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.
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.
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 to long to reach production. Scott decided to leave the project in favor of Blade Runner, which was ready to start production immediately.
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.
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.
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.
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 Benne Geserit 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 strangely resembled our style. To make Alien, 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 but Mel Brooks gave it to me, and on Dune 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."
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).
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 on, and their son Eric DaRe, who played the role of Leo Johnson in Twin Peaks.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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 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.