First of all, I have to say that I really like Frank Herbert’s masterpiece Dune. The book is epic in scope and I’ve never read a better examination of the dilemma of fate and free will than that of Paul Atreides. Anyone who enjoyed the book as much as I did should definitely check out the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune TV miniseries. It’s more than four hours long, but it really does the book justice and captures most of the intricate plot points and character relationships quite well.
Anyone who is a fan of bad cinema, on the other hand, is in for a sumptuous treat when they watch the 1984 theatrical film Dune. There is a lot of history behind this film. I could spend a whole article talking about Dino de Laurentis, David Lynch and even some of the actors this film wastes, like Patrick Stewart and Max Von Sydow. Instead, I’ll focus on what this film did right, namely its superb musical score.
An ‘80s rock band called Toto is responsible for almost the entire Dune soundtrack, and I think they did a brilliant job with the material. I don’t know a whole lot about Toto, to be honest. I like a lot of music from the 1980s, but I can’t really name most of the bands or singers responsible for the songs I enjoy, as you can tell from my Iron Eagle article.
This is the only film Toto ever did the soundtrack for. Perhaps they were taking a cue from Vangelis who, in 1981, won an Academy Award for best score for the film Chariots of Fire. Vangelis’ follow-up film was 1982’s Blade Runner, which bombed at the box office but later became a cult classic. The latter film may be a more accurate pattern for what happened to Toto’s foray into the world of film music.
From the Very Beginning
Dune is a confusing movie, especially for anyone who hasn’t read the book. It begins with Virginia Madsen (whose character isn’t important at all in the film) giving some exposition about the state of affairs in the universe. The thing that stands out the most to me about this scene is the point at which she talks about the planet Arrakis, also known as the titular Dune.
The muted music suddenly plays a melancholy tune full of sadness and yearning. It’s in the background and doesn’t really call attention to itself, which is probably why this musical cue is so interesting to me. I love that it’s not trying to tell us how to feel, but it instead suggests a certain feeling that perfectly sets up the tone of the film.
Dune isn’t a happy story. It has an oppressive weight of dense topics like destiny and personal loss. Paul Muad’Dib is reluctant to fulfill his destiny as a conqueror, and he often thinks about the cost in human lives and property damage that will have to occur in pursuit of his goal of universal domination. This is delved into much more deeply in the book, but the film still hints at Paul’s dilemma, especially with the musical themes.
I’ve heard some people complain that Dune’s Main Theme is a little boring. It’s basically four notes repeated over and over with slight variations. I actually like the repetitive nature of the music. It subtly reinforces the film’s idea of destiny vs. free will. The music is on a predetermined course that it can’t break free from. But it does add a few flairs like changing the octaves and adding other supporting sounds so it never gets boring.
Leto’s Theme is a variation of the Main Theme. Duke Leto Atreides is Paul’s father, and his is a sad story of a good man who gets in way over his head with interplanetary politics. Leto’s death is the impetus for much of Paul’s inner and outer conflict, so his theme song is suitably foreboding.
Probably my favorite scene in the movie is when the Reverend Mother (I would need several paragraphs to describe who she is, but I’ll just say she’s an important character in the book) comes to the House Atreides and forces Paul to put his hand inside a box. She tells him that if he removes his hand from the box before being told to do so, he will die. She then proceeds to torture him by making him feel the unbearable pain of his hand melting inside the box.
Every instinct tells Paul to remove his hand from the source of the pain, but he manages to endure this trial and prove he is more than just an animal motivated by instincts. And his hand isn’t really melted. When he pulls his hand out, he discovers that the box manipulated his nerves to make him feel pain without doing any permanent damage. The music in this scene highlights Paul’s feelings of unease and the rising tension as he feels ever more pressure to escape the terrible pain.
Brian Eno contributed one piece of music to the Dune soundtrack: The Prophecy. However, it’s rumored that he wrote a whole score, which was almost entirely rejected. If the rest of his tracks sounded like this one, I don’t know why they didn’t make the cut. The Prophecy has an ethereal quality that almost sounds like a desert breeze. It fits in perfectly with the film’s focus on fate and loneliness.
Take My Hand, the song that plays over the end credits, is my favorite in the entire Dune soundtrack. It’s a great tension release. The whole movie has had such epic musical themes that it’s nice to hear a down-to-earth love theme at the end. It’s like a reward for making it to the very end. It’s also fun to see pictures of the actors who played the characters with their names in alphabetical order. It might have been nice to have this at the start of the film to help the audience get all of the characters straight. Oh well. I guess they wanted people to go back and watch the film again, though that strategy clearly failed.
This is just a little side note, but for some reason the little girl who plays Paul’s sister Alia looks like she’s actually moving a little in her screenshot, unlike all of the other actors who are clearly still photographs. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a trick of the camera. Feel free to watch it for yourself and let me know if you see it, too.
Dune’s music is way above average. It’s interesting to see such a high-profile science fiction film without a score that tries to copy Star Wars. This film takes a lot of risks, most of which turn out to be utter follies, but the music is a brilliant success.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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