Film / Dune

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Yes, that is Sting

"A secret report within the Guild. Four planets have come to our attention ... regarding a plot which could jeopardize spice production. Planet Arrakis, source of the spice. Planet Caladan, home of House Atreides. Planet Giedi Prime, home of House Harkonnen. Planet Kaitain, home of the Emperor of the Known Universe. Send a third stage Guild Navigator to Kaitain to demand details from the Emperor. The spice must flow... "
The Spacing Guild

Dune is the 1984 feature film adaptation of the popular Frank Herbert novel Dune, directed by David Lynch. The film is famous for its unique visual style, obtuse plot and very Troubled Production.

The film adaptation of Dune was originally given to the experimental filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who planned to very loosely adapt the book while basing most of the film on a dream he'd had. He recruited a rogue's gallery of names for his project, including comic artist Moebius, H. R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles. Jodorowsky burned through his budget before filming a single scene, and the project was ultimately taken away from him. A feature length documentary titled Jodorowsky's Dune chronicles this project of epic proportions that went nowhere. Jodorowsky later recycled many of his ideas in the epic graphic novel The Saga of the Metabarons.

Producer Dino De Laurentiis handed the film to another experimental director, David Lynch, who was a hot prospect at the time due to his cult classic debut film Eraserhead and the critically lauded The Elephant Man. David Lynch scrapped most of Jodorowsky's plans and made the film with his own unique vision. Lynch's completed work is memorable (and notorious) for its Freudian imagery, elaborate set design (containing some holdovers from the Jodorowsky version, including Giger's designs), and All-Star Cast.

Due to Lynch's alien style and the sheer scale of the book, the already-complex narrative became nearly incomprehensible to some viewers; many theaters handed out printed plot summaries to patrons. An altered cut with more exposition to explain the plot was made for television, which ran at almost four hours with commercials. Incensed at the Executive Meddling, Lynch had his director credit changed to Alan Smithee and his screenwriting credit changed to Judas Booth (as in John Wilkes). Subsequent recut and extended versions have inspired varying degrees of critical reappraisal. It was a complete flop at the box office and has become both a Cult Classic and an example of how not to make a blockbuster.


The Dune film contains examples of:

