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DUNE and David Lynch: Missing Videos and Mysterious Versions

Some second-hand but comprehensive info on a curious video no-show. (Reader responses follow) ALSO, you can link to Chris Rywalt's scan of the original release glossary sheets at Front and Backside

What's the story on Dune? The DVD of the theatrical cut is cool, but where's the four-hour version that was released in Japan but not here? And where's Eraserhead? I can't even find it for rent on vhs anymore. Charles G. (& Stephen)

The strange release (or lack thereof) of the movies of cult director David Lynch have been a constant subject of debate. It seems Savant couldn't walk into Dave's The Laser Place or Lazer Blazer in the early 90's without overhearing the rumor that Lynch was preparing a six-hour cut of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me or that The Elephant Man was finally being given a real video reissue. And even the beautiful DVD release of Dune has done little to quiet gossip that longer versions existed and were soon to be made available to the public.

Dune is only one of a half-dozen Lynch titles essentially unavailable or rumored to be in the process of restoration. Let me save it for last.

Lynch's midnight cult hit Eraserhead was issued on a full-screen laserdisc in the late '80's, and is way, way out of print. No plans to reissue it or master a DVD are known at this time, although a Criterion disc is rumored on a David Lynch Films site (see below).

The Elephant Man, produced by Mel Brooks, was issued only in a pan 'n scan (and slightly squeezed) version, completely spoiling the beautiful B&W Panavision cinematography of Freddie Francis. New letterboxed transfers were announced in the early 90's and never heard of again. Some sources say it has already been released in region 2 PAL in Europe. Steve Tannehill tells Savant that there is a region 2 NTSC for Japan, but as an import it's really expensive.

The hit film Blue Velvet is the earliest Lynch film to be available in a letterboxed transfer on laser, from Warners, also long out of print. Savant has found several used copies over the years for friends desperate to have it. The controversy on Velvet has two angles. The first are the rumored long versions, which so far seem to be apocryphal wish-fulfillment stemming from articles on scenes filmed but dropped from the movie in the editorial stage. The best source for the straight dope on this was a notorious early Video Watchdog article that detailed numerous weird and scandalous additional scenes (some remaining in mysterious stills). The second issue is whether or not Blue Velvet can be released on home video again. (Note: Revision 6/16/00: Savant has deleted the rest of this paragraph because it talks about the possibility of a DVD release, which finally happened early in 2000. Savant has a Review online as well.)

Twin Peaks on video is a confusing and convoluted story. The original two seasons of offbeat murder / mystic / camp melodrama came out on extremely expensive Japanese import laserdiscs. Then Image released a two box set that contained all but the opening episode. That was re-edited into a feature (for European use) that, contradicting the series, 'wraps-up' the mystery for the purposes of closure. This feature cut was released to home video and Laser domestically, adding to the confusion. (Note: Revision 6/16/00: The Twin Peaks series and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me are also newly announced as coming soon on DVD.)

In 1992, David Lynch made a much-awaited feature followup to Twin Peaks called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a cosmic prequel depicting bizarre events leading up to the original murder mystery of the television show. Conceptually obscure, and less accessable than the TV show, the film didn't mirror the television success but quickly formed its own cult. If the talk around LA in '94 and '95 were true, this is the title for which Lynch was assembling something incredible from rumored hours of kinky & bizarre footage. Talk being as cheap as it is in Hollywood, the project was probably just 'under discussion' without Lynch ever being seriously involved.

Savant was fascinated to hear that the de Laurentiis organization had enlisted Lynch to make Dune, after years of abortive attempts, the most noted by Alexandro Jodorowski of El Topo fame. Lynch's final result was panned as a jumble of confusion, but like many ambitious failures, Savant finds Dune fascinating and impressively personal for so gigantic an epic. Burdened by the attempt to relate the entire arc of the book, Lynch did a good job moving from one eye-popping setpiece to the next, with visually arresting characters and monsters the likes of which had never before been seen. The plot being told was so dense, however, that in two and a quarter hours, few of the characters had time to do little more than enter, say a few lines and move on. You can tell a narrative is in trouble when it starts with pages of indigestible expository narration.In some screenings of the film glossaries of unfamiliar terms were handed out to the audience!

