A movie beyond your dreams, a box set beyond your imagination! David Lynch’s intricate adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel, Dune mines the spice melange for an incredible 7-Disc Ultimate Edition set from Koch Films. This set offers the fully restored Theatrical Cut in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray as well as the Alan Smithee/Judas Booth Extended Edition as well as the interesting fan edit Spidediver Cut. Capped off with hours of incredible bonus features including the new feature-length documentary from Ballyhoo on top of new and archival interviews, in addition to posters, a production design book, and a German reprint of the comic adaptation, this truly is the ultimate experience of David Lynch’s Dune. Highly Recommended - specifically for the crazed Dune fanatic out there!
It’s pretty damn near impossible to summarize Dune (Novel or Films) within a single paragraph - so I’m not going to even try. I presume that if you’re here reading this then you already have an idea of what Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction story is about, have seen this adaptation by David Lynch, the Sci-Fi channel mini-series, or enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
So before I get rolling with my review, I want to take a moment to acknowledge Joshua Zyber’s extensive reporting on the various editions of David Lynch’s Dune. He was - and still very much is - our local authority on this film. While I’ve been eternally fascinated by this film, his breadth of knowledge and understanding about the production and various editions can’t be underestimated. To that point, I highly encourage you to take a look at his coverage Here, Here, and Here as well as his review of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. For further reading, definitely check out E.’s review of Arrow’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Now for my part, I’ve been fascinated with Dune ever since I saw the VHS box at my local Mom & Pop rental shop. Something about that box art just called out to me so I had to rent it. I didn’t understand a lick of it. Being too young and the source material too heady, it flew past me like a Guild Navigator. But I couldn’t get enough of it. Between Conan: The Barbarian, Flash Gordon, and Dune, that rental shop had a steady income. I realize now that I owe a lot of my formative years of entertainment to Dino De Laurentiis! It was many years later when I finally was able to sit down and read the novel, but because I watched Lynch’s Dune so many times, its visual flair and stylings influenced how I pictured characters and locations when I read those pages of dense text and political machinations.
As I became a bigger fan of the book, I understood the flaws in Lynch’s adaptation and could understand why it bombed at the box office. Partly too slavish to the source material, partly too divergent, the film to me is a beautiful mess of ideas. Some work and some don’t. I have difficulty impartially judging the Theatrical Cut because it’s such a truncated piece of work. It had to fit a studio-prescribed runtime despite its epic scale. There are frequent parts of the film that are essentially trying to squeeze ten pounds of meat into a single sausage casing. You get flavors of the ideas but so much was compensated out that massive leaps in the story had to be explained by throwaway narration where if you hadn’t read the book you were lucky to understand anything at all.
Then we have the infamous “Extended Edition” which in itself is a misnomer. It’s hardly complete and without Lynch’s involvement, it bares the credits of Alan Smithee and Judas Booth to expunge his name from the cut. This version is also a problem because it does show that so much material of the book was shot nearly as written, but didn’t make the final theatrical cut. The fight with Jamis is thankfully restored and that is an essential element of the story. It’s Paul’s (Kyle MacLachlan) first true step into manhood and as a leader of men and it proves to be an important mirror to his final fight with Feyd Rutha (Sting). But again, this version isn’t finished, the effect of the spice-tinted Blue eyes of the Fremen come and goes from one shot to the next, footage is reused (often within mere seconds), and passages of exposition constantly repeat the same information because you can feel Lynch and his team trying to figure out the best way to deliver that material that would make sense to someone who hadn't read the book. But this cut uses all of it and pads out into a bloated runtime thanks to a silly and needless prologue that was completed using production design sketches and some boring sleep-inducing narration.
Then we come to the Spidediver fan edit - which proves to be its own set of improvements and flaws. Cobbled together from a mess of different sources including unfinished deleted scenes, the Extended Edition, and the original Theatrical Cut - it’s a very interesting approach to the material. I appreciate that it kicks out the silly prologue of the Extended Edition and reintroduces Princess Irulan’s (Virginia Madsen) opening but cuts a lot of the sillier lines like “Oh yes, I almost forgot…” But like previous versions, this cut also likes to stop the action to explain things - so now we have a cut scene of Dino De Laurentiis’ then wife Silvana Mangano as the Reverend Mother Ramallo expanding and setting up the messiah themes of the Kwisatz Haderach. It’s a helpful framing device for sure, but as happens throughout this movie, that information is reiterated again with Sian Phillips’ Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam and her Gom Jabar test with Paul. So at nearly three hours, it fixes a number of problems with the Theatrical Cut and Extended Edition, but also adds its own pitfalls.
