David Lynch has said he considers this film the only real failure of his career. To this day, he refuses to talk about the production in great detail, and has refused numerous offers to work on a special edition DVD. Lynch claims revisiting the film would be too painful an experience to endure.
The suits worn by the Guild members were body bags that were found in a disused fire station dating back to the early 1920's. The bags had actually been used several times, something that was kept from the cast members until after shooting was completed.
Original director Ridley Scott left the production after his older brother suddenly passed away. Scott wanted to start working as soon as possible, but Dune would take far too long to reach production. Scott decided to leave the project in favor of Blade Runner (1982), which was ready to start production immediately.
Feyd-Rautha was originally to have stepped out of the "steam bath" nude. Sting had agreed to shoot the scene nude, but the studio panicked and told the costume designers that they had to put something on him. The skimpy winged g-string he wore was made almost at the very last minute before the scene was set to film.
Director David Lynch and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis arranged a screen test in New York with Sean Young for the role of Chani. Young's agent never told Young about the meeting, and she was in fact booked on a flight that evening to Los Angeles. Lynch and De Laurentiis missed their flight back to Los Angeles, and ended up catching the same plane as Young. During the flight, De Laurentiis noticed Young and told Lynch, "I bet that girl's an actress." A stewardess told the pair that her name was "Sean Young", and De Laurentiis confronted Young about standing him and Lynch up. The misunderstanding sorted out, the three ended up drinking champagne and reading the script together upon returning to Los Angeles.
David Lynch (13 January 2006) : "Dune I didn't have final cut on. It's the only film I've made where I didn't have, I didn't technically have final cut on The Elephant Man (1980) but Mel Brooks gave it to me, and on Dune (1984) the film, I started selling out even in the script phase knowing I didn't have final cut, and I sold out, so it was a slow dying- the-death and a terrible terrible experience. I don't know how it happened, I trusted that it would work out but it was very naive and, the wrong move. In those days the maximum length they figured I could have is two hours and seventeen minutes, and that's what the film is, so they wouldn't lose a screening a day, so once again it's money talking and not for the film at all and so it was like compacted and it hurt it, it hurt it. There is no other version. There's more stuff, but even that is putrefied."
Alejandro Jodorowsky had originally planned on filming Dune in the early-'70s, and had enlisted the help of Jean Giraud and H.R. Giger to create the movie's visual style. Salvador Dalí was enlisted to play the part of the Emperor, and Jodorowsky also intended to cast his own son Brontis Jodorowsky as Paul, David Carradine as Duke Leto, Orson Welles as the Baron, and Gloria Swanson as the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother. The soundtrack was to be done by Pink Floyd. According to Jodorowsky, "The project was sabotaged in Hollywood. It was French and not American. Their message was 'not Hollywood enough'. There was intrigue, plunder. The storyboard was circulated among all the big studios. Later, the visual aspect of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) strangely resembled our style. To make Alien (1979), they called Moebius [Giraud], Chris Foss, Giger, Dan O'Bannon, etc. The project signaled to Americans the possibility of making a big show of science-fiction films, outside of the scientific rigor of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The project of Dune changed our lives." Jodorowsky also planned on making numerous changes to the source material, including making Duke Leto a eunuch and the spice a blue sponge. Author Frank Herbert openly despised these concepts.
In the introduction of his 1985 short story collection, "Eye", author Frank Herbert discussed the film's reception and his participation, complimented David Lynch, and listed scenes that were shot but left out of the released version. He wrote, "I enjoyed the film even as 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 opened on December 14th, 1984 in 915 theaters and earner $6,025,091 in it's opening weekend, ranking #2 in the domestic box office behind Beverly Hills Cop (1984). By the end of it's run, "Dune" had grossed $30,925,690. On an estimated $40 million budget, the film was considered a box office bomb.
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 third "Dune" film. In retrospect, Lynch acknowledged he should had never have directed "Dune".
