Dune is a 1984 American science fiction film written and directed by David Lynch, based on the 1965 Frank Herbert novel of the same name. The film stars Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides and includes an ensemble of well-known American and European actors in supporting roles. It was filmed at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City and included a soundtrack by the band Toto. The plot, set several millennia in the future, concerns the conflict between rival noble families as they battle for control of the planet Arrakis (also known as "Dune"), which is the only planet in the universe that possesses the spice "melange", the most essential and valuable commodity in the universe.
After the success of the novel, attempts to adapt Dune for a film began as early as 1971. A lengthy process of "development hell" followed throughout the 1970s, during which Arthur P. Jacobs and Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to bring their visions to the screen. In 1981, executive producer Dino De Laurentiis hired Lynch as director.
The film was negatively received by critics and was an American box office bomb. Upon its release, Lynch distanced himself from the project, stating that pressure from both producers and financiers restrained his artistic control and denied him final cut privilege. At least three versions have been released worldwide. In some cuts, Lynch's name is replaced in the credits with the name Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by directors who wished not to be associated with a film for which they would normally be credited.
In the year 10,191, the known universe is ruled by Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (JosÃ© Ferrer). The most important substance in his galactic empire is the spice melange. The spice has many special properties, such as extending life and expanding consciousness. The most profitable of its properties is its ability to assist the Spacing Guild with folding space. The spice is vital to space travel because it allows safe interstellar travel to any part of the universe instantaneously.
Sensing a potential threat to spice production, the Guild sends an emissary to demand an explanation from the Emperor, who confidentially shares his plans to destroy House Atreides. The popularity of Duke Leto Atreides (JÃ¼rgen Prochnow) has grown, and he is suspected to be amassing a secret army using sonic weapons called Weirding Modules, making him a threat to the Emperor. Shaddam's plan is to give the Atreides control of the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune), the only source of spice, and to have them ambushed there by their longtime archenemies, the Harkonnens. The Navigator commands the Emperor to kill the Duke's son, Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), a young man who dreams prophetic visions of his purpose. The order draws the attention of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, as Paul is tied to their centuries-long breeding program which seeks to produce the universe's superbeing, the Kwisatz Haderach. Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (SiÃ¢n Phillips). With a deadly gom jabbar at his throat, Paul is forced to place his hand in a box which subjects him to excruciating pain. He passes to Mohiam's satisfaction.
Meanwhile, on the industrial world of Giedi Prime, the sadistic Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) tells his nephews Glossu Rabban (Paul Smith) and Feyd-Rautha (Sting) about his plan to eliminate the Atreides by manipulating someone into betraying the Duke. The Atreides leave Caladan for Arrakis, a barren desert planet populated by gigantic sandworms and the Fremen, a mysterious people who have long held a prophecy that a messiah would come to lead them to freedom. Upon arrival on Arrakis, Leto is informed by one of his right-hand men, Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan), that the Fremen have been underestimated, as they exist in vast numbers and could prove to be powerful allies. Leto gains the trust of Fremen, but before the Duke can establish an alliance with them, the Harkonnens launch their attack.
While the Atreides had anticipated a trap, they are unable to withstand the attack, supported by the Emperor's elite troops, the Sardaukar, and aided by a traitor within House Atreides, Dr. Wellington Yueh (Dean Stockwell). Captured, Leto dies in a failed attempt to assassinate the Baron Harkonnen using a poison gas capsule planted in his tooth by Dr. Yueh. Leto's concubine Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and his son Paul escape into the deep desert, where they manage to join a band of Fremen, led by Stilgar (Everett McGill). Paul emerges as Muad'Dib, the leader for whom the Fremen have been waiting. Paul teaches the Fremen to use the weirding modules and begins targeting mining production of spice. Within two years, spice production is effectively halted. The Emperor is warned by the Spacing Guild of the situation on Arrakis. The Guild fears that Paul will consume the Water of Life. These fears are revealed to Paul in a prophetic dream; he drinks the Water of Life and enters a coma. Awaking, he is transformed and gains control of the sandworms of Arrakis. He has discovered that water kept in huge caches by the Fremen can be used to destroy the spice. Paul has also seen into space and the future; the Emperor is amassing a huge invasion fleet above Arrakis to regain control of the planet and the spice.
