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  • Writer's pictureKurt Loder

The Other Dune: Return of David Lynch’s ‘Masterpiece’


Courtesy Photo Kyle MacLachlan and Sean Young star in Dune (1984).

Dune is back, have you heard? No, not just the new one, with Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya, Part One of which lumbered into theatres two years ago and Part Two of which, after considerable delay, is due out on March 1. Forget that for a moment. The big news, if you ask me, is another Dune—the one directed by David Lynch and sent out into an unwelcoming world back in 1984. That Dune bombed mightily, and Lynch has been cursing it ever since, ruing the fact that he didn’t have final cut on the film. (The version he turned in is said to have been four hours long, which he then radically reduced to three hours; this wasn’t sufficient for the studio, Universal, which hacked out another 40 minutes—muddling the story, if it need be said.)


Over the years, more and more Lynch fans have come to feel the director is wrong about his original Dune, that in fact the movie has stretches of cinematic brilliance that only one artist could have created. Now, in celebration of its 40th anniversary, the picture is being brought back for a second chance—a big-screen rerelease on Feb. 18 and 19. Lynch loyalists are bound to be gratified. They’ve long argued that their man was hobbled on the movie’s first go-round by Universal’s requirement that he turn in a PG-friendly picture of approximately two hours in length. Since the Frank Herbert novel on which the movie was based is 412 pages long, that seemed—and turned out to be—a near-impossible task.


There’s also the matter of money: Lynch’s Dune cost the equivalent of about $118 million in 2024 dollars; the new, two-part picture cost around $287 million.


The backstory of Lynch’s Dune is fairly well-known in outline. And now there’s a wonderfully detailed, 560-page oral history of the movie’s making called “A Masterpiece in Disarray:

David Lynch’s ‘Dune,’” by movie-industry chronicler Max Evry. This is a collection of extensive new interviews with principals and players, which is stuffed to the gills with facts and figures and tasty gossip. For example, we’re told that Tom Cruise at one point auditioned for the role of Paul Atreides, the story’s hero, opposite Sean Young, who played Paul’s love interest, the Fremen warrior Chani. “I was a little bit taller than Tom,” Young recalls, “and I think that bothered him. He didn’t want to audition opposite somebody that was looking down.” (The role of Paul ultimately went to Kyle MacLachlan, a Seattle actor who quickly bonded with Lynch: “We’re both from the Northwest,” says the director, “and we had a lot to talk about, like we had both been to the same lake.”)


Looking for an actor to play the degenerate Baron Vladimir Harkonnen—a key character—producer Raffaella De Laurentiis called up the late, legendary Orson Welles and offered him the part. “There was dead silence,” she recalls, “and he says, ‘You mean the floating fat man?’ Then it went click.” (Kenneth McMillan stepped into the Baron slot, unforgettably.)

Gloria Swanson, the great silent-film star, was also contacted, but she had no interest in the minor role of Shadout Mapes, the royal housekeeper. “Young man,” she said. “You get into a spaceship. You fly 20,000 years into the future. You get off the spaceship. There’s a hill and a castle. You go up to the castle. It’s pouring rain. You bang on the door and the door is opened by Gloria Swanson playing a maid? I don’t think so.” (Shadout Mapes wound up being played by Linda Hunt.)


Although it never happened, there was some hope at the time that Dune might grow into a franchise. But Lynch wasn’t much of a sci-fi guy.


“Dune is a commercial venture,” he allowed back in the day, saying it was “something I’m constantly reminded of by the numbers of merchandising people passing through preparing to manufacture sandworm dolls and what-have-you.”


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