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Movie Trivia: 25 Essential Facts About Dune

Movie Trivia: 25 Essential Facts About Dune

(Updated 10/06/2020)

DUNE will take us deep into a galactic conflict in which a prophecy tips the balance of power and massive creatures hold the key to, well, everything. The movie, directed by Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL, BLADE RUNNER 2049) follows young Paul Atreides, whose regal father is given control of the desert planet Arrakis. The landscape seems barren and empty, but Arrakis — nicknamed Dune — is the only source of the most valuable commodity known to man: a drug-like spice called Melange, which enables long-distance space travel.

Timothée Chalamet stars as Paul, and he's joined by a top-flight cast that includes Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.

With all those people involved in a new telling of one of the great sci-fi stories, we can't wait to see DUNE. In the meantime, we're looking back at the original 1984 movie version, directed by David Lynch ("Twin Peaks") and at Frank Herbert's original novel. Here are 25 essential facts about DUNE.

Essential Dune Trivia

Movie Trivia: Dune

1. The earliest inspiration for the original novel was a problem with massive sand dunes in Oregon. Author Frank Herbert wrote about the topic in an article called "They Stopped the Moving Sands," which was ultimately never published.

2. Frank Herbert's first pass at the "Dune" plot was outlined for a planned story called "Spice Planet." He never wrote the story, but his son Brian Herbert, with Kevin J. Anderson, eventually fleshed out the outline into a full story, which was published in "The Road to Dune."

3. "Dune" was first published in two serialized sections, called "Dune World" and "Prophet of Dune," in "Analog" magazine between 1963 and 1965.

4. The life-cycle of the spice Melange was inspired by mushrooms.

5. Every year since 1966, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America hands out the prestigious Nebula Award for best science fiction or fantasy novel. "Dune" was the first Nebula winner.

6. Frank Herbert had to struggle to find a publisher for "Dune" in 1965. Eleven years later, the third novel in the series, "Children of Dune," was the first science fiction novel to be a best-seller in hardback.

7. With almost a hundred sets built over a span of more than three years, DUNE used an actual army of 1700 crew members.

8. Actor Kyle MacLachlan made his big-screen debut playing Paul Atreides in David Lynch's 1984 movie version.

9. Paul Atreides is 15 in the novel; Kyle MacLachlan was 25 when he played the character; Timothée Chalamet was 23.

Kyle MacLachlan in Dune 1984

[Image Credit: Universal Pictures]

10. Dexter Fletcher had played a small role in David Lynch's previous movie, THE ELEPHANT MAN. Lynch approached him about playing Paul Atreides, as Fletcher was still in his late teens, and therefore closer to Paul's age as written in the novel. Fletcher did not get the role, but his career worked out well. Years later he stepped in to finish BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and directed ROCKETMAN.

11. David Lynch met with Dexter Fletcher while the young actor was rehearsing "Henry IV" for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Also in the cast, playing Henry IV, was an actor Lynch did not know: Patrick Stewart, who was eventually cast in DUNE as Gurney Halleck.

12. Patrick Stewart's character totes around an instrument called a "baliset." The prop is actually a slightly disguised real-world instrument called the Chapman Stick, invented by jazz guitarist Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s.

13. Patrick Stewart called the stillsuit — which people on Arrakis wear to conserve moisture — the most uncomfortable costume he ever had to wear.

14. Director David Lynch cameos as a spice mining machine operator.

15. The Samalayuca Dune Fields in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua doubled for the surface of Arrakis.

16. Costumes for some of the Spacing Guild characters in Lynch's DUNE were made from body bags found in an old firehouse — bags which had reportedly already been used for their intended purpose.

Movie Trivia: Dune

17. DUNE was among the first movies to use computer-generated effects; the combat shields represent a very early use of computer imagery used to model a human outline.

18. A glossary was given out to audiences when DUNE was originally released, to help familiarize viewers with the film's terminology.

19. Rumors claim that David Lynch wanted a 3-hour version of Dune which producers and Universal Pictures shortened against his wishes. In the interview book "Lynch on Lynch," however, he says the shooting script was 135 pages — a script page represents roughly one minute of screen time — and that he never delivered a longer cut than the theatrical version.

20. A television edit of DUNE cut some scenes and added previously deleted material. David Lynch had no part in this edit, and had his name removed from the credits. "Alan Smithee" is credited as director.

21. While David Lynch has said he did not have a good experience making DUNE, the movie partnered him with producer Dino De Laurentiis, who subsequently backed BLUE VELVET. That movie became Lynch's big career breakthrough.

22. George Lucas approached David Lynch to direct RETURN OF THE JEDI, but Lynch passed, and made DUNE instead.

23. The original STAR WARS bears more than a few influences from the original novel, including a desert planet as a major setting and allusions to spice mining. Early drafts of the STAR WARS script featured even more explicit "Dune" references.

24. Denis Villeneuve said "the ambition [with DUNE] is to do the Star Wars movie I never saw." His cinematographer on DUNE is Greig Frasier, who shot ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

25. In 2016, when making BLADE RUNNER 2049, Denis Villeneuve explained doing two sci-fi movies (ARRIVAL and BLADE RUNNER) in a row, saying "I had been wanting to do sci-fi for a very long time." He went on to say, "a longstanding dream of mine is to adapt “Dune,” but it’s a long process to get the rights, and I don’t think I will succeed." He did!

Want to learn more about the new DUNE movie?

All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, unless otherwise indicated.

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