Upon the Emperor's arrival at Arrakis, he executes Rabban for failing to remedy the spice situation. Paul launches a final attack against the Harkonnens and the Emperor's elite Sardaukar shock troops at the capital city of Arrakeen. His Fremen warriors defeat the Emperor's legions of Sardaukar, while Paul's sister Alia kills Baron Harkonnen. Paul faces the defeated Emperor and relieves him of power, then engages Feyd-Rautha in a duel to the death. In the final scene, Paul demonstrates his newfound powers and fulfills the Fremen prophecy that he is the promised messiah by causing rain to fall on Arrakis for the first time ever as Alia declares: "And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!"
- Francesca Annis as Lady Jessica
- Leonardo Cimino as the Baron's Doctor
- Brad Dourif as Piter De Vries
- JosÃ© Ferrer as Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV
- Linda Hunt as the Shadout Mapes
- Freddie Jones as Thufir Hawat
- Richard Jordan as Duncan Idaho
- Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides
- Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan
- Silvana Mangano as Reverend Mother Ramallo
- Everett McGill as Stilgar
- Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
- Jack Nance as Captain Iakin Nefud
- SiÃ¢n Phillips as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam
- JÃ¼rgen Prochnow as Duke Leto Atreides
- Paul Smith as the Beast Rabban
- Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck
- Sting as Feyd-Rautha
- Dean Stockwell as Dr. Wellington Yueh
- Max von Sydow as Dr. Kynes
- Alicia Roanne Witt as Alia Atreides
- Sean Young as Chani
- Danny Corkill as Orlop (scenes deleted)
- Honorato Magalone as Otheym
- Judd Omen as Jamis
- Molly Wryn as Harah, Jamis' wife
- David Lynch (uncredited) as Spice worker
In 1971, film producer Arthur P. Jacobs optioned the film rights to Dune, but later died before a film could be developed.
Two years later, in 1973, the option was acquired by a French consortium led by Jean-Paul Gibon, with Alejandro Jodorowsky attached to direct. Jodorowsky proceeded to approach, among others, the progressive rock groups Pink Floyd and Magma for some of the music, Dan O'Bannon for the visual effects, and artists H. R. Giger, Jean Giraud, and Chris Foss for set and character design. For the cast, Jodorowsky envisioned Salvador DalÃ as the Emperor, Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen, Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha, Udo Kier as Piter De Vries, David Carradine as Leto Atreides, his son, Brontis Jodorowsky, 12 years old at the time, who had co-starred in his father's film El Topo (1970), as the protagonist Paul Atreides, and Gloria Swanson, among others. The project was ultimately abandoned when Jodorowsky was unable to get funding for the film.
Although their version of the film never reached production, the work that Jodorowsky and his team put into Dune did have a significant impact on subsequent science fiction films. In particular, the classic Alien (1979), written by O'Bannon, shared much of the same creative team for the visual design as had been assembled for Jodorowsky's film. A documentary, Jodorowsky's Dune (2013), was made about Jodorowsky's failed attempt at an adaptation.
De Laurentiis's first attempt
In late 1976 Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis purchased the rights from Gibon's consortium. De Laurentiis commissioned Herbert to write a new screenplay in 1978; the script Herbert turned in was 175 pages long, the equivalent of nearly three hours of screen time. De Laurentiis then hired director Ridley Scott in 1979, with Rudy Wurlitzer writing the screenplay and H. R. Giger retained from the Jodorowsky production. Scott intended to split the book into two movies. He worked on three drafts of the script, using The Battle of Algiers as a point of reference, before moving on to direct another science fiction film, Blade Runner (1982). As he recalls, the pre-production process was slow, and finishing the project would have been even more time-intensive:
But after seven months I dropped out of Dune, by then Rudy Wurlitzer had come up with a first-draft script which I felt was a decent distillation of Frank Herbert's. But I also realised Dune was going to take a lot more workâ"at least two and a half years' worth. And I didn't have the heart to attack that because my older brother Frank unexpectedly died of cancer while I was prepping the De Laurentiis picture. Frankly, that freaked me out. So I went to Dino and told him the Dune script was his.
