NME, 15th December 1984, p. 19


$ 45m


David Lynch

Come to that, would you have given him the money to make it in the first place? Richard Cook finds out what David "Eraserhead" Lynch has been Dune these past few years. Pic Derek Ridgers.

You could call Dune a basketball case: everything about it seems elongated, stretched, to some vast extreme of moviemaking.

It cost $45 million. It took four slow years to make. Before that, the film rights (the original book hit big in 1965-6) had been trailed all through the business. When David Lynch started his first script in May 1981 the project already seemed whiskery.

Four and a half years later, Lynch is explaining some these travails to me. Like every other reviewer, I haven´t at the time even been allowed to see the film yet. The director expresses a knowing puzzlement at my predicament.

"Well, I´ll tell ya," he says, as if explaining why he keeps a frog in his pocket. "I wanted to do Dune because there were things in it that I could try and do as a film. A lot of abstract ideas were swimming about in the story... so it couldn´t be a one-thing film."

Frank Herbert´s Dune is epic pulp SF: the opener in a sequence of books about an entire civilisation, centring on a young warrior´s attempt to take power over the whole show. You may already know this - the book´s been sold 60 million times. Short on philosophic profundity and packed with muscular derring-do, only its scale and density of character and event present cinematic problems. Such was Lynch´s worry - what to leave out?

"That was it - being true to the book and getting it down to a realistic length. And getting abstract things into it. I really think films can be artistic and commercial at the same time. Sunset Boulevard, Lolita, The Grapes of Wrath... those are all good pictures that did well."

David Lynch is a hesitant talker. If he sees trouble in a question - and he must be aware that the media is scenting Dune as a possible pratfall of Heaven´s Gate proportions - he is diplomatically unforthcoming, saying merely that he´s in no position to judge on the result. Perhaps he deliberately cultivates the hayseed touches in his appearance: a brush of hair that´s not dissimilar to Henry´s in Eraserhead, a ridiculous tie, a manner that suggests slow, constant bewilderment.

He comes from Montana, which is "about as American as you can get", and some years ago he pieced together an unearthly film called Eraserhead. It impressed Mel Brooks, of all people, who thought it looked like something by Ionesco; and Lynch was hired to make The Elephant Man for Brooksfilms. That almost equally eerie parable about disfigurement spellbound the extremely powerful and wealthy producer Dino de Laurentiis, who was looking for the right director for Dune.

But his project was conceived in the age of Star Wars. Hasn´t the taste for booming SF spectaculars gone into a recession?

"You mean has the world gone by?" he smiles. "That may be true. But I´m not worried about it. I´ve finished the picture and how it does in the world is sort out of my control. This isn´t like any other science fiction picture but I don´t know if it´s great for this time. I liked the feel of the book and the texture of the different worlds."

Is it for adults?

"I would´ve said it was earlier but now kids react to it more than adults do. The more familiar with the book you are, the more you´ll like it. There´s some problem with confusion in the film, and if you´re thinking too much it stops things."

I see. I hope that doesn´t mean a check-brain-at-door situation. The final version of Dune runs a mere two hours 16 minutes, which suggests either compression or depletion.

"There´s been changes all along. That´s part of the film process. It´s no fun if you can´t change things in the shooting or editing."

Diplomatic, as I say. After two monochrome films, was he tempted to make Dune in black and white too?

"Yeah, but it´s a colour picture. It would be wrong. I love black and white so much that I´d almost like to do everything that way. But there are colour pictures, and this is one of them."

How about coming to this work after two 'little' films? Was it hard keeping tabs on everything?

"There´s just more people and bits involved in putting it together, but it´s exactly the same process. One of the big differences with these special effects is that we had 900 shots that weren´t finished until the very end. You can´t really tell what the mood of a thing will be until you see it - and you don´t, at the time. You don´t know if things are really gonna work till the end, and sometimes they don´t and you can´t always change things.

"That´s frustrating. In Eraserhead I could do everything twice if I wanted to. With this film, even with the huge amount of time and money, there was not time for a lot of experimentation. Frustrating."


Lynch has sunk into his chair, and only his bulging eyes look remotely frustrated. It seems like a guessing game about Dune. Does it stand by the deepest qualities of his other films: dark and slow?

"I don´t know if they have these qualities," he says slowly, "but I´m real interested in mood. It could be a little bit on the dark side, yeah. It´s hard for me to say. To me the material dictates how it should be. I wouldn´t have been able to influence Return Of The Jedi (which Lynch was offered) because that´s totally George´s picture. I might´ve been a millionaire but I wouldn´t have been too happy about it."

And the, er, 45 million involved here?

"That´s too bad because it turns everybody off. I don´t really know how much it is, and the film was made in Mexico which is about the cheapest place to make it. 1700 people in the crew, 900 optical shots..." - he rattles off figures - "... It cost a lot of money. If it wasn´t on the screen, then it would be another matter."

But, presumably, it is on the screen. Lynch has two other current ideas, for projects called Ronnie Rocket and Blue Velvet ("full of strange sex and violence"). Maybe Dune will end up as an expensive bump in a career of odd shapes and darknesses. He´s a peculiar fellow, alright. Veteran readers may recall one of Dune´s actors telling me that Lynch uses expressions like "peachy keen". Gravely, I must report that he spoke the truth.