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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 1:16:03)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: DTS 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
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  • 2 Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Production notes

Dune : Special Edition

Universal/Infogrames . R4 . COLOR . 137 mins . PG . PAL


First published in 1965, Frank Herbert's Dune is universally considered to be one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. The winner of the genre's most coveted literary awards, the Hugo and Nebula, Dune has since become not only a legend within its own field, but now stands as an astonishing feat of imagination which has often seen it compared to Tolkein's Lord of the Rings.

Indeed, with its multi-layered wheels-within-wheels plot and a cast of quirky but credible characters whose motivations seem both obvious and obscure, Dune is science fiction for people who would not normally appreciate science fiction. As with Tolkein's masterpiece, Herbert's magnus opus has exceeded the limitations of its genre's boundaries, becoming a true literary classic.

"The beginning is a most delicate time..."

The year is 10,191, and the most precious commodity in the universe is the spice melange, which is found only on the desolate world of Arrakis - also known as Dune by its inhabitants due the expansive deserts which cover its entire surface. It is a hostile environment which denies its inhabitants even the most fundamental of life's necessities - most critically, water.

Melange is not only an addictive and powerful narcotic which the Bene Gesserit sisterhood use to increase their extra-sensory abilities, but it is also a vital element in the Spacing Guild's monopoly on interstellar travel. As a result, various monarchal dynasties, realising the wealth and power that is to be gained from harvesting the spice, compete for the rights to obtain profitable contracts from the CHOAM mining conglomerate.

Within this hotbed of political intrigue, two houses are locked into a bitter feud - the noble House Atreides, based on the water planet Caladan, and the malevolent House Harkonnen, based on the industrial world of Giedi Prime. Both sides are thrust into an escalating war when the manipulating Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV, issues a directive to House Atreides, ordering them to appropriate Arrakis, so that they can maintain spice production - in effect, supplanting the planet's former dictators, the Harkonnens.

Arrakis, other than being the cultural centre of the universe, is also home to two of its most unique lifeforms - the proud and warrior-like Fremen, with whom Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow) is seeking an alliance, and the monstrous sandworms which can develop into 400 metre behemoths. The worms are attracted to any rhythmic vibrations emanating from the desert surface, prohibiting prolonged spice mining - and even walking - ensuring that Arrakis' inhabitants are confined to living on areas consisting of a hard rock foundation.

Following the obliteration of the Atreides' armies at Arrakeen - courtesy of a devastatingly effective Harkonnen sneak attack - the Duke's son, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan in his debut role), and his mother, the Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) escape into the deep desert, where they meet the enigmatic Fremen.

After an initially tense confrontation, both Paul and Jessica are accepted into the Fremen ranks, where they commence training the desert warriors in the 'Weirding Way' - the Bene Gesserit method of battle. From this moment onward, Paul Atreides begins to fulfill the Fremen prophecy of 'the voice from the outer world' - the messianic deliverer who will rid Arrakis of its enemies and bring the Fremen out of their enforced exile.

Translating this saga to the big screen proved to be an epic undertaking in itself, with several esteemed directors - including Polish surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) and Ridley Scott (Alien) - attempting to create a celluloid portrait that would do justice to Herbert's vision. Ultimately, it was David Lynch who approached the project. It would consume three and half years of his life.

Although heavily condensed from Herbert's novel, Lynch's screen adaptation succeeds admirably - in no small way due to the director's at-times hallucinogenic visuals, his unconventional approach, and, most of all, his sheer audacity. The film's most vocal critics - the majority of who purport to be fans of the novel - often point out that the events and narrative structure of the film do not correlate to those of the book.

While these objections can be validated, it has to be understood that film and literature are two completely opposing mediums. One has to appreciate the scale and complexity of Dune's story, and accept that perhaps no director, other than Lynch himself, would be capable enough to bring the essence - and, therefore, the spirituality - of Herbert's masterpiece to the screen.

Released in 1984 with a budget of 52 million dollars, Dune was a resounding box-office flop. The reasons for the film's poor performance are innumerable, and are often attributed to the fact Lynch had originally envisioned his film to have a running time of about four hours. Because of the concessions he was required to make in an attempt to shorten the film's length, Lynch had no alternative but to delete several key scenes and sequences that would have enhanced Dune's original theatrical release - thus making the film more accessible and less convoluted than the version we are ultimately left with.

