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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006 01:55 am

The Return of Dune

David Lynch's much-maligned excursion into sci-fi weirdness was an aberration

The extended edition of Dune (1984) arrives on DVD with little fanfare, an expected reaction to an unfairly maligned film. The source of derision is David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel. Proper appreciation of Dune will come from ignoring the source material and seeing its place in the filmography of the master of weirdness. Dune may not be in the same league as the quintessential Lynch films Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), and Mulholland Dr. (2001), but it is nevertheless a surrealistic classic worthy of the greatest cinema artist working today. The disc includes both the original theatrical release and the extended version, often mistakenly referred to as a director’s cut. The latter version, a non-director’s cut, butchers the film with poorly matched scenes and terrible editing. Lynch had his name removed. Kyle MacLachlan made his film debut as the messianic Paul Atreides, and he later starred for Lynch in Blue Velvet and the TV series Twin Peaks.
Despite Lynch’s notoriety, some of his best work has not registered strongly on the radar screen. The major failure of Dune led to Lynch’s return to form with Blue Velvet. He followed it with the freakish road film Wild at Heart (1990). Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) aren’t the typical young couple on the run. In Lynch’s world, they seem to be suffering from Elvis and Marilyn complexes, respectively, and the journey is rife with Wizard of Oz symbolism. Compared with Lula’s deranged mom (Dern’s real mother, Diane Ladd), who hires people to kill Sailor, they are model citizens. Wild at Heart won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but reaction in the United States was not “hotter than Georgia asphalt,” to quote Lula. Lost Highway (1997) ranks among Lynch’s masterpieces, and it is his most baffling film. Lynch’s nightmarish odyssey is the bizarre story of a musician (Bill Pullman) imprisoned for murdering his wife (Patricia Arquette) who transforms into a mechanic (Balthazar Getty) who falls for a gangster’s girlfriend (Patricia Arquette). Seeing the film isn’t likely to help decipher this troubling puzzle, but the theme seems to revolve around identity. That’s the best I can do. David Lynch is one of few directors who is a genre unto himself. Every strange film made today is likened to Lynch’s work. He has many imitators but no equals. In his usual deadpan manner, Lynch describes his newest film, Inland Empire, as a “mystery about a woman in trouble.”
New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Feb.14): Zathura, Proof, Nine Lives, The Thing About My Folks, and Saw II.
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