All of these cuts and alternate versions and fan edits were merely academic exercises in “what could have been” if David Lynch had gotten to finish the movie he set out to make. Because of his poor experience with this production Lynch virtually swore off the film, speaking only negatively about the experience, and how it inspired him to demand final cut privileges for all of his films and television projects. While this film failed at the box office, it's developed its own cult following.
I feel we’ve been drawn back to Lynch's Dune because it’s such a fascinating story brought to life by a visionary director but cut short of potential greatness because of studio demands and financial stressors. I've always wondered what this movie could have been if he had more creative control. And for years we had little hope that a true and definitive “Director’s Cut” would ever be possible. But then come April of this year, all of a sudden David Lynch changed his tune during an interview with the A.V. Club expressing an interest in going into that old footage and taking a crack at a true final cut. Now, that probably won’t happen considering studio ownership of the material and a significant financial investment in what would be a niche curiosity, but, it’d be fascinating if Lynch could put his name on the one true Final Cut of Dune and what that movie might actually look like. I’m more than willing to hold out for hope that this could happen.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Dune - The Ultimate Edition comes home for diehard fans as a massive (figuratively and literally) 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Five Blu-ray + CD Soundrack set. Housed in a large 11” x 8.5” x 3” clear acrylic/lucite box - the 4K disc is pressed on a Region-Free BD-100 disc, with the Theatrical Cut, the Extended Edition, and the Spicediver Cut pressed on Region B locked BD-50 discs, with an additional Region B locked BD-50 disc and BD-25 disc for bonus features, and a CD for the film’s soundtrack. The discs are housed in four separate digipaks; no discs are stacked. The digipaks are surrounded by stiff secure foam so they can't slide around. Also included are two reproduction posters, a German reproduction of the Marvel comic book adaptation, and a production design book in German - but using the Google Translate app, it’s easy to read and appreciate the essays and notes while looking at all of the fantastic costumes and artistry. Each disc loads to an animated main menu - German is the default language for each version of the film, so you’ll need to flip it over to English.
For Dune - The UItimate Edition, fans have a lot to dig through. You get the Theatrical Cut in 4K Ultra HD (HDR10 only) and 1080p. A 1080p Blu-ray of the Extended Edition, and what appears to be an upscaled version of the Spicediver Cut. Each of these is a pretty unique experience so let’s dive in, shall we?
First up - the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. By and large, this transfer is identical to the 2160p transfer minus the Dolby Vision grade. Koch prepared the restoration Arrow used so dollars to donuts you’re getting the same overall image quality in terms of clarity, grain structure, and fine details. This is great because Dune hasn’t exactly had a stellar home video track record, it’s just so nice to see it getting the A+ treatment it has long deserved.
As far as HDR goes, I’d say between the two, this HDR10 transfer is a step brighter than the Dolby Vision overall but there’s very little difference. Primaries and skin tones are practically identical with differences so slight it’s hard to even notice. The most notable advantages the Dolby Vision grade on the Arrow disc I could detect was in heavy shadows and darkly lit scenes - namely when Paul and Jessica first meet Stilgar and the Fremen warriors. That extra nuance for those deep blacks and tough shadows helped immensely. Here, they’re still clearly better than the DVDs and Blu-rays of old, but the shadow gradience is a little more abrupt. Not a complaint really, it still looks amazing, but I do have to tip the advantage towards Arrow on that score.
Next, we come to the 1080p presentation of the “Extended Edition.” My overall feeling for this is a marked improvement - especially over the old Extended Edition DVD Universal released in 2005. That said, it’s a split hair. The scenes sourced for the theatrical cut are obviously in better shape with bright colors, stable black levels, and sharp details with a normal grain structure. The “extended” footage appears much better than the rather crunchy appearance of the old DVD, but they’re a notable shift from the finished theatrical footage. Black levels are the biggest difference maker here as some sequences - the Jamis fight is a key example - where blacks get precariously close to crush. Elements for the extended scenes are also a bit grittier with more speckling. But that’s a small quibble really. As a whole, this is a great companion piece for this set.
Lastly, we come to the Spicediver Cut. The best I can say of this hodgepodge of source elements is that when it looks great, it’s quite something. But then there’s footage that looks to have been sourced from SD (or lower quality) elements and it shows. But this is more of a curiosity than anything. It’s not an official edit of the film in any capacity so it’s using footage that didn’t make it in either the Theatrical Cut or the Extended Edition. To that end, there’s no real point in trying to grade this presentation on typical merits because quality can shift so dramatically from one shot to the next. This is sort of proof positive that if David Lynch were to ever get to go back and look at everything again to assemble a new cut, a lot of work and money would need to go into restoring these lost elements - if they even exist any more.