  • Adapted Out:
    • The film leaves out Leto II (Paul's first son, murdered as an infant), the Fenrings and Jamis (who shows up in the Alan Smithee version).
    • Poor Virginia Madsen is reduced to one, brief on-screen line in the extended edition.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film introduced many elements that influenced later works in the Dune universe. Examples include the Mentat Mantra. "It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion", sounds similar enough to the Litany Against Fear that it feels like a line from the book, but never appeared in it. The Atreides research into sound-based weaponry is again, never mentioned in the book. Sonic tanks and the like have turned up in subsequent works. Heart-plugs, only briefly mentioned in the book as some sort of filtration device, are turned into something entirely more sinister by the Harkonen. The Baron Harkonen's skin conditions (never mentioned in the book; the Baron is only ever described as morbidly obese with no references made to skin problems), and many elements of the film's "look and feel" are aped by the works that followed. It's very rare to see the Emperor depicted without a neat little beard these days, for example, and Bene Gesserit are often depicted as bald.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: "Weirding" is a Fremen word meaning "foreign," so it's unlikely that House Atreides, while they were still based on Caladan, would name a weapon they invented the "weirding module" in Lynch's film. Even though Jessica didn't have a weirding module when she subdued Stilgar on their first meeting, Stilgar calls her Bene Gesserit martial arts technique "the weirding way of fighting," which is the same as the novel; however, the way of fighting that Paul eventually teaches the Fremen mainly involves the use of the weirding module.
  • Advertised Extra: Sting as Feyd-Rautha, who only has a small part in the film, was a major selling point.
  • Alan Smithee: David Lynch had his name removed from the extended cut of the film and had it replaced it with this. And then had his script credit changed to "Judas Booth," in case anyone didn't get the message.
  • All for Nothing: Yueh betrays House Atreides in an attempt to get back a wife he knows is likely dead, with his only comfort that maybe he can kill the Baron on the way out. Instead Yueh gets shanked by Piter and his poison gas trap on the Duke is wasted on Piter when the drugged Duke hallucinates him as the Baron. He ultimately accomplished nothing.
    • Although he did stash stillsuits onto the Harkonnen ship that was standing by to drop Paul and Jessica in the desert to die, ultimately saving their lives, permitting the rest of the plot to unfold, and kind of redeeming himself. Then again, how could he have known that was the Harkonnen plan if Piter only told Nefud to do it minutes beforehand? Or which ship would be used? Or that they wouldn't already be dead when loaded up? Or...
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The population of Giedi Prime all wear 'heart plugs' that are prominently displayed and quite easy to yank out. Hawat is fitted with one once he's captured; Kenneth McMillian's line, "Everyone gets one here," is so delightfully deadpan. It's never actually used by their enemies, however, other than one scene where the Baron Harkonnen murders a boy slave for the hell of it. And the scene where Alia kills the Baron by stabbing him with a Gom Jabbar, then pulling his heart plugs and shoving him out into the sandstorm.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Thufir Hawat and Piter deVries have big bushy eyebrows, possibly to denote them as Mentats.
  • Black and White Morality: In contrast with the books, the movie tends to depict the Atreides and the Fremen as the unambiguously good guys, and the Harkonnen and the Corrino as the bad guys.
  • Blasphemous Boast: "Usul, we have wormsign the likes of which even God has never seen."
  • Compelling Voice: The Voice is clearly heard as the Voice of the Legion. It can be heard playing over and over in the target's mind, forcing him to comply.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Thufir Hawat is required to milk a cat for the antidote to the poison he has been administered by the Harkonnens.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: In the extended cut of the film, Liet is the one who spits and Leto himself recognizes its value.
  • Creator Cameo: Lynch, as the radio operator on the spice harvester rescued by Duke Leto.
  • Creepy Uncle: The movie plays up the Ho Yay between Baron Harkonnen and Feyd-Rautha even more than the books.
  • Cult Soundtrack: Toto and Brian Eno. This is the main reason why so many games and other adaptations of Dune (excepting the Sci-Fi channel miniseries) have such similar music. Music inspired by Dune is almost invariably space music instead of more conventional thematic music.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: A heroic example, in which the Atreides mentat Thufir Hawat betrays the Emperor and Harkonnens by refusing to kill Paul.
    Thufir Hawat: [He turns to Feyd and the Emperor]... Did you actually believe, even for a moment, that I would fail my Duke twice? [He commits suicide]
