Since the slow and meticulous production of Dune resulted in Ridley Scott dropping out as director and being replaced with David Lynch whose usual kind of film clearly isn't a project like Dune, the production of the film is notably troubled. He later took his name off the film's credits after it was cut against his request by film producers. Really, there is a lot of trouble that went towards making Dune and its success wasn't sufficient so I didn't know what exactly to expect from it.
It's obvious that Dune had a troubled production because the three hour cut of the film inserted in a previously unseen prologue to clarify a lot of the story which isn't explained by the rest of the film and leaves certain twists in the story to be inexplicable. The narration continues throughout the film because instead of explaining who characters are in a natural manner, voices are interspersed over imagery to clarify their relevance to the story. The only way this would ever be put in a film is out of total desperation, and clearly with a film like Dune that was the case.
To understand much of Dune, I think you'd have to read the 412 page epic novel of the same name because the story context is desperately clarified through its opening narration but barely touches upon its universe for the remainder of the feature. It focuses on a group of characters which keeps expanding and becomes more and more convoluted and confusing. It's a long, tedious, incomprehensible and ugly mess which teaches less about science fiction and filmmaking than anybody could hope for. The experience is like a camp music video for Duran Duran, and if you can tolerate three hours of that then Dune may just be your feature. But if your interest is more in legitimate cinema then you have other places to look in.
I would go into detail about problems with the story, but I simply didn't understand it enough to write about it. I guess all I can say was it had potential with an interesting universe setup, but it has ultimately flawed execution. The story is a hard one to tell, and the filmmakers of Dune simply failed to do it so it ends up being an extensively long trippy feature with few qualities to boast about.
The pacing is ridiculous. In the end of one hour, the film has developed as much as a normal science fiction film would take 10 minutes to achieve. By the end of two hours, it's reached the 40 minute point for the usual science fiction film. By the end of the full three hours, viewers are likely to wonder what the hell happened and why the wasted so much time watching the entire feature. Its pacing begins as glacial and later speeds up slightly less glacial, but it never has the pace that a 3 hour science fiction epic would need to maintain viewers and their interests at a constant rate. It reinforces the boring qualities of the film since it can't tell a story or even pace one properly. Frankly, Dune was made in an age that couldn't understand how to successfully adapt the novel to film and so while it's an ambitious effort, it's a misfire from David Lynch and is certainly streets behind being a good film.
For a film with a budget of $40 million, the film looks cheap and campy without having the kind of camp humour which usually would allow it to be funny. Instead, the feature which is intended as a serious science fiction epic is merely questionable. I mean, for a film with a budget of $40 million which mostly went into set creation, costumes, visual effects and aesthetic makeup, it's weird that Dune comes out looking so cheap, silly and lifeless. From a visual perspective, Dune is very cheap and clearly shot on sets without bringing out a real universe. The artificiality of Dune is too prominent, and it is a very technically flawed film. One of the problems is that the universe feels excessively fake. The cinematography shoots the sets a lot, but it barely ever films the intended exterior universe. When it does, the cinematography is pulled back too much so that the only things in perspective are more sets and props. The whole film feels like it was shot on proscenium, and it lacks the intense noir characteristics that David Lynch is known for as a filmmaker. The cinematography is infinitely inferior to David Lynch's many better works and it makes the whole feature feel like an episode of a cheap 1970's science fiction TV show. Dune is more of a 3 hour camp theatre production than any kind of epic science fiction film.
As it is the visual quality of the cinematography is very rough and doesn't have a lot to capture because the excessively dark lighting of Dune results in many scenes leaving viewers uncertain of what is in the visual perspective.
And the visual effects which attempt to create legitimate backgrounds and enforce a believable universe reinforce the poor quality of Dune and makes audiences wonder how much of the $40 million actually went into visual effects when it looks so weak like some kind of joke that isn't even funny.
The film presents minimum opportunities for David Lynch to implement his signature surrealism, and so it is clearly not his film. It would have been better if it was kept to Ridley Scott because as he proved when he made Blade Runner instead, he is more adept at making science fiction cinema. David Lynch, like Neil Jordan, proves that he is more skilled at making smaller scale and more personalised projects because material written by someone else is out of his control and the production of the film is too. And while he attempts to distil a real chilling atmosphere into the film, it just doesn't work. Dune is one of David Lynch's worst efforts, and while the problem isn't all because of him, he was miscast as director of the project. His surreal elements make a decent touch from time to time, but they are overshadowed by the overkill of senseless storytelling and incomprehensible and convoluted plot dynamics.
The only film element with any real success in it is the cast.
Kyle MacLachlan's effort isn't his finest and doesn't match up to their better collaborations on Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, but as a lead in Dune he is ok. His youthful charm reveals itself to be sprouting, and since then he had done nothing but grow in talent. I think it's safe to say that Dune is an example of his early talents that were beginning to flourish, and his confident line delivery ensures that he does successfully tie himself into the science fiction atmosphere of the film well enough to pass off as a good lead. And as it started out a series of collaborations between Lyle MacLachlan and David Lynch, Dune did at least do something good by pairing the two together to work on a feature.
Francesca Annis gives a strong performance though as she really creates a sense of mystery to surround her character which ties well into the complicated and mysterious universe that Dune takes place in. She crawls her way into the atmosphere well and gives a performance with the charm and attractiveness of Sean Young who coincidentally is in the film as well. Both actresses give well-meaning and strong performances which have viewers curious about who they are and what their mysterious natures entail.
Patrick Stewart's performance is a strong one because he uses the same essential kind of strength he put into the role of captain Jean-Luc Picard on every season of the long-running Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the result is fairly effective. He's a great member of the massive cast in Dune and he makes the experience more watchable.
Kenneth McMillan's performance is a decent one as well since he has a lot of natural villain charisma in his acting endeavour.
Sting's performance is very reminiscent of the kind of charm that David Bowie presented in films in the 1980's and his performance is a very energetic and captivating one. Sting is an awesome cast member to have on board in Dune and he gives a fairly effective performance.
Lastly, considering Max Von Sydow's awesome performance in the 1980 science fiction classic Flash Gordon, to see him playing a prominent role in another science fiction film is fairly nostalgic, and considering that his performance is a lot more serious in this one it reminds us just how good he is as a serious actor.
And the musical score in Dune is another quality which is superior to the rest of the film since it combines orchestral sessions which capture the large scale of the film with some 80's guitar riffs which make it sound very timely and at least manage to make the experience of Dune a very nostalgic one.
In the end, Dune is potentially the most expensive B-Movie ever made and lacks almost every feature it would need to be good since it looks cheap and dull as well as stretching on for too long and moving too slow, and in the end it is simply David Lynch's worst effort as a film director.