But perhaps the primary reason for the film's failure is that many theatre patrons, not familiar with Dune's universe, found its plot and concepts all but incomprehensible. Indeed, before seeing the film, many theatres distributed glossaries to patrons, which attempted to explain the terminology featured within the film.

Despite this, David Lynch's Dune has gathered a strong cult following, and, amongst its admirers, is now acknowledged as perhaps one of the most unique - certainly one of the most ambitious - science fiction films ever made.


Force Video's original release of Dune onto DVD is almost as legendary as Herbert's novel... for all the wrong reasons. It holds the dubious honor of being quite possibly one of the worst - if not the worst - transfers to DVD since the format was introduced, containing a litany of everything from frequent sound dropout to major pixelisation.

But perhaps the worst atrocity associated with the original transfer was that it was released in a pan-and-scan format. While it is perfectly acceptable to release a film made before the advent of CinemaScope in 1953 with a full screen ratio, it is a travesty to present a film, which relies so heavily on a 2.35:1 screen, in such a restrictive and claustrophobic aspect ratio.

Evidently taking into account the scathing criticism surrounding the original release Infogrames have attempted to re-invent the wheel with the re-release of Dune, presenting us with a superb print which has finally restored the film to all its widescreen glory.

Dune has retained its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect and is not 16:9 enhanced. Normally I would say at this point that Dune - not being anamorphic - would be placed somewhat at a disadvantage, with regards to picture sharpness and detail. However, I found this not to be the case.

This film is not a minimalist experience, containing but a handful of characters, small locations, and a simple plot. Lynch's film is a elephantine, sprawling epic which simply screams 'spectacle'. Even if Dune included the option of 16:9, I would not be tempted to use it for the very reason that, even when compared to other anamorphic DVDs, a considerable amount of on-screen information is lost.

Detail is very sharp, with excellent definition. Blacks are very solid, with no evident MPEG artifacts. There is no colour bleeding or colour saturation, not even in the daytime desert scenes where the screen is immersed in rich orange and pinkish hues - demonstrating just how much care has been taken with this transfer. Film artifacts are at a minimum, and are not obtrusive.

Some slight grain can be seen briefly in Paul's dream sequences which occur throughout the film, involving monochrome shots of dripping water. However, I would attribute this to either the film stock that was used, or a deliberate visual effect employed by the director. Knowing Lynch's idiosyncratic style, it is possibly a case of the latter.

Near the film's beginning, some unusual shimmering occurs in the scenes just before the Emperor (Jose Ferrer) is due to confer with the Guild Navigator in the Imperial Palace. Here, the culprits are the thousands of golden stalagmites lining the interior of the Palace's walls and ceilings - their quivering happens only during the initial horizontal pan as we are first introduced to the Emperor and his minions. However, it is a relatively minor quibble and merits no real cause for concern.

Whether this is a transfer problem or imperfections inherent in the source material is unknown.

The layer change occurs at 1:16:03 as Paul and Jessica crash-land into the deep desert in a Harkonnen ornithropter. Placed in the middle of a scene where there is great emotional investment, it has a jarring effect, disrupting the viewer's involvement in a pivotal scene.

The change would have been better placed at 1:13:10 as the film cuts to Arrakeen, burning after the Harkonnen attack.


There are three different audio selections - Dolby Digital 5.1 as default, Dolby Digital 2.0, and DTS 5.1. Infogrames has scored a real coup with Melbourne company Stream AV who - with their encoding of the DTS track - bestow upon Dune the distinction of being the first locally authored Region 4 DTS DVD.

Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand - at times, even crisp - especially important with this film as it contains numerous inner monologues. There appears to be no low-level noise. However, there is a peculiar subliminal rumbling occurring at 14:58-15:31 whenever Yueh Wellington (Dean Stockwell) speaks to Paul, informing him of the latest information obtained about the Fremen and Arrakis' sandworms. It is not present in the speech of the other characters present, only Wellington's.

