Back in1983, the Waldenbooks chain recorded a long conversation between David Lynch and Frank Herbert. The occasion was the impending release of Lynch’s version of Dune. The final film, as most well know, was often derided as an artistic failure, and it was undoubtedly a commercial disaster. In the years since the film’s release, Lynch rarely speaks of it. Herbert died in early 1986, so he didn’t have time to see the film attain a certain level of respect in the sci-fi community.
But the movie has earned a large number of fans over the years, and rightly so. Though quite flawed, the film features incredible production design and film craft, elements which are often cited as the reasons for fan appreciation. But it is also interesting as an adaptation that isn’t afraid to muck around with the source a little bit. I think a lot more adaptations should indulge in changes. Listening to this interview, which appeared on YouTube this week, it seems evident that Frank Herbert might agree.
The interview is posted on YouTube in six segments; I’ve embedded them in series below, or you can check them all out here. David Lynch rarely gives long recorded interviews and never does DVD commentaries, so this is a rare example of him talking about one project in depth. He and Herbert eventually talk through the ideas that are at the base of Dune, with Herbert taking over for the second half for long discourse on the subject of messiahs, politics and moew. The interview is also sadly optimistic, as Lynch briefly mentions working on the script for a sequel.
With respect to the value of Lynch’s film, one of Herbert’s opening comments is a great way to start discussion about the contents of the conversation. I’d be curious to know how the various cuts Herbert liked differed from the final theatrical version, because at the time this was recorded he seemed quite happy with the film.
I get asked a specific question a lot of times, if the settings, the scenes that I saw in David’s film match my original imagination, the things I projected in my imagination. I must tell you that some of them do, precisely. Some of them don’t, and some of them are better. Which is what you would expect of artists such as David and Tony Masters. I’m delighted with that! Why not take it and improve on it visually? As far as I’m concerned the film is a visual feast.
Later, Herbert describes seeing The Elephant Man for the first time, and realizing they’d found the right guy because Lynch had such a grasp of visual language.
When you’re doing a film from the written word, you’re translating into a different language. It’s as though you’re translating from English into Swahili. The visual language is a different language.
I’m hoping the comments don’t turn into the old “Lynch’s Dune sucks!” vs “No it doesn’t!” pissing match. If nothing else, I’m hoping to see a conversation about the problems with Dune as a film, rather than a litany about how it is a bad film because it isn’t like the book. Spend some of your Friday listening to almost an hour of conversation featuring Lynch and Herbert, and argue the merits of various adaptation techniques in the comments below.
(Two notes: One, dig that crazy opening music in part one. I really miss intros like that. Two, how have some of Herbert’s messiah comments, as in part 4, not been endlessly sampled?)