Review for Dune
There are plenty of reasons to upgrade a DVD to Blu-ray, not least for the added resolution and higher quality audio. I do feel that DVDs are still good enough for casual viewing, but some DVDs are so bad in quality, that I was originally waiting for a re-mastered DVD version anyway, so grabbing a Blu-ray made perfect sense. But the grand epics demand higher definition anyway, to truly show off the award winning production and costume design, as well as the wider scope. You’d think that was the reason that I went for Dune on Blu-ray, as it’s nothing if not lavish in terms of visuals. But the real reason was that of a noisy disc. It’s actually the third time that I’ve bought Dune; the first time was a woeful letterbox transfer from Castle, with a murky image and muddy audio. I watched that disc five or six times before Dune got a Special Edition treatment worthy of the name, on DVD from Sanctuary. An anamorphic transfer, surround sound, and decent image quality made all the difference. I watched that disc just twice. The damned thing was off balance! When it spun up in my DVD player, it buzzed louder than the audio. I felt certain that it would explode in the player, taking out the viewers into the process. I actually went back to the shop three times to exchange it before giving up. They all rattled. Upgrading it to Blu-ray was the only thing I could do to preserve my peace of mind.
You may be wondering why Dune. After all, not even the most passionate Dune fan can proclaim David Lynch’s feature film version as anything less than a monumental failure. But I’ve always had a soft spot for this film because of its failings. In trying to adapt Frank Herbert’s grand epic, it attempted the impossible. It’s a film that you just have to stand up and applaud for its ambition. It attempts to scale the highest of heights and fails miserably, spectacularly and crashes to earth, deafening in its failure. But you can see the thought, the effort, and the sheer passion on screen. The production design is fantastic, the costumes are lavish, it’s a film that owns the screen, and I love to watch it just to be reminded that there is more to cinema than just the summer blockbuster. It is most definitely a film for Blu-ray.
You may also be wondering why the US Blu-ray, when there is a perfectly good UK Blu-ray of the movie available. Well it turns out that the UK disc isn’t all that perfect, based as it is on the European Blu-rays, and has had a whole lot of manipulation to its image in terms of colour saturation, and contrast boosting, resulting in significant loss of detail. The AVS forums have a thread with a compare and contrast of the various HD versions of Dune out there, and it’s this that convinced me to import the Region Free US disc instead.
The scale of the David Lynch’s vision is mind-boggling; he attempted to bring an epic novel, vast in scope and complexity to the screen. The story was condensed to two and quarter hours, bringing the epic vistas of four worlds onto the screen. Having read the book, the fact that they failed isn’t surprising; the fact that they even made the attempt is astounding. You won’t be surprised when I decline to summarise the story. Suffice it to say that this is a complex tale of politics, eugenics, and war. Two rival houses, the Harkonnens and the Atreides battle for control of the planet Arrakis, both sides manipulated by the Imperial court of Shaddam IV and the Spacing Guild. While this occurs, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood is trying to breed a messiah, the Kwizatz Haderach, by manipulating the bloodlines of both rival houses. On Arrakis, the Fremen are fighting for their freedom and await the fulfilment of prophecy, the arrival of the messiah who will lead them to victory.
Dune gets a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution in the VC-1 codec on this dual layer Blu-ray disc. It looks to be mastered from the same source as that Sanctuary DVD that I have, it has the same odd flecks of dirt visible in composited shots, and it has the same problem with flickering brightness in a couple of scenes. But when it comes to clarity, detail, richness of colour, this is a disc that takes the breath away. It’s everything that I hoped it would be and more. You can really appreciate the epic nature of the production design, the detail in the costumes, the epic scale of the cinematography; Dune looks absolutely stunning on this Blu-ray.
