Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming remake of Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi novel Dune is only a few months away, and with the recent release of the movie’s first trailer, anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. There are already plans for a second film, which Villeneuve has said was his intention from the start of the project, and comic book adaptations have been announced as well.
But let’s not forget that before Denis Villeneuve, there was David Lynch and his 1984 adaptation of Dune. The movie was the first big screen adaptation of the legendary sci-fi novel, and it was a box office bomb. It got absolutely shredded in reviews by critics and fans alike, and won a Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Picture in 1984. To this day, it remains at the top of the list as one of the strangest science fiction adaptations ever attempted.
So while we anxiously await Dune’s release on December 18, let’s celebrate the first foray it made on the big screen by taking a look at five of the most surprising things about the original film that you may not know about.
Writer/director David Lynch disowned the movie
David Lynch has said that he considers Dune to be the only real failure of his film career. Following the movie’s disappointing performance at the box office, being more or less universally panned by critics, and the studio denying him the final cut, Lynch disowned Dune.
At least three versions of Dune have been released worldwide. On one of the cuts, Lynch’s name in the credits has been replaced with the name Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by directors who wish not to be associated with a film for which they would normally be credited. The extended and television versions credit Lynch as Judas Booth, a name he specifically chose because it is a combination of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ, and John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s killer. The joke being, the studio betrayed him and killed the movie.
In a 2006 interview, Lynch had this to say when asked about disowning Dune and the final cut:
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 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.
The production team used body bags for some of the costumes
No one who’s seen Lynch’s Dune adaptation could ever forget the infamous members of the Spacing Guild and their giant floating peanut, the Guild Navigator. While I’m sure this scene remains memorable for the cast members, it’s most likely their costumes that they’ll never forget.
The production team truly outdid themselves by creating the Guild members’ costumes out of body bags that were found in a abandoned fire station dating back to the 1920s. The bags had reportedly already been used for their original intended purpose and this information was kept secret from the cast members until after shooting had completed. Yuck.
Sting was supposed to have a nude scene
Sting played an important role in David Lynch’s Dune, that of the Baron Harkonnen’s nephew, Feyd-Rautha. It’s strange enough that the legendary musician was even cast, but where it gets even weirder is that he agreed to shoot a nude scene to stay faithful to the source material and ended up in a G-string.
Wait, what? Yes, that really happened. Sting had agreed to film the scene where Feyd-Rautha steps out of a steam bath nude, but when the time came the studio panicked and instructed the costume designers to get Sting wearing something. Thus, when the scene happened Sting stepped out of the steam bath wearing a skimpy winged G-string. Who says the future isn’t going to be sexy?
Dune employed a small army of 1,700 production crew members
The Atreides, Harkonnen, and Fremen armies pale in comparison to the production crew army that brought Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction universe to life. A crew of over 1,700 production members were brought together to use Dune’s $40 million budget to create 80 sets built on 16 sound stages over the course of three and a half years.
Some 200 members of the production crew spent two months on the singular task of hand-clearing three square miles of Mexican desert to ensure the location was perfect for shooting the scenes out in the wild untamed desert on the planet Arrakis.
Sir Patrick Stewart plays the guitar and fights with a pug
David Lynch made a lot of deviations from the source material in his adaptation. Perhaps one of the most perplexing that’s never been explained is why he decided to give House Atreides a pet pug. The dog is in a few scenes and most aren’t noteworthy, but one of those scenes has become legendary to the cult following the movie has garnered over the years, and that’s Gurney Halleck charging into battle with his weapon in one hand and the pug in the other.
Oh, and did I mention that Sir Patrick Stewart plays the role of Gurney Halleck? That’s right, the Captain of the Enterprise had a fairly significant role in the movie and has the honor of being in what is easily one of the funniest and strangest scenes.
Stewart also plays Halleck’s legendary baliset, a fictional instrument that’s actually a Chapman Stick, an electric guitar and bass invented in the ’70s by jazz guitarist Emmett Chapman, who plays the music heard in the movie during this scene.
Dune was among some of the first films of its era to implement state-of-the-art computer-generated special effects. During the training scene between Paul Atreides and Gurney Halleck, the two fight while using personal body shields, a device which generates a protective energy field around the wearer. The computer-generated image of the human form was the first time that technique had been used in a movie.