Readers of the book surely felt short-changed. They were the loyals who had been shouting for seven years that George Lucas' Star Wars franchise cribbed far too much from the Frank Herbert novels. A matte painter friend summed up his lack of interest in the film by complaining that the story boiled down to 'yet another boring epic about some pimply-faced young Prince finding out what we already know - that he's the chosen one and is going to inherit a kingdom and a babe.' The best description Savant ever heard of Lynch's Dune is that it's a terrific trailer for an unfilmed twelve-hour movie. Now, fifteen years later, Dune's grandiosity comes off as a refreshing alternative to the pop culture commercialism of the Star Wars onslaught, and the cinematic chop suey of Armageddon.

The big confusion on Dune came from the expanded syndication television recut that circulated starting in the late 1980's. Sans commercial breaks it's at least 45 minutes longer than the feature version. Since it aired over two nights in two-hour chunks, it's often called the four-hour cut, but that time frame is padded with commercials and a lengthy re-cap at the beginning of the second half. In this expanded version are many scenes we'd never laid eyes on, and others extended and fleshed out with new footage. New insights are given to every aspect of the story. Paul's introduction to the world of the Fremen is particularly improved. The process of milking the 'water of life' from a baby sandworm was shown in complete and convincing detail. Musician-warrior Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart) actually plays the stringed instrument he is shown carrying at the beginning. For those fascinated by how versions change the perceptions of movies, this long cut was a real treat.

The only itty-bitty problem with this long TV version is that it wasn't David Lynch's. Universal either lost or never got Lynch's approval and participation because Lynch had his name removed; the usual 'Alan Smithee' director's credit was put on the TV cut. Lynch's writer credit was replaced as well with 'Judas Booth.' In its conflation of the names of two famous betrayer / villains, the alias might have been suggested by Lynch himself as a bitter joke (or the studio, indicating a Lynch betrayal?).

Editorially, the new version is an artless pastiche that tries to dumb-down Dune and smooth over some of Lynch's nastier moments. TV censorship excises the disturbing Harkonnen heart-plugs, and the Baron's spitting on Francesca Annis. The starfield opening with Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) is replaced with a new six-minute prologue. A new narrator intones a rambling, repetitive, mind-numbing speech about the various planets and their feuding clans, all backgrounded by cheesy character sketches of the costumed leading players. Flat and dull, this exposition seems even more redundant when Paul's computer-viewer gives him a similar expository rundown in the very first scene.

At first glance, there seem to be many more shots of spaceships and battle action in the TV version of Dune. The majority of these are actually repeats used two, three, even four times. Because the TV version is a pan 'n scan, shots could be repeated by showing first the left extreme of a shot, and then using the right extreme in a subsequent cut. Combine that with optical blow-ups to multiply the shots of arriving Harkonnen spaceships, and a lot of this material is just blatant padding, that could not be duplicated in a letterboxed version without revealing its cheating nature. Even more curiously, one new truck-in on the Emperor's pyramidal battle tower reveals it to be just a black and white line drawing!

Whether or not the unhappiness over Dune started it all, the fact is that David Lynch is adverse to home video and seems to be the one blocking new releases of his films on laser and now DVD. Although that is the 'unofficial' reason quoted in other articles, it is reinforced by the constant announcement and subsequent cancelling of video reissues of his movies. Perhaps he is a purist who beieves his films should only be seen on the theater screen, and has allowed the initial video releases only because they are a distribution necessity. Or maybe he is the kind of artist who refuses to let his previous work be fed through the commercial money mill. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me seems to have come the closest to being a project Lynch might have pursued for video; but only closer sources would know for sure.

Tim Lucas' magazine Video Watchdog, still has the best and most well-researched articles on the multiple versions of Lynch films. Issues 33 and 34 detailed the controversy on the versions of Dune. In case you wish to investigate further, !ssue 2 was an in-depth look at the TV show Twin Peaks; issue 16, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and issue 43, Lost Highway. Issue 4, which charted the differences between script and film on Blue Velvet, long out of print, has been reprinted.