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Lady Jessica's hairstyle is a Freudian wonder.
    • The Guild Navigator (portrayed in true Lynchian fashion as a giant floating Eraserhead) breathes through what can only be described as a mouth-vagina.
    • Har har. Okay, fine, so the worms look like giant penises, alright? David Lynch apparently wanted to lampshade the joke before we do; the rhythmic pounding of Shai Halud against the vertical slot of a cave is hard to misinterpret.
  • Duel to the Death: The film climaxes in a knife fight between Paul and Feyd-Rautha.
  • Elite Mooks: Sardaukar elite troopers.
  • Ermine Cape Effect: In the prologue, José Ferrer flamboyantly shrugs off his cape before meeting with the Navigator. He wears standard military attire in all other scenes.
  • Evil Redhead: Almost all of the Harkonnens we see have red or orange hair.
  • Exact Words: The Baron offers to let Yueh "join" his wife. He holds out a small hope that the Baron might actually have spared her, up until he's knifed in the back.
  • Exotic Entree: There's an inexplicable throwaway scene of Rabban crushing a live mouse-like creature in a small device and then drinking the resulting mess with a straw.
  • Facial Horror: The Baron is absolutely covered in blisters, warts, and zits.
  • Fed to the Beast: Baron Harkonnen is shot out a window via Alia's mind control. He is then eaten by a worm.
  • Fisher King: After Paul Atreides takes up his place as the Kwisatz Haderach, Arrakis, a planet defined by its absurd dearth of water, is consumed by a torrential downpour of rain. In the book, it took years of Terraforming. Perhaps the filmmakers subconsciously realised there weren't going to be any sequels and they had better get it over with?
  • Fish People: Barlowe's Guild To Extraterrestrials depicts a Guild Steersman as looking like this. This depiction has become standard in adaptations since.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We only see blood splattered on the wall when the "heart plug" scene climaxes.
  • Happy Rain: When Muad'Dib makes the rain fall at last, the Fremen rejoice at the end of the film. It probably kills all of the worms since the Fremen had summoned them all to that spot, but oh well. (The worms did wind up going extinct in the books as a result of terraforming, but eventually came back.)
  • Heart in the Wrong Place: The unlucky Harkonnen slave's heart plug is too far left. To make matters worse, it spurts out dark blood when pulled, not the bright crimson oxygenated blood which the left side would actually contain.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The the seeker probe enters the room, Paul is confident it is too dark for the operator to spot him by any means other than movement. Charitably, the room looks as if it's sunset outside, and Paul hasn't even gotten ready for bed yet. This is made worse by a P.O.V. Cam of the probe, in which Paul is clearly visible.
  • I Have Your Wife: How Yueh is convinced to betray House Atreides. Curiously, he's already guessed that the Baron has likely killed his wife, but he still goes along because he figures he can use the Duke to take a shot at the Baron.
  • I Was Never Here: The Guild Navigator from Lynch's movie, after telling the Emperor to kill Paul Atreides. "I did not say this, I am not here."
  • Inner Monologue: Taken to almost ridiculous levels in the movie. A great deal of the exposition and background information is given to the audience through this.
  • Kick the Dog: When Baron Vladimir Harkonnen pulls the heart plug from one of his slaves and then does something too gruesome to describe here.
  • Large Ham: Baron Harkonnen, with an emphasis on large.
    "I'm alive, eh?! I'M ALIVE!!! I'M...ALIVE!!! I'M ALIVE!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: The wierding modules channel the user's voice into a destructive sound pulse which can cause a variety of ailments based on how the user speaks, though mostly it just causes explosions. This leads to the memetic "My name is a killing word" scene, wherein a Fremen using one says "Muad'Dib" and blows up part of the ceiling.
  • Monochromatic Eyes: A result of high-level Spice addiction, when enough ingestion saturates the blood stream and stains the eyes. Turned into Glowing Eyes of Doom here.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Feyd's utterly gratuitous speedo scene. Sting's running five miles a day really paid off.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The final scene of the film shows Paul using his incredible psychic powers as the Kwisatz Haderach to make it rain on Arrakis for the first time in eons. However, in one scene, a worm is killed using water, and Paul very deliberately notes it. It seems his making it rain is more of a deliberate Apocalypse How, to make spice that much rarer and valuable.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Sting had already acted by the time he appeared in this role, though he was primarily known as a musician.
  • Notable Original Music: Brian Eno and Toto's score.
  • Opening Monologue: "A beginning is a very delicate time. Know then that it is the year ten-thousand, one-ninety-one..." Narration was used to insane levels, although being Dune, it needed it.