- â"From Ridley Scott: The Making of his Movies by Paul M. Sammon
Lynch's screenplay and direction
In 1981, the nine-year film rights were set to expire. De Laurentiis re-negotiated the rights from the author, adding to them the rights to the Dune sequels (written and unwritten). After seeing The Elephant Man, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis decided that David Lynch should direct the movie. Around that time Lynch received several other directing offers, including Return of the Jedi. He agreed to direct Dune and write the screenplay even though he had not read the book, known the story, or even been interested in science fiction. Lynch worked on the script for six months with Eric Bergen and Christopher De Vore. The team yielded two drafts of the script before it split over creative differences. Lynch would subsequently work on five more drafts.
On March 30, 1983, with the 135-page sixth draft of the script, Dune finally began shooting. It was shot entirely in Mexico. With a budget of over $40 million, Dune required 80 sets built on 16 sound stages and a total crew of 1700. Many of the exterior shots were filmed in the Samalayuca Dune Fields in Ciudad JuÃ¡rez, Chihuahua.
Upon completion, the rough cut of Dune without post-production effects ran over four hours long, but Lynch's intended cut of the film (as reflected in the 7th and final draft of the script) was almost three hours long.
However, Universal and the film's financiers expected a standard, two-hour cut of the film. To reduce the run time, producers Dino De Laurentiis, his daughter Raffaella, and director Lynch excised numerous scenes, filmed new scenes that simplified or concentrated plot elements, and added voice-over narrations, plus a new introduction by Virginia Madsen. Contrary to popular rumors, Lynch made no other version besides the theatrical cut. However, a TV version was aired in 1988 in two parts totaling 186 minutes including a "What happened last night" recap and second credit roll. Lynch disavowed this version and had his name removed from the credits, being credited as Alan Smithee instead. This version (without recap and second credit roll) has occasionally been released on DVD as 'Dune: Extended Edition'. Additionally, several longer versions have been spliced together. Although Universal has approached Lynch for a possible director's cut of the film, Lynch has declined every offer and prefers not to discuss Dune in interviews.
Dune premiered in Washington, D.C., on December 3, 1984, at The Kennedy Center and was released worldwide on December 14. Pre-release publicity was extensive, not only because it was based on a best-selling novel, but because it was directed by Lynch, who had had success with Eraserhead and The Elephant Man. Several magazines followed the production and published articles praising the film before its release, all part of the advertising and merchandising of Dune, which also included a documentary for television as well as items placed in toy stores.
The film opened on December 14, 1984, in 915 theaters and earned $6,025,091 in its opening weekend, ranking #2 in the domestic box office behind Beverly Hills Cop. By the end of its run, Dune had grossed $30,925,690. On an estimated $40 million budget, the film was considered a box office bomb.
Roger Ebert gave Dune 1 star out of 4 and wrote, "This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time." Ebert added: "The movie's plot will no doubt mean more to people who've read Herbert than to those who are walking in cold", and later named it "the worst movie of the year." On At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Ebert, Siskel began his review by saying "it's physically ugly, it contains at least a dozen gory gross-out scenes, some of its special effects are cheapâ"surprisingly cheap because this film cost a reported $40â"45 millionâ"and its story is confusing beyond belief. In case I haven't made myself clear, I hated watching this film." The film was later listed as the worst film of 1984 in their "Stinkers of 1984" episode. Other negative reviews focused on the same issues as well as on the length of the film.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times also gave Dune a negative review of 1 star out of 5. She said that, "Several of the characters in Dune are psychic, which puts them in the unique position of being able to understand what goes on in the movie" and explained that the plot was "perilously overloaded, as is virtually everything else about it."