While shooting on location in Mexico, filming came to a near-halt when most of the cast and crew came down with "Montezuma's Revenge." The studio had to build a full cafeteria large enough to accommodate the entire cast and crew for every meal, as well as import all the food from the United States to keep the film on schedule.
Despite being considered a financial flop, it is the David Lynch movie to make the most money in its initial box office run, and the only one to break into the top 5 in it's opening weekend (it was #2).
One scene called for Duke Leto (Jürgen Prochnow) to be strapped to a black stretcher and drugged. During one take, a high-powered bulb positioned above Prochnow exploded due to heat, raining down molten glass. Remarkably, Prochnow was able to free himself from the stretcher, moments before glass fused itself to the place he had been strapped. During the filming of the dream sequence, the Baron (Kenneth McMillan) approached Leto, who had special apparatus attached to his face so that green smoke would emerge from his cheek when the Baron scratched it. Although thoroughly tested, the smoke gave Prochnow first and second degree burns on his cheek. This sequence appears on film in the released version.
David Lynch was originally signed to do two sequels to this film, based on Frank Herbert's novels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. The box office failure ensured that the plans never came to fruition.
According to the biography 'Five Easy Decades', Jack Nicholson at one point in the late 1970s considered directing Dune, but decided that it would be too much of an undertaking. He also turned down the role of Gurney Halleck.
The Weirding Module was written into the film to replace the Bene Gesserit martial art referred to by the Fremen as the Weirding Way. David Lynch's decision to use modules was taken because he found the idea of the Weirding Way unworkable on film, stating he did not want to see "Kung-fu on Dunes". The Weirding Modules was later seen in the computer games Dune (1992) and Emperor: Battle for Dune (2002) as powerful hand-held weapons used by the Fremen Fedaykin special unit. In the games Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty (1992) and Dune 2000 (1998) the Weirding Modules are the inspirations of 'sonic tanks' deployed by House Atreides.
Feyd-Rautha and The Beast Rabban are men of very few words: as the latter, Paul L. Smith speaks only 34 of them during the entire movie; as the former, Sting says a mere 90. And that's in the three-hour version of the film.
Although it has been claimed that singer Michael Bolton has a cameo as one of the drummers seen when Feyd and Paul start their duel, Bolton himself denied this in a 2012 radio interview with Australian broadcaster Joel Rheinberger.
Gurney Halleck gives two quotations that are from the Old Testament of the Bible- Job 24:5 and Habbakkuk 1:9 - The first "Behold, as a wild ass in the desert go I forth to my work" - which he says as they arrive on Arrakis, Job 24:5. And "They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup as the east wind. And they shall gather the captivity of the sand." - Habbakkuk 1:9.
Upon completion, the rough cut without post-production effects ran over four hours long. David 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, Dino De Laurentiis, his daughter 'Raffaella De Laurentiis, and 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.
Prior to the movie's release, a production still of an Ornithopter crashing was released to the press. Although it was a shot of a model, the still identified the image as a location shot taken in "Duncan, Idaho". Duncan Idaho was the name of Richard Jordan's character.
Aldo Ray was originally cast in the role of Gurney Halleck but was let go because of his alcoholism before shooting any scenes. David Lynch later worked with Aldo Ray's wife, casting agent Johanna Ray, who cast most of Lynch's projects from Blue Velvet (1986) on, and their son Eric DaRe, who played the role of Leo Johnson in Twin Peaks (1990).
Churubusco Studios in Mexico City was selected as the shooting location, due to the nearby desert and the devaluation of the peso making it possible to shoot the film for a quarter of what it would've cost in the US. Unfortunately, with that cut-rate cost came cockroach infestations, Mexico's byzantine bureaucracy, brownouts that necessitated having backup generators on hand at all times, a primitive phone network with only one direct line to the production office, worse smog than Los Angeles, and Montezuma's Revenge afflicting half the Europeans on the crew.
David Lynch worked on the script for six months with Erich 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.