I would attribute this to the digital format detecting limitations in the original sound recording.

The rear surrounds are used frequently throughout the film for both music and sound. The beautifully evocative film score from contemporary pop group Toto - which is often acknowledged as one of the most defining features of Lynch's film - provides some truly wonderful ambience.

Of particular note is the shield fight between Paul and his mentor, Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart) - and, of course, the climatic battle scene which provides an awesome aural experience as the Fremen engage the Emperor's legions. In these scenes, the sound field - of a clarity which belies the age of this film - completely surrounds the room.

The subwoofer is extremely active at times, and produces some very deep resonance. Prime examples of this occur when we are first introduced to the industrial world of Giedi Prime and the Baron Harkonnen, and the scene where a spice harvester is attacked and devoured by a sandworm. It actually became necessary for me to decrease the volume level on my subwoofer - something which I have not previously been required to do with any other DVD title.

Call me a philistine, but I did not detect all that much difference in performance between the Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DTS audio tracks. Indeed, I actually believe - in this case, at least - that the default Dolby Digital 5.1 was superior; the sound field seemed to be far more balanced, and a richer ambience was achieved. In comparison, the DTS track seemed far too aggressive for my liking.


Trailers: Nothing too spectacular here. There are two trailers of acceptable quality - the first in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the other in 1.85:1 - and presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Production Notes: Informative and comprehensive, this section contains 16 pages of production notes which focus mainly on the director's attempt to bring the film to fruition, and the problems inherent in creating the world of Arrakis.

However, there is a factual error which stipulates that Herbert wrote three sequels to his original novel when, in reality, there are five (not including the recent three prequels, written by Brian Herbert - Frank's son - and Kevin J. Anderson).

In addition, there are numerous spelling errors and irregular capitalisation - e.g. 'unitimate', 'david Lynch', 'mexico', 'Emporor's', etc. - which unnecessarily disrupt the reading flow.

It should be noted that these errors are not confined only to the DVD itself, but they are also present on its cover slick - Haronnen, instead of Harkonnen; Viginia, rather than Virginia Madsen; and intergalactical. Admittedly, this criticism may seem anally-retentive in the extreme, but, considering the effort Infogrames have invested into this DVD, surely somebody could have invested in a spell-checker.

Film Bibliographies: Insanely informative - almost to a voyeuristic degree - this section contains 87 pages of information. It profiles not only the productions with which the cast have been involved in, but also provides - in some cases, quite gratuitously - intimate information on their personal lives. With extensively detailed genealogy trees and synopses on the cast's families and partners, these bibliographies seem, at times, as though they were written by the 'National Enquirer'.

However, I found that there are peculiar inclusions and some glaring omissions. For instance, Patrick Stewart's roles in the Activision PC games Star Trek: Invasion, Star Trek: Armada, and Star Trek: Hidden Evil are listed alongside his film credits - in such a way that it suggests more Trek films have been released since Star Trek: Insurrection - while details of the career and film appearances of Kenneth McMillan (Baron Vladimir Harkonnen) are completely disregarded.

Perhaps it is just me, but there appears to be a certain lack of cohesiveness about this section - there is either too much detail, or not enough of it.


Taking into account that Dune is now 17 years old, and that Infogrames evidently does not possess the financial and material resources of other distributors - unlike 20th Century Fox and Columbia Tri-Star - the results are simply superb. While falling short of being reference material, this is the most beautiful and vibrant print of Dune that I have seen for eons.

Dune is not only a vast, sprawling epic which demands repeated viewing, but it is also a science fiction film for people who would not normally appreciate science fiction - I mention this, as the film's narrative is character-driven, and, even though the opportunity is there, does not rely exclusively on special effects to sustain the story.

While it is somewhat true that in order to get the most out of Dune it is recommended that you are either a fan of Frank Herbert's novel - or, perhaps more importantly, adore Lynch's idiosyncratic style - I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this DVD to anyone.

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      And I quote...
    "I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this DVD to anyone"
    - Shaun Bennett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Panasonic SC-HT80
    • TV:
          Panasonic TX-43P15 109cm Rear Projection
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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