A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch's Dune. An Oral History.

A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch's Dune. An Oral History.

by Max Evry
A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch's Dune. An Oral History.

A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch's Dune. An Oral History.

by Max Evry


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LIMITED FIRST EDITION contains red foil gilded page edges and a black satin ribbon marker.

As featured in PitchforkEmpireMovieMakerNerdist, The Wall Street JournalThe A.V. ClubMashable, Wired, Yahoo's "It List," IGN, SFXThe Wrap, Gizmodo and more!

“I see many things. I see plans within plans.”

Following his underground hit Eraserhead and critically acclaimed The Elephant Man, visionary filmmaker David Lynch set his sights on bringing Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi novel Dune to the screen. The project had already vexed directors such as Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) and Ridley Scott (Alien). But by the early ‘80s Universal Pictures was prepared to give Lynch the keys to the kingdom – and the highest budget in the studio’s history at the time – so that he could lend his surrealistic chops to this sprawling story of feuding space dynasties. They would also hopefully be creating a “Star Wars for adults” franchise-starter.

As the hot young filmmaker commanded a cast with 42 major speaking parts as well as a crew of 1,700 (plus over 20,000 extras) on 80 sets built on 8 sound stages in Mexico, what happened next became as wild, complex, and full of intrigue as Herbert’s novel itself.

Film writer Max Evry goes behind the erratic ride of David Lynch’s Dune like never before, with a years-in-the-making oral history culled from a lineup of new interviews with the film’s stars (Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, etc.), creatives, film executives, and insiders – not to mention Lynch himself.

David Lynch’s Dune initially left many filmgoers and reviewers scratching their heads, most dismissing the film upon its release. However, four decades and a big-budget remake later, Lynch’s Dune is finally poised to find its rightful place alongside the director’s other masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and Mullholland Drive.

Max Evry’s A Masterpiece in Disarray takes you back to 1984 with the deepest dive yet into the cult classic that is David Lynch’s Dune.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948221290
Publisher: 1984 Publishing
Publication date: 09/19/2023
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 71,239
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Max Evry has been a film journalist since 2005, serving at various times as a writer, interviewer, graphic designer, podcaster, video creator, features editor and managing editor. Past media outlets have included WiredMTV/Film, and Fangoria. For home video companies Arrow, Kino Lorber, Indicator, and ViaVision he has provided audio commentaries as well as featurettes for classic and contemporary films including Flatliners, Blackhat, and best picture Oscar winner Marty.

Currently he resides in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, two daughters, and a pile of truly marvelous unsold screenplays. This is his first book.

Read an Excerpt


Years ago, while attending a press event for a hit film, I met its A-list director at an arranged dinner. This filmmaker had been briefly attached to a big-budget remake of Dune, so during a casual moment I waltzed up with my drink and asked him if he had seen the recent documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, a semi-hot item in the geek community. He had neither seen nor heard of it. Nor did he seem to be aware that Alejandro Jodorowsky had ever planned on making Dune . . . and potentially didn’t know who Jodorowsky was. He mentioned how challenging Dune would be to execute in a commercial way and particularly noted that he never wanted his (now-scrapped) Dune to be “campy like the David Lynch version.”

“Campy.” The Fremen warrior deep within me declared a kind of passive-aggressive holy war on this man, no matter how many billions his movies had made. Of course, not every successful filmmaker is a cineaste, and a few might barely enjoy movies at all. But still, this dismissive word bothered me: “CAMPY.”

Not that I couldn’t see his point. Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s vaunted novel is flawed. Very flawed. Some of the effects are sub-Asylum level by today’s standards, and the performances range from bizarre to laughably broad. That’s not even taking into account how fatally compressed much of the 412-page narrative is when filtered into a 2-hour-17-minute movie. Despite all this, I continue to take exception to blithely writing off Lynch’s vision as “camp.”

One element that director was right about is how challenging Herbert’s book is to adapt. Boy, oh boy, is it ever. Before Lynch came on board to make the picture for producer Dino De Laurentiis, it vexed both Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott. Tackling this film took three years of Lynch’s life and a crew of 1,700 building 80 sets on 8 sound stages. Upon release it bemused critics and befuddled audiences, resulting in a box office dud that even Lynch has worked to distance himself from.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe 1984’s Dune to be a landmark of science-fiction cinema. It’s the byproduct of a supremely avant-garde artist (Lynch) working in conjunction with Hollywood machinery (Universal Pictures) for huge financial stakes (a reported $40 million budget, over $100 million adjusted for inflation) to produce a deeply eccentric blockbuster. When seen through the lens of today’s tentpole films, whose four-quadrant aspirations render them hopelessly homogenous, Lynch’s Dune is a unique oddity, equal parts baroque and philistine.

