to another book in the series, and they did a good job of capturing Edric… It’s just too bad he has absolutely no business in this movie! There was no reason whatsoever to bring a third-stage Navigator into this film save to provide a little exposition (which could have been handled a dozen other ways), and to show off the creature creation skills of Carlo “E.T.” Rambaldi. Bottom line: Just as post-SW audiences demanded futuristic weapons, they also demanded weird-looking aliens. Dune doesn’t have these — humans are the only intelligent life in this universe. So they go to the next best thing to get their scary special-effects monsters… just too bad they had to go to another book to get it.
6) The Sardaukar Uniforms
If you’re unfamiliar with the Dune universe, the Sardaukar are the dread legions of House Corrino and the Padishah Emperor. They are the most feared and skillful warriors in the known universe, and it is the military might of these terrifying soldier-fanatics that kept House Corrino on the Imperial Throne for thousands of years… then Lynch got a hold of them, and I guess they still fight okay — but rather than the elite soldiers of the most formidable army in human history, they look like radioactive garbagemen. I don’t see the universe’s mightiest soldiers when I look at these costumes, I see the guys Mad Max calls when he has a roach problem. Once again, I believe the blame can be traced to Star Wars fallout: Specifically, the “Stormtrooper Principle” — the unspoken rule that says the villains’ armies must have their faces covered, and be as dehumanized and undifferentiated as possible. This makes it ethically okay for the heroes to massacre them. This also explains why the Fremen’s faces were uncovered, even though in the book, a Fremen stillsuit has a mask and hood that covers all but the eyes: We need to see the heroes so we can care when they die, and vice versa for the Sardaukar.
5) That Weird Cat Thing
Sweet Zombie Jesus lookit this thing! It’d be bad enough if this were simply nothing more than some perverse figment of Lynch’s unfathomable imagination, but no, it’s his inexplicably bizarre take on a canon scene: The Harkonnens do indeed capture Atreides Mentat Thufir Hawat (above) and press him into their service. And they do poison him with a toxin that will kill him if he does not take the antidote daily… BUT! They don’t freaking tell him about it! They just put the antidote in his daily food and drink. It’s intended as an insurance policy: This way, if he ever decides to escape, he’ll be dead in a day or so. And they certainly didn’t make him milk a goddamn shaved cat to get his antidote! I mean come on! Who comes up with shit like this? And why? WHY GOD, WHY?!!!
4) The Baron’s Doctor
We’ve all seen film adaptations that add characters that were not present in the source material. This phenomenon is usually relatively benign, or at least easily overlooked… then there’s folks like The Baron’s Doctor (that’s how he’s billed — at least Lynch had the sense not to name him). He spends his one speaking scene with his two eyeless and earless assistants (I know if I were a Doctor I’d want assistants that can’t hear or see!) either injecting things into, or extracting things from various growths and carbuncles on the Baron’s face (it’s not entirely clear which he’s doing, and frankly, I’m a happier person not knowing). Basically, Lynch wanted a role for Leonardo Cimino, one of his stock players and best known to Nerd-dom as Monster Squad‘s “Scary German Guy” and the old holocaust survivor from the original V miniseries. Cimino is too good for a pointless, throwaway role: If Lynch had to have him, he would have been a pretty decent Count Fenring, a canon character that didn’t make it into the film.
3) Heart Plugs
?These things aren’t revisions of Herbert’s ideas, or slightly wacky add-ons… they’re just… well, they’re just fucking stupid. I mean, I get being so evil you want a way to kill your underlings easily, brutally, and painfully. But it shouldn’t make it easier for your enemies to kill you! How ridiculous is that? Put ’em on a couple disposable slaves if you get your jollies watching folks bleed out — but don’t put them on important servants and for the love of crap: DON’T PUT THEM ON YOURSELF. I mean… just… I… I’m done, I’m getting dumber every second I spend thinking about this.
2) Inner Monologues
One thing most directors understand is that exposition is handled differently in film than it is in literature. While books can tell you exactly what a character is thinking, movies are supposed to SHOW you what’s on a character’s mind: Through actions, reactions, body language, facial expressions — along with, naturally, dialogue. These things should serve perfectly well to inform the audience of the character’s mental state. Granted, there is a great deal of transcribed thoughts in Herbert’s book. Lynch may possibly have believed he was being true to the spirit of the novel by letting the audience hear practically EVERY thought the film’s characters had, but movies are supposed to do things differently. I don’t want to be told what a character on the screen is thinking — that completely defeats the purpose of a skillful and nuanced performance. Something that his marvelous cast was certainly more than capable of, had he given them the chance.
1) The Whole Damn Ending
From the perspective of a fan of the novel, many of the weak points of this film can be ignored or excused: One simply has to accept the fact that cinema and literature are separate mediums, and things are inevitably going to be lost in translation. The scene above, however, cannot be so easily forgiven. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the book, there is NOTHING in the movie to suggest that Paul could somehow spontaneously develop the miraculous power to alter weather patterns with his mind and make rain appear on a desert planet. If you ARE a fan of the novel, then that’s not rain — that’s Lynch pissing in the face of every human being who ever has, and ever will read Herbert’s book. Even only a vague familiarity with the novel will tell one not only how absurd this notion is, but how egregiously a spontaneous rainstorm would fuck up the ecosystem of Arrakis. It is here where 8-year-old me learned what it meant for a film to fail on a galactical level.