Some film critics accused the filmmakers of homophobia, particularly in the case of the makeup design for Baron Harkonnen. Writer Dennis Altmann thought the character was a metaphor for AIDS in general, stating, "Was it just an accident that in the film Dune (1984) the homosexual villain had suppurating sores on his face?" In his book "Hollywood from Vietnam to Ronald Reagan - and Beyond", film scholar Robin Wood said that "Dune is the culmination of the exposure of rottenness. It is the most obscenely homophobic film I have ever seen, managing to associate with homosexuality in a single scene physical grossness, moral depravity, violence and disease."
David Lynch wanted to cast Freddie Jones, who he had worked with on The Elephant Man (1980), and had to go against much resistance from Dino De Laurentiis to do so. De Laurentiis planned to fire Jones, but changed his mind upon seeing the first dailies and went so far as to apologize to Jones for being skeptical of him.
While most critics were negative towards the film critic, 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 it before its release. Ellison eventually became one of the film's few positive reviewers.
At the end of the first meeting between the Guild and the Emperor, the inscription "Law is the ultimate science" is visible above the entrance-way to the Emperor's throne room as the Guild navigator is leaving.
Contrary to popular rumours, David 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.
This film is an adaptation of the first of a series of novels ("Dune" by Frank Herbert) and incorporating some elements from the later novels. The pre-production process was slow and problematic, and the project was handed from director to director.
Ridley Scott's vision for the film's aesthetic was similar to that of Alien (1979), which Dino De Laurentiis felt would've made the film feel too derivative. There was also an argument over Scott and his co-writer Rudolph Wurlitzer writing an incest scene that wasn't in the book, which Herbert himself stepped in over. (Scott denies that the latter part happened.)
In retrospect, David Lynch acknowledged he should never have directed the film: "I started selling out on Dune (1984). 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".
Many scenes with Everett McGill as Stilgar were cut, including Stilgar objecting to a knife fight between Paul and another Fremen warrior, Stilgar overseeing a Fremen cremation funeral, and Stilgar instructing Paul on worm riding. These scenes were later restored in extended cuts of the film.
Often cited as the most homophobic film of all time by cinema scholars. who cite the implied homosexuality of the Harkonen villains and Bene Gesserit sisters, as well as various parallels to AIDS (i.e. the Baron's sores).
At the end of the secret report of the Spacing Guild, the image of the planet Kaitain (the Emperor's world) is zoomed in. Just as the voice over gets to the line "The Spice must flow," the camera zooms into a planetary feature that looks like the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.
"Deathstalker", a science fiction fantasy novel by British author Simon. R Green, published in the 1990s bared similar plot elements to that of "Dune": The novel was the story of Lord Owen Deathstalker, whom flees to "Mistworld", a planet inhabited by outlaws, after escaping the destruction of an Imperial cruiser and transforms himself into a warrior, as he leads the outlaws on the planet against the evil Empress Lionstone XIV and overthrow her empire.
David Lynch: [Lincoln] Lynch disowned the extended television cut. He chose the name "Judas Booth" to appear as the screenwriter in this cut. This name is a combination of Judas Iscariot, the apostle that betrayed Jesus Christ, and John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's killer. With this in-joke, Lynch meant that the studio betrayed him and killed the film. The director's credit is the usual in these cases Alan Smithee.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The expression Kwisatz Haderach, said by Alia in the last line of the film, literally means in Hebrew "jumping the path". This term is mentioned in the Talmud and Jewish folklore legends, referring to miraculous travel between two distant places in a brief time.
The original ending, cut from the cinematic version, where Paul exiles Emperor Shaddam IV to Saulsa Secundus, becomes the new Emperor, and agrees to marry Princess Irulan, was the ending from the book. A different ending was used, where Paul uses his powers to make it rain on Arrakis and Alia proclaims Paul as the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach and Paul fulfills the prophecy.
According to the prequel book, House Atreides, Baron Harkonnen's obesity and sickly condition is actually a Bene Gesserit punishment. When approached by the BG to father a daughter (Jessica), the Baron (a homosexual) was furious, and actually raped the BG mother. In retaliation, she infected him with a debilitating disease.