It could have looked even more stunning, had the film gone through the restoration process, and given the love and attention afforded to more popularly acclaimed classics, but for a film source merely transferred to a high definition medium, it looks divine. Actually, it may be a selling point for this transfer; you’re getting to see the film as it’s meant to look on film, with none of the digital manipulation and post-post-production given to some films to get them ‘up to’ modern HD specs. Yes, you have to put up with grain, yes, the effects shots are distinctly creaky and you can see the seams, and yes, the film isn’t perfectly stable, there’s the odd cigarette burn in the print, and a bit of fading on the right hand side in certain scenes, but it feels like watching a movie.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English and DTS 2.0 French stereo, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles, incidentally the first time that I have seen Dune subtitled in English on home video and about time too. The surround track on that Sanctuary DVD was a bit forced really, and over-cooked the audio, but on this Blu-ray, the 5.1 remix finds a much better balance, with most of the dialogue and action at the front of soundstage, with the surrounds really used for the music, ambience, and the odd bit of appropriate effect (The Voice for instance). The dialogue is mostly clear, but the subtitles are much appreciated when things turns to whispering inner monologue, of which there is a lot in this film. I’ll never be comfortable with that prog rock soundtrack to the film, but it’s there without any issue. It is a solid and effective audio track that really does balance the epic nature of the story. It’s just a shame that the original stereo track couldn’t have been included as well.
If there is one thing that I just can’t be dealing with on Blu-rays, it’s online content. I just don’t have the time or inclination for BD-Live or D-Box or any of the social networking capabilities of my Blu-ray player if I ever do link it to the Internet. This Dune Blu-ray has an annoying Ticker Tape that is on by default when you insert the disc, apparently updating you with the latest news from Universal. If, like me you don’t connect your player to the Web, it will instead display a message for you to get connected, until you turn it off at the bottom of the menu, or ignore it and just watch the movie. It’s got links to BD-Live and D-Box as well.
The disc presents its content with an animated menu, the film has 16 chapters, and a progress bar will appear on screen during playback if you press pause, or skip back and forth through the film, with no way of getting rid of it except by pressing play.
Worthwhile content on the disc includes 17:18 minutes of Deleted Scenes, with an introduction by Rafaella De Laurentiis, most of them in an unfinished state with no context, although the extended version of the Irulan opening is interesting.
Designing Dune lasts 8:54 and chats with the concept artists that came up with the look for the film.
Dune FX lasts 6 minutes, and Kit West and colleagues discuss the wirework, robots and explosions in Dune.
Dune: Models & Miniatures lasts 7:01 and takes a closer look at the spaceships and worms, with an interesting look at foreground miniatures.
Dune Wardrobe Design only lasts 4:49, which is a surprise given the costumes in this movie. I think a more detailed documentary would take up a whole other disc.
All of the featurettes are presented in 480i resolution and in 4:3 format, and are subtitled if you should need them.
None of the extra features from the Sanctuary DVD make it to this disc, so one of the advantages of double dipping is lost here. At least that release’s extras disc doesn’t try and shake the player apart.
Dune is presented in a US style Blu-ray Amaray case, a tad slimmer than the ones we get in the UK.
Dune is an awful film. Its lead character is miscast, the pacing is disjointed, glacial for the first hour, then a highlights package for the second, the narrative is muddled and barely makes sense of the story that it adapts, made all the worse by having to rely on characters’ inner monologue to narrate the story. It just doesn’t work. All of which begs the question as to why I keep on buying it?
The answer is that it is a sci-fi epic. While you may be stuck trying to unravel its story, fail to engage with the characters, and gnash your teeth at the plethora of missed opportunities, you will still be transported away to another time and place by the sheer visual magnitude of the thing. In terms of scale, of cast, of sets, of locations it’s a feast for the eyes. And on this Blu-ray, with the benefit of high definition and progressive playback at the native frame rate, you are truly seeing this film as intended. Your brain may rail against the utter failings of the film, but your eyes will thank you for treating them to its visuals. Also, in one very fundamental way, this movie has succeeded. When I read a Dune novel now, I colour that narrative with the imagery from this film. It may not tell the story of Dune all that well, but it has impeccably created the world of Dune.
This US Blu-ray is Region Free, and given what I have read about the UK and European releases, it is the preferable choice when it comes to buying a copy.