Denis Villenueve has filmed the unfilmable and delivered a critically acclaimed and commercially successful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune, one that’s fast closing in on a box office haul of $400 million despite releasing simultaneously on HBO Max, with a sequel already confirmed for an October 2023 release.
That’s a damn sight better than David Lynch’s 1984 version managed, after the filmmaker’s troubled production failed to recoup the $40 million budget during its theatrical run and endured a response from critics and audiences that could generously be described as tepid at best.
Ridley Scott certainly knows his way around jaw-dropping sci-fi and lavish epics having helmed the likes of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and many more, but in an interview with Total Film, he admitted that he walked away from the chance to direct the project that would ultimately become Lynch’s Dune.
“It’s always been filmable. I had a writer called Rudy Wurlitzer, of the Wurlitzer family. He’d written two films: Two-Lane Blacktop with James Taylor, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which had Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson. My brain’s working quite well today, actually! We did a very good take on Dune, because early days, I’d work very, very closely with the writer. I was always glomming the look of the film onto what he or she was writing. And then [producer] Dino [De Laurentiis] had got me into it and we said, ‘We did a script, and the script is pretty f*cking good.’
Then Dino said, ‘It’s expensive, we’re going to have to make it in Mexico.’ I said, ‘What!’ He said, ‘Mexico.’ I said, ‘Really?’ So he sent me to Mexico City. And with the greatest respect to Mexico City, in those days [it was] pretty pongy. I didn’t love it. I went to the studio in Mexico City where the floors were Earth floors in the studio. I said, ‘Nah, Dino, I don’t want to make this a hardship.’ And so I actually backed out and instead moved on to Legend. Tim Curry and Tom Cruise.”
Instead, he moved onto fantasy adventure epic Legend starring a young Tom Cruise, which released the year after Dune and suffered a similar fate by flopping at the box office. Whether or not things would have turned out any differently for the latter had Scott directed instead of Lynch will remain one of history’s great unanswered questions.