  • People of Hair Color: In the movie, nearly all of the Harkonnens have orange hair, while the Atreides (and almost all Fremen) have black hair.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: There are dresses based on renaissance gowns.
  • Plot Tumor: In the novel series, the Voice — the ability to control the minds of the weak-willed — is only one of a number of talents that the Bene Gesserit cultivate through training. Lynch's adaptation takes this idea and expands it into devices that allow anyone to use their voice as a weapon, and Paul eventually becoming so powerful that he can use his voice to destroy without these devices.
  • Precious Puppy: In the book, there is no mention of a specific dog, but the film showed several pugs (owned by the Atreides and Corrinos).
  • Pretty Boy:
    • Paul Atreides is portrayed by the strikingly pretty Kyle MacLachlan. Because Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach and can access the genetic memories of his female and male ancestors, his androgynous looks reflect his unique skill.
    • Meanwhile, every Harkonnen is ugly save Sting as Feyd. Heck, one scene has him slathered in oil (wearing a winged speedo), with his uncle lusting after him. One unfortunate Harkonnen slave boy is pretty enough to capture the Baron's attention.note 
  • Prolonged Prologue: The movie begins with four infodumps in a row: Irulan's introduction before the title sequence, "A Secret Report Within the Guild" after the title sequence, the conversation between the Guild Navigator and the Emperor, and Paul's filmbook.
  • Proper Lady: Lady Jessica behaves like one even though she's technically not part of the nobility.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: There's a scene in which several Bene Gesserit cry blood when Paul drinks the Water of Life. Although the movie doesn't make it clear, those who read the books will know that all of them are his relatives, and the identity of two of them makes guessing the significance of the third reasonably easy.
  • Reality Warper: Unlike in the books, the Guild Navigators can fold spacetime with their minds.
  • Re-Cut:
    • In addition to the Theatrical Cut, a few years later, a made-for-TV version, containing a prologue sequence and many deleted and extended scenes was created. Originally meant to air in two parts, it was disowned by Lynch, who goes by pseudonyms in its directing and writing credits. It was eventually released on DVD (as a nearly three-hour film with the recap linking the two parts removed) as an 'Extended Edition.'
    • Fandom insists there is a cut closer to Lynch's first cut of the film that runs at around four to five hours. Frank Herbert's son Brian said in an interview in 2003 his father had seen a 'five-hour' version (likely the very 1st assembly cut), but no longer version than the TV cut has been officially verified.
    • Author Frank Herbert actually provides the narration of the prologue sequence in the TV cut, rather than actress Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan.
    • The extended cut has yet to appear in HD in the States, but it has been released on Blu-Ray in both Germany and in Japan.
  • Rule of Sexy: Sting in a rubber g-string. If you've made it this far into the film, you've probably learned to let this kind of stuff go. Both Sting and Lynch would have preferred to shoot the scene with Male Frontal Nudity, but they couldn't because the movie had to be rated PG.
  • Scenery Porn: The deserts of Arrakis and the sets in general are very striking.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Paul gets in a good one.
    Paul: Don't try your powers on me. Try looking into that place where you dare not look. You'll find me there, staring back at you.
  • Shirtless Scene: Paul has one when he's in bed with Chani.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The three scenes Feyd is in, you won't forget.
  • Space Clothes: Averted — the film portrays the various peoples wearing European Renaissance-style court regalia and military uniforms with an early nineteenth-century feel. This comes off remarkably well.
  • A Storm Is Coming: "A storm is coming... our storm."
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: In the novel and miniseries, Baron Harkonnen dies simply as a result of being stabbed with a Gom Jabbar by Alia. In the film, she stabs him and rips out his heart plugs, before he goes flying out of a hole that had been blasted in the palace wall, leading to him being devoured by a worm.
  • Training Montage: A short one is used to show Paul Muad'dib training the Fremen to fight against the Harkonnens.
  • Video Credits: The end credits show images of all major characters together with their actor names.
  • Wham Shot: It begins to rain on Arrakis.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: The film turns the Weirding Way from the novel into a martial art and gives "my name is a killing word" a more literal meaning. Paul, in fact, is nearly flattened by rocks when a hapless Fremen utters the word "Muad'Dib."
  • World of Ham: The Baron Harkonnen is only the biggest pig in this ham-fest, followed by Patrick Stewart, Sting, and Siân Phillips.

"And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!"
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