The Theatrical Cut of Dune:
Both the 4K and HD versions - come with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio track in English and German. German is the default so you’ll have to switch that up before starting. These two tracks are identical to the ones on Arrow’s 4K disc. Flipping around between discs didn’t yield anything different or at least noticeably different to mention. Both are great options but I lean towards the 5.1 track - with DTS Neural:X employed it makes the soundscape sound larger and more immersive - especially during the big action sequences or when Paul first rides the worm. That Toto and Brian Eno score is terrific stuff so play it loud!
For this release of the fabled Extended Edition, I was very surprised at the sonic upgrade. Even for the cut sequences the upgrade over the old DVD is immediately noticeable. Dialog is clean and clear throughout. That score sounds fantastic and sound effects offer up a nice expansive soundscape to work with. Again, German is the default track but it’s no trouble to switch over. More than the video upgrade, I appreciated the improvement in audio quality here. The old DVD is just muddy and soft by comparison and now you have this rich soundscape working for you and you won’t constantly need to keep a thumb on the volume.
For the Spicediver Cut of Dune, we pick up an overall solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. This isn’t the greatest mix ever because of the mixed bag of source elements. Material that underwent some kind of final polish in the Theatrical Cut or Extended Edition obviously sounds the best. The material from the archives of deleted footage isn’t nearly as clean sounding, dialog is often raspy with a noticeable hiss, but also dialog can sound soft because it’s likely the source recording from the set without any dialog clean-up or ADR work. Likewise, score and sound effects can fluctuate. All credit due for trying to equalize these elements but you can clearly distinguish the differences as they come up. You may want to keep a thumb on the volume since some sequences are a bit tough to hear. Again this isn’t a spit and polished edit of the film, and as more of a curiosity than anything official, I’m not going to apply a final score against this version for the reasons detailed above.
If you are a Dune fanatic, this Ultimate Edition set is the motherload for bonus features. This set offers up almost everything Arrow delivered with their release. The only notable things missing are the great audio commentary tracks. However, Koch has gone the extra mile to bring a massive trove of new and archival bonus features. Headlining the pack of new extras is Ballyhoo Films’ exhautive The Sleeper Must Awaken: The Making of Dune documentary. Sadly this piece of work didn’t make it to Arrow’s release but it’s an essential viewing experience for fans so it’s nice to have it here. My only quibbles with it are that all of the interviews are audio only without anyone actually on camera. And then the pace of it is very fast as it barrels through a lot of information very quickly - but it’s an absolute must-see.
There are a couple of interviews that aren’t in English or offer English subs - the first is a new interview with Jurgen Prochnow and the second is with Makeup Artist Giannetto De Rosi. I’ve been playing with a couple of audio translation apps but haven’t found one that’s very good so I can only guess at how formative these interviews are, but given the length, they’ve clearly got something to offer! Even without the audio commentaries, you still have hours of amazing material to dig into.
4K Ultra HD Disc:
Blu-ray Disc One:
Blu-ray Disc Two:
Blu-ray Disc Three:
Bonus Disc One:
Bonus Disc Two:
Dune: Original Soundtrack CD
David Lynch’s Dune is a beautiful mess of a movie. There’s so much to love and admire about its production, but then there are a number of head-shaking moments. Lynch never had complete creative control over the film and had to make frequent concessions to the studio and producer Dino De Laurentis - so it’s anyone’s guess what this movie could have been. With the expansive but hacked-up Extended Edition and the very interesting Spicediver Cut, David Lynch’s Dune remains a fascination for a legion of fans. Lynch probably won’t ever get to deliver his personally approved version of the film, but now that he’s more or less expressed his openness to the idea, there’s some room for hope that there may yet still be another fascinating take on Dune to dig into, analyze, and brood over.
Thanks to Koch Films, fans of David Lynch’s 1984 misunderstood masterpiece genuinely have a true Ultimate Edition release of Dune. This massive - in size and in content - 7-disc 4K UHD + Five Blu-ray with Soundtrack CD is virtually everything you could want. You get three cuts of the film - each with its own fascinating takes on the material. You get hours of new and archival bonus features including The Sleeper Must Awaken - Making of Dune documentary, some great swag including a production art book, and posters. Now, this set may be a bit of a pain to acquire outside of Europe since Koch won’t mail direct to the U.S. but there are resellers out there offering this at a reasonable price. Get on the waitlist with DiabolikDVD - that’s what I did. It took a few weeks of waiting but it came through and it was a more than fair price and shipped with amazing care. Just don’t give in to eBay prices if you can avoid it. If you’re a Dune fanatic, this release is the Kwisatz Haderach of Collector’s Editions - Highly Recommended.