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Dune - Ultimate Edition (R3 Korean Import - DTS)
Frank Herbert's original novel, Dune, is extremely layered and very political, and adapting it for the big or small screen is a massive task as the scope of the book is literally huge. It is probably one of the most detailed works of fiction ever created and it's not really all that surprising that aspects of David Lynch's big screen version of Dune didn't quite work out as well as some might have hoped. Released theatrically in 1984 at 137 minutes in length, there's also a longer television cut of the film that runs for roughly 180 minutes and features some different footage and which has a different tone. Korea's Spectrum DVD has assembled a new four disc set containing both cuts of the movie as well as a fourth disc of supplements.
In the far-flung future of 10191 A.D., the entire universe depends on the spice production of the desert planet, Arrakis. This spice, called Melange, is everything to the universe as it gives people not only the ability to travel through space, but also has allowed various groups within the population of the universe to develop innate abilities in their minds, giving them almost psychic powers. Political power is segmented into a medieval feudal system, and split into different factions, or 'Houses', across the universe, overseen by Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV.
A group that has developed the ability to 'fold space' and travel across massive distances to bring the spice to the rest of the universe controls the spice trade. This group is called the Spacing Guild, and they're severely dependent upon Arrakis for spice production, and in turn, the rest of the universe is dependent on the Spacing Guild to distribute the spice to them.
When the Emperor sends Duke Leto and his family from the House Atreides, the evil and perverted Baron Vladimir Harkonnen soon overthrows them, killing the Duke and sending the Duke's wife Jessica and their son Paul into hiding.
Arrakis is a total wasteland - a harsh and desolate planet overrun with mammoth, borrowing creatures called 'sand worms' who periodically show up to destroy spice mining operations on the planets surface. Because the planet is so dry, water is a precious commodity and 'still suits' are developed that allow people to recycle their own fluids into drinkable water should they be required to spend long amounts of time in the desert.
Paul and Jessica take refuge with the Fremens and the people soon come to see Paul as their messiah. With the help of his mother, who is slowly but surely becoming a 'Bene Gesserit' (which is basically a very powerful witch) he is developing his more-than-human abilities and is able to train the tribe into a fighting force to be reckoned with.
Paul is renamed as Muad'Dib and after confirming that he is indeed the true messiah by drinking the water of life (a feat which has killed all those who have tried it before him). Later, Paul leads an attack on the House Harkonnen and brings the rule of Arrakis back to it's indigenous people, of whom he is now the leader.
The costumes and creatures are fantastic and only a few of the blue screen effects seem dated since it was made. The set design is gorgeous, with more than a hint of steam punk in its pseudo-art deco architecture. And while I'm certainly not a fan of either Brian Eno or especially Toto, they did do a great job on the film's score.
Lynch favorite Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) is both sympathetic and believable in his role as Paul, while Kenneth McMillan (Cat's Eye) is sufficiently evil and sleazy in his role as the Baron. Great supporting performances from Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Gurney, Sting as Feyd-Rautha, and Brad Dourif (Spontaneous Combustion, Lord Of The Rings) as the Baron's doctor round out the cast. The television cut of the film is called the 'Allen Smithee' version, named so because Lynch, who played absolutely no part at all in the re-editing of the film for television broadcast, disowned this version and insisted that his named be taken off of the credits.
What are the differences between this and the theatrical cut? This version contains outtakes and additional scenes not present in the theatrical version. The key points are:
-The introduction to the film is now longer and handled by an (uncredited and unnamed) old man as opposed to the introduction by Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) in Lynch's cut. The visuals behind the narration consist of paintings and color illustrations, not live action footage.
-A scene where a Fremen named Jamis challenges Paul to a death match is included. Paul kills Jamis and brings his body back to his family and after his family says goodbye his body is made into water.
-Stilgar shows Paul how the Fremen people get water as he drowns a baby sand-worm and drains the liquid from its mouth.
-A scene in which the water of life is made is included as well as footage of Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart) playing the baliset.
-There are a few additional scenes highlighting more character interaction between Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow) and Gurney Halleck. There is also additional footage of the Fremen where their eyes are not blue, indicating that it was probably left over test footage or at the very least unfinished production footage that the producers edited back into this cut to pad out the running time.
Aside from that, there are some stock footage repetitions, a few close up shots of the key actors and actresses that didn't get used in the theatrical cut, and a few other minor differences. How does it all stack up against Lynch's preferred version of the film? Well it does have a very different feel to it and while some may argue that it sticks a bit closer to the novel that it's based on, from a purely visual stand point it is considerably weaker. Most of the inserted footage is rougher looking and unfinished and the scenes where Leto and Halleck interact almost seem like they were dry runs and not finished takes. The best part of the alternate footage is the baby sand-worm/water of life scene and the extended introduction that does a better job of filling the viewer in on some of the back story which makes the film a little easier to follow.
