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.
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.
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.
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.
The total number of production crew came to 1,700. Dune required eighty sets built on sixteen sound stages. More than six years in the making, it required David Lynch's work for three and a half years.
Sir Patrick Stewart said the stillsuit was the most uncomfortable costume he had ever worn. Max von Sydow said the same, but also said he put up with it, because he loved the way his body looked in them.
David Lynch (January 13, 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 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."
David Lynch and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis arranged a screentest in New York City with Sean Young for the role of Chani. Young's agent never told her 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.
As a result of its poor commercial and critical reception, all initial plans for 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".
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 amongst 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.
While shooting on location in Mexico, filming came nearly to a 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.
In the introduction of his 1985 short story collection, "Eye", 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 14, 1984 in 915 theaters and earned 6,025,091 dollars in its opening weekend, ranking number two in the domestic box-office behind Beverly Hills Cop (1984). By the end of it's run, it had grossed 30,925,690 dollars. On an estimated forty million dollar budget, the film was considered a box-office bomb.
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 five in its opening weekend (it was number two).
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 scene is not in either version of the American DVD.
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.
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 seventh 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, 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.
When reporting surface temperature, they use the Kelvin system, and report it as "350 degrees Kelvin". That's 76 degrees Celsius, or 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, Kelvin is not represented as 'degrees', just 'Kelvin'.
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.
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 ninety, and that's in the three-hour version of the film.
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.
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.
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.
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 dollar 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.
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).
With a budget of over forty million dollars, the film required eighty sets built on sixteen sound stages and a total crew of 1,700. If adjusted for inflation, this amount would be equivalent to 99.5 million dollars in 2015.
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.
David Lynch wanted to cast Freddie Jones, with whom he had worked, 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.
Contrary to popular rumors, David Lynch made no other version besides the theatrical cut. However, a television 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.
In retrospect, David Lynch acknowledged he should never have directed the film: "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".
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 U.S. 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.
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.
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.
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.)
Some film critics accused the filmmakers of homophobia, particularly in the case of the make-up 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."
There is a common misconception, where people believe that the Baron Harkonnen and his nephews all have heartplugs, whereas they actually don't. The reason for this belief, is most likely do to the moment where Alia pulls a wire-like tool out of the Baron. What these things are, actually are the mechanism that helps the Baron to control his floating device, hence why he starts spinning out of control. You can also see that she pulls it out of his stomach, but not his chest area.
In the backstory behind Baron Harkonnen's face which is covered in large black pustules: Baron Harkonnen had been demanded by Gaius Helen Mohiam to conceive a child for the Bene Gesserit breeding program, which Baron Harkonnen refused. He reluctantly agreed, but his first daughter turned out to be too weak for the Sisterhood's tastes. Gaius Helen Mohiam returned to Geide Prime to conceive another child, but Gaius Helen Mohiam was stunned by a neural scrambler upon arrival and Baron Harkonnen raped Gaius Helen Mohiam which another daughter had been conceived and Mohiam decided to punish The Baron by giving him a disease which destroyed his physic and made him obese.
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.
In the Special Features of the Twin Peaks boxset, Everett McGill reminisces about Dune, and says that his experience with Lynch then was why he was "happy to carry a spear for him" on Twin Peaks. During the interview, Everett couldn't remember that the antagonists of Dune were called the Harkonnens.
In the backstory behind why Jessica gave birth to Paul: Duke Leto whom was unmarried and didn't have children of his own had desired to have an heir whom would succeed him as Duke of House Atreides when he passed on and his concubine Jessica, a Bene Gesserit, known for genetic manipulation and breeding which the Bene Gesserit were forbid to give birth to baby boys, disobeyed the sisterhood because of her love for Duke Leto and after having sex with Duke Leto and with her Bene Gesserit training, she changed the baby's gender from female to male and Paul was conceived and the future of House Atriedes was born.
The novel was speculated to be an influence behind the Danish fantasy feature film Strings (2004). James McAvoy whom provided the voice of the film's main protagonist Hal Tara in that film played Paul and Chani's son Leto II in the TV adaptation of Children of Dune (2003). James McAvoy would later work with Patrick Stewart (Gurney Halleck) on Gnomeo and Juliet (2011) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
The Iron Maiden song To Tame A Land from the Piece Of Mind album was inspired by the Dune novels. Bruce Dickinson frequently uses literature and religious texts as inspiration for some of his song writing.
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.
Paul Atreides demonstrates a sonic power method of breaking a tetrahedral obelisk to the Fremen. By interesting coincidence, there is a similar scene in Alejandro Jodorowsky's film The Holy Mountain (1973), between the alchemist and the thief. Alejandro Jodorowski had made an earlier attempt to adapt Dune into a film.