There are incredible moments in the film adaptation of Dune that have stuck with me since I first saw it as a tween in pan-and-scan form on TV: the mutated Guild Navigator confronting the Emperor while floating in a murky terrarium, Paul with his hand in “the box,” Baron Harkonnen flying through the air while laughing maniacally, and Sting with a blade in his hand, wildly boasting “I will kill him!” Oh, and let’s not forget those sandworms, which through a blizzard of miniature sand particles manage to evoke a phallus and vagina dentata simultaneously. One could easily blow up, frame, and hang at least three dozen shots from this film in a museum, and have them mistaken for anything from a Rococo-era genre painting to a Francis Bacon nightmare.

Luckily, this book has allowed me to do a deep dive into a film that has obsessed me since childhood. Hopefully, it will give Dune the same thorough examination that more praised films from the same era like Blade Runner or Brazil have received in the past. While I’m equally in love with those films, they are complete and successful works that have stood the test of time (provided you watch the director cuts). Dune, on the other hand, draws me in more because it’s so blatantly imperfect. Missed cinematic opportunities are a dime a dozen, but rarely do they hew as close to pure brilliance as Lynch’s epic. So how did it come to be so botched? Was Lynch too inexperienced? Too unfamiliar with sci-fi terrain? Or was it studio meddling? Penny-pinching producers? Is Dune simply, to pull an old chestnut, “unfilmable?”

The word “unfilmable” is often a euphemism for “challenging,” “uncommercial,” or simply not viable within a two- to three-hour feature length. Over a decade after Lynch’s take, a 265-minute TV miniseries version, Frank Herbert’s Dune, was mounted for the Sci-Fi Channel to mixed results. As I write, we are in the midst of Denis Villeneuve’s mega-budget remake of Dune that will span two films, with the first already on home video earning Oscars and the second in post-production.

Until that new set of films proves it can stick the landing, we will always have the Lynch version to consider, or reconsider if you have already seen and dismissed it. This book will attempt to cast new light on a movie that has been misunderstood in almost every conceivable way, whether by audiences unfamiliar with the source material, or literature fans upset at the many changes and deletions. It will delve into some of the earlier attempted versions, the epic struggles ‘Lynch and Co.’ faced mounting such a largescale project in Mexico, the aftermath for all involved, the versions that came after, and finally some modern critical takes looking at the nearly four-decade-old Dune with fresh eyes.

Hopefully, you’ll come to see it with a new perspective as well, and the sleeper Dune fan within shall awaken. Even if you still can’t bring yourself to call Dune a great film, perhaps I can convert some of you from red-faced haters to faint-praising it as a “bold swing-and-a-miss” or “fascinating failure.” You might even start referring to it as a “secret masterpiece” awaiting discovery . . . just don’t call it “campy.”

—Max Evry

Table of Contents


Author’s Note

I.   Pre-Production
     Dune Origins
     Previous Dune Attempts
     The Man from Another Place: David Lynch
     Detour to a Galaxy Far, Far Away
     Romancing De Laurentiis
     Building Four Worlds: Designing and Scripting Dune
     Casting a Galaxy of Stars
     Oral History: Pre-Production

II.  Production
     Location, Location, Location
     Start of Production
     Common Threads: Costuming
     Actors’ Experiences
     Production Problems
     Things That Make You Go Boom: Special Effects
     Oral History: Production

III. Post-Production and Release
     Band-Aids and Chewing Gum: Visual Effects
     Slice and Dice: Editing
     Not in Kansas Anymore: Toto’s Music
     Knife Fights on Lunchboxes: Marketing
     Dune and Gloom: Classic Reviews from 1984
     The Infamous Glossary
     Box Office and Awards
     Filmbooks: Home Video Releases
     Plans Within Plans: Alternate Cuts
     The Book vs. The Film
     Oral History: Post-Production & Release

IV. Legacy
     Dune Aftermath
     Oral History: Legacy
     Dune in Pop Culture
     Pyrrhic Victory: Fan Tributes
     Gholas: The Remakes
     Modern Impressions of Dune
     Mysteries of Love: Dune Symbols
     Interview: David Lynch
     Final Thoughts

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