(Photo by ©Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection, Chiabella James/©Warner Bros.)
Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune, a sprawling tale of warring families on distant planets, has been widely regarded as “unfilmable,” but that didn’t stop people from trying to get it made into a movie several times. After the success of Star Wars, producer Dino de Laurentis was eager to churn out an epic space opera of his own, so he (eventually) knocked on David Lynch’s door, gave him $40 million (the largest film budget ever at the time), and we got 1984’s Dune. That film was a notorious critical failure (44% on the Tomatometer) and box office flop, and it was the only movie version of the novel we had until Denis Villeneuve, a lifelong fan of the novel, said, “Lemme give it a go.”
Villeneuve’s Dune — just Part One of Two — debuted in late 2021 in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service, earning a Certified Fresh 83% Tomatometer against a 90% Audience Score, and it’s currently up for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, though Villeneuve’s absence from the Best Director category is widely considered a noteworthy snub. Packed with A-list talent on screen and guided by Villeneuve’s steady directorial hand, the film largely lived up to its near-impossible-to-meet expectations for most fans.
On the other hand, dissatisfied with rampant studio interference on the film, David Lynch famously disowned the earlier Dune after its release, so much so that he even insisted his name be removed from various subsequent edits of it. Despite that, it has gone on to inspire a cult following of fans who dig its challenging themes and bizarre but distinctly Lynchian idiosyncrasies. Of course, there are still plenty of folks who loved the original novel who found Lynch’s version unsatisfactory, perplexing, and downright goofy, but it’s far more interesting to hear what the die-hard fans of Dune ’84 actually like about it.
And now that Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of the novel has been deemed a smashing success, it’s a great time not only to reexamine Lynch’s earlier work, but to compare it against Villeneuve’s and get to the bottom of what worked and what didn’t… in both films. It may be true that there are fewer quibbles with Villeneuve’s Dune than there are positive ways to spin Lynch’s version, but there is a lot of story to cover, and our guest this week has thoughts on all of it.
Joining regular co-hosts Jacqueline Coley and Mark Ellis is one Alex Pappademas, host of The Big Hit Show podcast and author of the upcoming book Keanu Reeves: Most Triumphant – The Movies and Meaning of an Irrepressible Icon. Alex notes that, when Lynch’s Dune came out, it was, as Dino de Laurentis intended, marketed to kids, complete with a toy line and children’s books. He remembers getting the Dune storybook as a 7-year-old and being subsequently baffled and traumatized by the film, only to rewatch it later as a David Lynch fan and find new ways to appreciate it as a very Lynchian concoction. Both he and Mark feel the Tomatometer score for Lynch’s Dune should be much higher, while Jacqueline wholeheartedly disagrees. And after digging into the earlier Dune, the three dive into Villeneuve’s film to nail down why it worked so much better.
Check in every Thursday for a new episode of Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong (A Podcast From Rotten Tomatoes). Each week, hosts Jacqueline and Mark and guests go deep and settle the score on some of the most beloved – and despised – movies and TV shows ever made, directly taking on the statement we hear from so many fans: “Rotten Tomatoes is wrong.”
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Meet the hosts
Jacqueline Coley is an editor at Rotten Tomatoes, with a focus on awards and indie coverage but with a passion for everything, from the MCU to musicals and period pieces. Coley is a regular moderator at conventions and other events, can be seen on Access Hollywood and other shows, and will not stand Constantine slander of any kind. Follow Jacqueline on Twitter: @THATjacqueline.
Mark Ellis is a comedian and contributing editor for Rotten Tomatoes. He currently hosts the Rotten Tomatoes series Versus, among others, and can be seen co-hosting the sports entertainment phenomenon Movie Trivia Schmoedown. His favorite Star Wars movie is Jedi (guess which one!), his favorite person is actually a dog (his beloved stepdaughter Mollie), and – thanks to this podcast – he’s about to watch Burlesque for the first time in his life. Follow Mark on Twitter: @markellislive.