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Will We Ever See David Lynch's Director's Cut of Dune (1984)?


Zack Snyder's Justice League is testament to the power of fandoms in today's world. Having been substituted with another director taking over the reins of Justice League, the full scope of his vision was derailed in favour of a strange final cut that involved a great deal of green screen effects. It's not worth getting into it right now but the point is that his director's cut eventually was released. While David Ayer's cut of Suicide Squad wasn't to be, the new Suicide Squad managed to sate comic book fans with a more worthy adaptation. Being a Marvel or DC superhero movie director comes with plenty of red tape, keeping fans, producers and studios content with the sacrifice of staying true to your vision.

Obviously, there are examples where oversight has led to a better product but all too often this too-many-chefs situation leads to diluted results geared more towards profit margins over artistic credibility. Signing on to do one of these movies ultimately comes with a number of setbacks when it comes to having full creative control. Doing a superb job can result in sequels, spin-offs or new projects, tempting enough to lure seasoned directors into the fray.

Dune Poster Art

This push-and-pull is explicit between a director and a studio, constantly calibrating their craft to prove they have what it takes and getting enough sway to literally call the shots. However, it's actually true for all directors who find themselves on a spectrum between being able to do whatever they damn-well please and being there to accomplish a selection of preset goals.

While directors like David Lynch and Werner Herzog are almost completely in control of their creativity when it comes to filmmaking, they're almost an exception. It really comes down to what you're willing to live with and just how much of your artistic license you're willing to sacrifice. David Lynch is one auteur whose creativity and trademark elements have been given space to roam. Coming from an artistic background, he framed his career through this lens, using Eraserhead as a calling card to lead to the likes of The Elephant Man and eventually Dune.

As well-respected as Lynch is, credited with his own "universe" in Lynchland, he too found the balance of power testing when he was commissioned to adapt Frank Herbert's 1965 novel 'Dune' to screen. A famous "flop" that garnered immediate cult appeal and launched his long-serving collaboration with Kyle MacLachlan in a feature film debut, the epic science-fiction film's legacy remains. The extent of which is still prevalent with classic Dune memorabilia such as 1984 Panini collectible stickers doing the rounds in a place like South Africa today.

Produced by bigwig producer, Agostino "Dino" De Laurentiis, Dune was regarded as a box office bomb... raking in $30 million when the budget was over $40 million. Filmed in Mexico City, Dune was already a "tough nut to crack" by virtue of Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed attempt to adapt the novel. Lynch's version almost sealed its fate, until acclaimed film director Denis Villeneuve took a sip from the chalice that is adapting the novel to screen. A rampant success led by Timothée Chalamet and featuring a stellar ensemble, the magnitude of the production naturally drew comparisons with Lynch's earlier "failure". Opting to forgo a Jack Nicholson type warning about taking on a difficult role, David Lynch was quoted as saying he had "zero interest" in seeing Villeneuve's version.

Lynch's version of Dune was panned by critics with Roger Ebert giving the film a 1-star rating basically calling it an incomprehensible mess. Other film pundits spoke to Dune's solemn no-fun tone and outlandish attempt to pack all the world-building of the novel into one movie. There weren't any major press junkets and it seems as though the marketing efforts crumbled out of the gates. There was a sense that the film was in trouble and was already doomed, doing it no favours in perceptions, speculation and opening weekend takings. The truth is that the production was hampered by an arm wrestle between David Lynch and Dino De Laurentiis as the two discovered creative differences in putting together an epic of this scale.

Being David Lynch's third feature film after black-and-white art films Eraserhead (1977) and The Elephant Man (1980), perhaps it was also a case of too much too soon for a writer-director used to working on more intimate and manageable productions. This blockbuster may have actually saved the David Lynch we know today who lives the artist's life. If he'd had every success with Dune in 1984, it could have led him in a direction that may not have cemented his place as one of the greatest film directors of all-time. Having Mulholland Drive land in many film critic's top 10 of all-time, perhaps the "once bitten, twice shy" undoing of Lynch's blockbuster film career was a necessary baptism by fire.

Having gone on to better if not bigger things, David Lynch is now in a strange position where his third film has gained renewed interest amid all the Dune mania. It's only natural for Top Gun to be revisited in the wake of Top Gun: Maverick's overwhelming success, which makes the blast from the past just as interesting in an age where film is often instantly accessible and ready to stream with the click of a button. While Snyder and Ayer's director cuts have made the headlines, it's curious to think that David Lynch may actually be in a position to see his cut of Dune come to light decades later.

Subjected to final cut approval by Universal Studios, Dune is the one film that got away from the director, who has basically disavowed it. Now with Dune's resurrection into pop culture, now seems like a good time to be having this conversation and Lynch says he became "depressed and sickened" by anyone asking if he didn't "want to go back and fiddle with Dune?". Lynch says that even though "horrible sadness and failure" that he "loved everything" about Dune, "even Dino who wouldn't give [him] what he wanted" with the exception "that [he] didn't have final cut".

According to Esquire, Lynch planned to sell a four and a half hour director’s cut in 1986 but talks fell apart. There's an abundance of footage that never made the final 2 hour cut. Perhaps now in the days where Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films can run almost 4 hours and shows are often released in one big batch, there may be more of a market for such a broad film release. Now, it seems Lynch is open to taking another look at a director's cut.

In a candid interview with AV Club, he acknowledges that working on the film did feel like he sold out. He knew what Dino wanted, what he could get away with and realised the limitations of this undertaking. These comments on what he calls a "sad, sad, pathetic, ridiculous story" imply that he's not all that confident with the footage that didn't make final cut. Lynch would love to review it with a view to finding a version of Dune that he would've wanted to make but that he'd be working from a "sow's ear" rather than a "silk purse".

While Lynch himself says that a director's cut is not a possibility, it is reassuring to know that if enough fans want something to happen, they will find a way. We may never see a director's cut of Dune but the sliver of a chance that it could even happen, means there's so much more chance of the idea crystalising. Lynch is a celebrated director who manages to land the funds to create his surreal art films with a long-awaited third season to Twin Peaks. Described as one of the greatest films in its year if you take off the music room bits and edit it all together, his long format storytelling has already garnered more interest and appeal. Perhaps the dark horse chance we're not tabling is that Lynch could possibly even get the platform to recreate his Dune vision from scratch.