The making and release of the 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s mega-successful sci-fi epic Dune, directed by of all people David Lynch, is one of those events that is so improbable, sometimes it feels like it can’t have happened. For a generation weaned on Star Wars and Alien, it may have seemed a sure bet, but the complexity of Herbert’s narrative and all of the adult thematics made it a difficult, confusing sell in an industry eager to find its next source of addictive action figures. (That year, Ghostbusters came the nearest to filling that void.)
My favorite bit of writing on Dune is J. Hoberman’s review, which appeared in the Christmas edition of the Village Voice in 1984 and can also be found in his volume Vulgar Modernism. Even as he admired certain aspects of the movie, he wrote it reminded him of a “seventh grade science project run amok”—I’m still rooting for his descriptor of “brilliantly disgusting” to appear as a pull quote on some future release, complete with exclamation mark.
For an expensive boondoggle, Dune admittedly had a fascinating cast, which included Sting, Patrick Stewart, Kyle MacLachlan, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow, Virginia Madsen, Sean Young, and Brad Dourif. And we all know that Lynch had many spectacular successes and failures ahead of him…..
Even if Dune didn’t become the next multi-billion-dollar grossing space opera franchise, there was a hot minute there where the people involved were convinced that it might become just that. Somewhere in there a publishing house named Grosset & Dunlap was persuaded to put out a series of Dune coloring and activity books—I think there were six of them in all. The books did get released, and today they fetch a pretty penny on the collector’s market.
In fairness, Star Wars itself has some pretty adult themes, and that didn’t stop it from conquering the imaginations of just about everyone. Still, these spreads of children’s activities structured around “pain tests” and corpses are just too much. The sandstorms will never not be cool, though…..
Hat tip to Pulp Librarian. For more on this subject, see Coilhouse’s take from a few years ago.