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Dune (1984) (4K Ultra HD Limited Edition)
There are many vocal fans of David Lynch's 1984 Dune, an adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 science-fiction novel, but I do not count myself among them. I have tried on numerous occasions to become immersed in the film's visually inventive world, but my mind consistently wanders. Lynch, a brilliant auteur of the bizarre, is most successful when the material is all his. He creates nightmarish versions of mundane reality; so perhaps the futuristic setting of Dune is too outside the director's realm. Dune is strange and dry, with many apparent signs of producer and studio interference. Arrow Video has released a wonderful 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition with collectible packaging. Fans of the film will want to own this release, absolutely, and I suspect others can pass it by.
We learn in the opening narration from Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) that her father, Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Jose Ferrer) rules the universe in a very distant future. Spice mélange is highly coveted for its powers to expand consciousness, extend natural life and allow interstellar travel. The Spacing Guild fears losing its monopoly on space travel and demands the emperor keep tabs on the substance. The Emperor reveals his plan to destroy House Atreides and its popular leader, Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow), by ambushing them on planet Arrakis (aka "Dune") with the help of rivals the Harkonnens. Meanwhile, the Guild Navigator wants to kill Duke Leto's son, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), drawing the attention of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, which wants to use Paul to create a universal superbeing. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) seeks someone to betray Duke Leto, and rival parties converge on Arrakis, where massive sandworms guard the spice. Duplicity and strangeness abound as all parties seek control of the universe by possessing the spice.
For all the strange things that happen in Dune, of which there are many, the material is quite dry. Scenes are cobbled together with little clear relation or purpose, and characters float in and out of the space opera like bad dreams. That Lynch's initial cut was four hours probably explains some of the strange edits. Dialogue is stilted and stereotypically derivative, and Dune, unlike a certain George Lucas science-fiction franchise, is hellbent on taking itself way too seriously. Lynch is not fond of the finished project, and many members of the cast have expressed confusion about the film they believed was being shot. You can pretty much gauge the film's problems early on with that Madsen voiceover. The source material for Dune is notoriously dense, and this project sat in development hell for years. When producers got their first look at what Lynch had shot, they apparently panicked, adding random voiceovers and exposition that does little to make the movie more accessible.
The actual conflict of the film is not that difficult to discern, but the plethora of strange supporting characters tends to divert viewers away from our hero, Paul. There are dukes, barons, emperors, flying men with leper boils, Sting, and an unhinged Max von Sydow as Doctor Kynes. And still, despite the worm-riding, space hopping and grand entrances, Dune is 137 minutes of dull, vaguely related scenes with little emotional impact. The visuals can be interesting, from the Arrakis landscape to the elaborate costumes and sets. Despite all the questionable dialogue from solid performers, MacLachlan escapes from Dune relatively unscathed, and his performance at least marginally humanizes this cold, alien material. Dune is a strong example of a film that simply does not play the same way for all viewers. A quick search of the Web reveals plenty of articles, reviews, and musings from fans. I am interested in checking out Denis Villeneuve's 2021 update, as Lynch's 1984 crack at the material leaves me underwhelmed.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Arrow Video releases Dune on 4K Ultra HD with a 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10 from a native 4K source. Liner notes reveal the film was restored from the original 35 mm camera negative, which was scanned in 4K and appropriately graded, with a/b negatives that were "re-conformed," whatever that means. This is a nice, filmic presentation that should please fans. It has been a while since I viewed the previous Blu-ray edition of Dune, but the 4K Ultra HD release offers pleasing fine-object detail and texture. The lavish costumes and sets are presented with great clarity, and interesting make-up and creature effects look quite good here. Colors are nicely saturated, black levels are strong, skin tones are healthy, and highlights are appropriate. There are moments of heavy grain, but the transfer is pleasingly free of digital manipulation. The HDR grade offers heightened moments of bold colors, particularly in the blue eyes of the Fremen and in the surrounds of the Emperor's palace. Black crush is very minimal, and I did not notice any issues with compression artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Mix (a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo mix is also included) is quite immersive. The sounds of space rumble the LFE consistently, and the entire sound field is used for impressive sound pans and directional dialogue. Said dialogue is always clear and balanced appropriately with effects and Toto's synth-heavy score. Sandworm attacks, the wind on Arrakis and the fire of futuristic weapons are given plenty of room of envelop the viewer. I noticed no issues with crowding or distortion. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the film in 4K and a bonus Blu-ray with additional features. As is the norm for Arrow, those seeking a Blu-ray edition of the film will have to purchase that version. The discs are housed in a hinged 4K case with two-sided artwork. Also included are a double-sided poster that features the original poster artwork on one side and the newly commissioned artwork from Daniel Taylor on the other; six lobby card reproductions; and a 60-page softcover booklet that includes liner notes, essays and technical information. All items slide into an attractive, sturdy, cardboard slipbox. One note is that this release was supposed to include a feature-length documentary, The Sleeper Must Awaken: Making Dune, but that was dropped by Arrow Video at the last minute due to production issues. It will apparently be available as part of sets released by foreign distributors in the coming months.
On the 4K disc you get a host of extras: an Audio Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Sammon; an Audio Commentary by Mike White of the Production Booth podcast; 2003 documentary Impressions of Dune (39:39/SD), with solid interviews; Designing Dune (8:55/HD), with remarks from the production designer; Dune FX (6:01/HD); Dune Models and Miniatures (7:03/HD); Dune Costumes (4:50/HD); Deleted Scenes with an Introduction by Raffaella de Laurentiis (17:03 total/HD); Destination Dune (6:16/HD); Trailers and TV Spots (6:54 total/HD); and Image Galleries (156:37/HD).
On the second disc you get Beyond Imagination: Merchandising Dune (22:37/HD); Prophecy Fulfilled: Scoring Dune (24:52/HD), with interviews from Toto members; Giannetto de Rossi Interview (17:20/HD), about the film's make-up effects; Golda Offenheim Interview (26:16/HD), with comments from the production coordinator; Paul Smith Interview (8:50/HD); and Christopher Tucker Interview (3:02/HD).
I am not a fan of David Lynch's science-fiction epic Dune. You may be. This release is for you. Arrow Video unveils an elaborate 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition of the film with restored visuals, strong audio, copious supplements, and attractive packaging. The excision of a feature-length documentary is disappointing, but there is still plenty for fans to love here. Recommended for those fans.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.