This link to the David Lynch DVD Site shows a comprensive list of releases real and rumored, for DVD regions 1 and 2.

Reader responses: : often it seems the really interesting information comes in the emails that follow an article. In this case it was nice to find Lynchophiles active overseas.

5/26/99 Glenn: At last, I've found some people who loved DUNE... Even here in France (the only country in the world where the film was a success) they are hard to find... I have some more news about a long version ; according to the model supervisor of the film (in an interview from a visual effects magazine in French called "SFX"), the rough cut of the film runs for 8 hours and Lynch's original cut 5 hours. He also said that he filmed the entire book, which even the 3-hour cut (which I have the luck to own as a Japanese LD box set) does not represent... This cut also included some of the visual effects work done by John Dykstra's Apogee company before being expelled from the film by producer Rafaella De Laurentiis. If some of you saw the 'making of' aired in 1984, it had glimpses of shots that did not appear in the film, even the TV version. Example: the "making of" begins with Frank Herbert clapping the first day of shooting: it was a scene between Paul and his mother Jessica in a garden, which I've never seen since. Will it be released one day? I hope... Gee... It would be a great "Collector's Edition" (ex-"Signature Collection") from Universal, wouldn't it..? In hope that you find this information interesting, Best Regards, _______.

5/26/99 The re-edited version of the first episode of TWIN PEAKS was shown in theatres in part of Europe. All episodes except the pilot were released in Japan. And of course, Image released TWIN PEAKS in four box sets, not two. Regards, ____.

5/26/99 First of all I would like to say I very much enjoyed the article. I've been a huge fan of DUNE since the 80's when I was just old enough to rent it :) About your 4-hour version, I am in Australia by the way, it was released here on video with the extended footage. It's well out of print, but a lot of video shops still have it for rent. But what's more interesting is that it has the scenes that were removed for censorship reasons (e.g., the spitting scene). It is pan 'n scan, of course. I just thought you might find it interesting that the TV version made it onto video here. Anyways, look forward to next posting. ____.

5/26/99 Hi...I own the Japanese laserdisc of is the Pioneer widescreen edition of a few years ago (PILF 7296) and its copyright is to David is adequate in picture and sound - certainly as good as the film print - 89 minutes, and 1.85. I can't read Japanese, but it is listed as "1977, 102 minutes." Was this movie 13 minutes. longer? I ask, because in early 1980, my girlfriend was an ERASERHEAD freak, and took me to it several times. I seem to recall a missing scene not in this laserdisc: Henry goes across the hall into the mysterious woman's room, and we find her - and my memory is foggy - either tied up in a bed, or a man tied up in her bed, who she seems to be giving some form of punishment to. That is the only one I remember, but there may be others...I don't think that could take up more than a couple minutes...___.

5/26/99 The new narrator of the TV cut of DUNE was none other than Frank Herbert himself, if I recall correctly. ______.

5/26/99 Good article on Lynch. Just to tell you all the films available in the UK: "Blue Velvet" [VHS - Widescreen]
"Dune" [VHS]
"The Elephant Man" [Remastered VHS With Original Cinema Trailer]
"Eraserhead" [VHS]
"Industrial Symphony #1 - The Dream Of The Broken Hearted" [VHS]
"Lost Highway" [VHS] It is possible to get hold of most of the "Twin Peaks" stuff, including the movie, although they are strictly deleted. Just so you know - no DVD's in Europe region 2 so far as I know. Take care, _____.

5/28/99 Hello Savant! I read your fascinating piece about David Lynch on DVD Resource, thanks for the great reading. :) I'd just like to confirm that THE ELEPHANT MAN has indeed been released on DVD in France by Canal+ Video. I own the disc, and the crisp anamorphic PAL transfer (2.35:1 ratio) is lovely. The disc has English and French MPEG stereo soundtracks and optional French subtitles. There are no extras except a few measly biographies in French, but the video quality makes up for it. Pauli Ojala.

You can read another SAVANT article on David Lynch, The BLUE VELVET Mysteries.

Like SCIENCE FICTION? Try the following SAVANT entries!

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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