Although the Lynch film is completely removed from the Jodorowsky version as far as script, creative crew, planned cast an conceptual material, there are a few parallels to the aborted attempt, possibly coincidental. In the Jodorowsky production, Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones) was reportedly approached for the role of Feyd Rautha. In the 1984 movie, Sting, another contemporary rock-star was actually cast in the role. The rock group Pink Floyd was to provide the soundtrack for the Jodorowsky film. Rock group Toto provided the soundtrack (with Brian Eno) for the 1984 version. H.R. Giger's published conceptual art would have made the Harkonnen world predictably grotesque and macabre. In the Lynch version, they (especially the Baron) were presented as visually grotesque but in a more grungy fashion. One of Moebius' Sardaukar designs is similar to the design for the Harkonnen troops.
31 years after the film's cinema release, Max Von Sydow had the small role of Lor San Tekka in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The novel was speculated to be an influence behind the Star Wars films. 4 years earlier, Max Von Sydow had played Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980) and Star Wars creator George Lucas revealed that the 1936 black and white serial of Flash Gordon starring Buster Krabbe was one of his influences behind the films. George Lucas never acknowledged that he read or ripped off Dune.
Paul avenging his father's death and seeking his former position of power parallels Hamlet, while his role as a colonial ruler who becomes a leader of the natives is similar to T.E. Lawrence. José Ferrer previously appeared in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Siân Phillips was married to Peter O'Toole, who played both T.E. Lawrence and Hamlet. Francesca Annis was in a relationship with Ralph Fiennes, who also played both parts. Annis and Fiennes met while playing Hamlet and Gertrude.
Sean Young's bare left breast was seen through her see through black dress in a publicity photo of the scene which Paul tells Chani that he must take the Water of Life after waking up when his dreams stop.
Often cited as the most homophobic film of all time, by cinema scholars. who cite the implied homosexuality of the Harkonnen villains and Bene Gesserit sisters, as well as various parallels to AIDS (i.e. the Baron's sores).
Several years after the film's release, Virginia Madsen would star in another science fiction film which also bombed at the Box Office - Highlander II: The Quickening (1991). In that film, Connor McLeod (Christopher Lambert) is exiled from Zeist to Earth along with his mentor Ramirez (Sean Connery) when McLeod leads rebel warriors against the tyrant whom rules his planet General Kitana (Michael Ironside). Virginia Madsen co-starred in the film as Louise Marcus.
In the article about "Dune" in Simon Braund's 2013 book "The Greatest Movies You'll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World's Greatest Directors," Alejandro Jodorowsky is quoted as saying that he was relieved when he saw David Lynch's version "because the picture was so bad! And then I could live again! Because if David Lynch had been able to make 'Dune' as David Lynch, I think I would have died."
"Deathstalker", a science fiction fantasy novel by British author Simon R. Green, and published in the 1990s, bared similar plot elements to that of this movie. The novel was the story of Lord Owen Deathstalker, who 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 miraculously traveling 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, 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.
A scene was filmed, but cut and was edited out of the film's ending. Before Paul confronts Shaddam IV and engages Feyd in a duel to the death. Paul sees Thufir Hawat among the captives and orders his release and Paul addresses his Mentat teacher and tells him he may ask anything of him after generations of loyal service to his family and believes Thufir wishes to kill him and turns his back and tells him he means it and that if Thufir is to strike, he should do it. But, Thufir refuses and instead commits suicide by removing his heart plug and dies in Paul's arms and Paul orders the Fremen to carry the "noble Atriedes warrior's" body away.
A scene was filmed, but cut which after having sex in bed which their daughter Alia is conceived, Leto and Jessica talk about the future and Jessica tells Leto that if she is to give him a daughter, it must be done tonight.
In the extended TV version of the film, instead of Virginia Madsen's opening introduction. A voiceover explains and reveals more behind the history and the universe of the story which illustrations were used to depict the history of the Dune universe, which reveals that before Shaddam IV ruled the universe, thinking machines with human minds, computers and conscious minds ruled the universe until the machines were destroyed in a great revolt and after the humans crushed the machines in the revolt, the Mentats,the Bene Gesserits and the Spacing Guild were established and their training schools changed the history of the universe.
Virginia Madsen was sick with food poisoning during the filming of the scene which Paul fights Feyd. In a 2011 interview with Kevin Pollak, she remembered the crew placing a bar stool under her enormous hooped skirt so that she could rest on it and still appear to be standing.