The theatrical version of the film is presented 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. Video quality on this version isn't bad. The black levels stay pretty strong and the colors look quite good. There are some mpeg compression artifacts visible in some of the darker scenes and some mild edge enhancement (most evident around some of the optical effects so this could just be the effects looking slightly dated to me eyes, rather than literal edge enhancement) but it's not a horrible transfer and there's a pretty decent level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the picture. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and line shimmering, though present, isn't overpowering at any point. Print damage and film grain are present but only in minor instances and aren't really a big problem at all. Not a perfect transfer, but definitely a decent one.
The TV cut of the film is presented fullframe (except the credits, which are 2.35.1). While it's nice to have the added footage, the movie really does need to be seen in its original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 for one to truly appreciate Lynch's sense of style and composition. The 1.33.1 image is noticeably panned and scanned and it doesn't do the film any justice at all. Aspect ratios aside, the image quality isn't particularly bad and the colors look pretty good. There are some compression artifacts that rear up in a couple of the darker scenes throughout, though they're mild.
The theatrical version provides you with the option of watching the film in either a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix, both in English with optional subtitles available in Korean or in English. The sound isn't perfect, but it's definitely acceptable on this disc. The dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. Some of the directional effects that happen in the surround channels sound just a little off and there could definitely have been a little more bass in the mix but overall, both tracks are pretty solid efforts.
For the TV version, the audio is supplied in an average quality Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with optional Korean or English subtitles. Sound quality is fine, if unremarkable. There isn't a whole lot of channel separation happening on this mix but there are a few moments where it's apparent that this isn't just a rehashed Mono mix spread out to two speakers. Dialogue is clean and consistent without too much hiss or background noise at all and while at times it may sound a little bit flat, the mix never sounds worse than acceptable.
The theatrical disc has no extras, the first disc of the TV version has a still gallery with three images on it, and the third DVD has no supplements at all.
Thankfully, the fourth disc has a whole batch of interesting extra features, starting with Impression Of Dune which is documentary on the making of the film that features interviews with cinematographer Freddie Francis, a lot of the actors and actresses from the film, production supervisors, and even Rafaelle DeLaurentis who served as a producer on the movie. There are a ton of clips from the film in here, the whole thing is conducted in English and the Korean subtitles are completely removable. Kyle MacLachlan gives some interesting insight into his role and some of the strange things he had to go through on set while the movie was being made, and Francis gives us a lot of detail on the unique look that they were able to conjure up for the movie. Gordon Hayman, who worked as a camera man on the film backs up Francis on a lot of points and this documentary, which runs for just over thirty seven minutes, is a nice look at what went into the movie and how the people who worked on it feel about the finished product.
Up next is Destination Dune which is vintage promotional piece from 1984 that feature some nice behind the scenes footage with Lynch on set. There's some very nice special effects test footage included in here as well as some very cool stunt work footage. Frank Herbert even shows up for a few minutes to talk about his involvement with the film and how he is excited to see it all coming together. This one runs just over six minutes in length and was taken from a VHS source in less than perfect condition but it's a neat segment and I'm glad to see that Spectrum included it here. Again, it's in English and the Korean subtitles are removable.
After that we're treated to an on camera interview from 1985 with director David Lynch who discusses how DeLaurentis got him on board to direct the film and how until that had happened, he'd never read the book. He talks about casting and how they wanted specific people with specific qualities to play certain parts, how it was to work with some of the performers, and what it was like working on set. There's some clips from the film spliced in here to make it more visually interesting and this piece clocks in at just over eight minutes and is again in English with optional Korean subtitles, although the end credits for this piece are in French.
After that, we're given a video interview with author Frank Herbert who discusses a lot of the politics behind the story, how the followers always amplify the mistakes made by the leader of a group, and how that all comes into play in Dune. He also discusses the metaphor of the water in the story, and how it all ties into one central theme. This brief clip is in English and runs just over a minute in length – it appears to have been taken from a television broadcast of some sort but the disc doesn't state where it was originally shown or why.
Rounding out the extra features are an English language theatrical trailer (in widescreen), a gallery of international poster art, a product gallery featuring some nice images of Dune collectibles such as comic books and toys, a gallery of behind the scenes photos (with French captions underneath), a gallery of production sketches, and video footage of Toto performing the main theme from the soundtrack at a concert performance.
While the audio and the video could have been better, this is still a very nice presentation of both cuts of David Lynch's Dune. Spectrum has supplied an interesting array of supplements on the fourth disc and overall, fans should really enjoy this four disc set. With the upcoming re-release for R1 from Paramount, I can't necessarily say you should run out and buy this now as it remains to be seen how this set will stack up against that one, but this is a great package and it still comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.