Variety gave Dune a less negative review stating "Dune is a huge, hollow, imaginative and cold sci-fi epic. Visually unique and teeming with incident, David Lynch's film holds the interest due to its abundant surface attractions but won't, of its own accord, create the sort of fanaticism which has made Frank Herbert's 1965 novel one of the all-time favorites in its genre." They also commented on how "Lynch's adaptation covers the entire span of the novel, but simply setting up the various worlds, characters, intrigues and forces at work requires more than a half-hour of expository screen time." They did enjoy the cast and said that "Francesca Annis and JÃ¼rgen Prochnow make an outstandingly attractive royal couple, SiÃ¢n Phillips has some mesmerizing moments as a powerful witch, Brad Dourif is effectively loony, and best of all is Kenneth McMillan, whose face is covered with grotesque growths and who floats around like the Blue Meanie come to life."
Richard Corliss of Time magazine gave Dune a negative review, stating that "Most sci-fi movies offer escape, a holiday from homework, but Dune is as difficult as a final exam. You have to cram for it." He noted that "MacLachlan, 25, grows impressively in the role; his features, soft and spoiled at the beginning, take on a he-manly glamour once he assumes his mission." He ended by saying "The actors seem hypnotized by the spell Lynch has woven around themâ"especially the lustrous Francesca Annis, as Paul's mother, who whispers her lines with the urgency of erotic revelation. In those moments when Annis is onscreen, Dune finds the emotional center that has eluded it in its parade of rococo decor and austere special effects. She reminds us of what movies can achieve when they have a heart as well as a mind."
Film scholar Robin Wood called Dune "the most obscenely homophobic film I have ever seen", charging it with "managing to associate with homosexuality in a single scene physical grossness, moral depravity, violence and disease." Gay writer Dennis Altman suggested that the film showed how "AIDS references began penetrating popular culture" in the 1980s, asking, "Was it just an accident that in the film Dune the homosexual villain had suppurating sores on his face?"
While most critics were negative towards Dune critic and science fiction writer Harlan Ellison was of a different opinion at the time. In his 1989 book of film criticism, Harlan Ellison's Watching, he says that the $42 million production failed because critics were denied screenings at the last minute after several re-schedules, a decision by Universal that, according to Ellison, made the film community feel nervous and negative towards Dune before its release. Ellison eventually became one of the film's few positive reviewers.
Science fiction historian John Clute argued that while Lynch's Dune "spared nothing to achieve its striking visual effects", the film adaptation "unfortunately-perhaps inevitably-reduced Herbert's dense text to a melodrama".
The few more favorable reviews praised Lynch's noir-baroque approach to the film. Others compare it to other Lynch films that are equally hard to access, such as Eraserhead, and assert that in order to watch it, the viewer must first be aware of the Dune universe. In the years since its initial release Dune has gained more positive reviews from online critics and viewers. As of January 2015, it holds a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 41 reviews.
As a result of its poor commercial and critical reception, all initial plans for Dune sequels were canceled. It was reported that David Lynch was working on the screenplay for Dune Messiah and was hired to direct a second and a third Dune film. In retrospect, Lynch acknowledged he should never have directed Dune:
I started selling out on Dune. Looking back, it's no one's fault but my own. I probably shouldn't have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world. But I got strong indications from Raffaella and Dino De Laurentiis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn't have final cut.
In the introduction for his 1985 short story collection Eye, author Herbert discussed the film's reception and his participation in the production, complimented Lynch, and listed scenes that were shot but left out of the released version. He wrote, "I enjoyed the film even as a cut and I told it as I saw it: What reached the screen is a visual feast that begins as Dune begins and you hear my dialogue all through it." Herbert also commented, "I have my quibbles about the film, of course. Paul was a man playing god, not a god who could make it rain."
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound (Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Kevin O'Connell, and Nelson Stoll).
The movie won a Stinkers Bad Movie Awards for Worst Picture.
- Dune (soundtrack)
- Jodorowsky's Dune
- Frank Herbert's Dune, TV miniseries (2000)
- Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, TV miniseries (2003)
- Technology of the Dune universe
- Dune at the Internet Movie Database
- Dune at the TCM Movie Database
- Dune at Box Office Mojo
- Dune at Rotten Tomatoes
- Lofficier, Randy and Jean-Marc (November 1984). "Raffaella De Laurentiis: The Mastermind of Dune". Starlog (88): 25â"28. Retrieved July 7, 2014.Â
- 2012 interview with Kyle MacLachlan about Dune and Blue Velvet