Re: New Dune movie

not really sure where to put this, so figured i'd drop it here. this is very interesting...
Wired wrote:I Found David Lynch’s Lost Dune II Script
It was only about halfway done, but the script David Lynch wrote for the sequel to his 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel, Dune, was still better than Dune Messiah.

David Lynch’s 1984 sci-fi epic Dune is—in many ways—a misbegotten botch job. Still, as with more than a few ineffectively ambitious films before it, the artistic flourishes Lynch grafted onto Frank Herbert’s sprawling Machiavellian narrative of warring space dynasties have earned it true cult classic status. Today, fans of the film, which earned a paltry $30 million at the box office and truly bruising reviews upon its release, still wonder what Lynch would have done if given the opportunity to adapt the next two novels in Herbert’s cycle: Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

Franchising was the plan before the first film crashed and burned, with Lynch and star Kyle MacLachlan (playing Paul Atreides) set to shoot both Dune sequels back-to-back in 1986. Miniature spaceship models, costumes, and props from the first film were placed in storage by producer Dino De Laurentiis for use on these follow-ups, while the director hammered away on a Dune II script. “I wrote half a script for the second Dune. I really got into it because it wasn’t a big story,” he says in Lynch on Lynch, “more like a neighborhood story. It had some really cool things in it.”

During the two years I spent putting together my book A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune—An Oral History, I had no luck uncovering Lynch's script for Dune II, despite Frank Herbert telling Prevue magazine in December 1984 that he possessed a copy and was advising Lynch on it. “Now that we speak the same ‘language,’ it’s much easier for both of us to make progress, especially with the screenplays,” Herbert told the publication. Then, in July 2023, within the Frank Herbert archives at California State University, Fullerton, I came across a slim folder with a sticky note declaring “Dune Messiah script revisions,” addressed to the second floor of VFX man Barry Nolan’s office in Burbank where Lynch supervised the final effects shoots and editing on Dune.

Inside the folder lay the stuff of fans’ dreams, never made public until now: 56 pages dated “January 2nd-through-9th, 1984,” matching Lynch’s “half a script” statement. Complete with penned annotations by Herbert, the Dune II script shows Lynch was still enthusiastic about the material, lending new significance to minor details in the ’84 film. He also cracked a way to tell the complex story of Herbert's 1969 novel Dune Messiah, easily the least cinematic book in the series due to its emphasis on palace intrigue over action, along with the inner turmoil of a reluctant dictator (Paul Atreides) in place of a traditional hero’s journey. It may ring of sacrilege to some, but Lynch's Dune II would have bested Herbert's book—and been one hell of a movie.

While writing this piece I reached out to Lynch for comment, since his Dune II script had never been discussed in detail publicly. He stated, through an assistant, that he “sort of remembers writing something but doesn’t recall ever finishing it.” As Dune is “a failure in his eyes and not a particular time that he likes to think of or talk about,” he politely declined to speak to me.

The Lynch Touch

“I’m writing the script for Dune II. Dune II is totally Dune Messiah, with variations on the theme. ... Dune Messiah is a very short book, and a lot of people don’t like it, but in there are some really nifty ideas. I’m real excited about that, and I think it could make a really good film. It starts 12 years later, and this creates a whole new set of problems. ... It should have a different mood. … It should be 12 strange years later.” —David Lynch, Starburst #78 (January 1985)

Of the many differences between Dune Messiah in novel form and David Lynch's script, the biggest lay in the opening pages, which detail what happens in the aftermath of the scene in the first Dune movie when the Harkonnens bombed the Atreides’ fortress in Arrakeen, the capitol of the desert planet Arrakis. In the hallway where Duncan Idaho (Richard Jordan) was shot in the head, his shielded dead body still floats on the floor, humming and sparking.

“The Bene Tleilaxu make for deliciously strange villains, right up David Lynch’s alley. He lets loose with them in his script.”
Dune scholar Kara Kennedy

From out of the shadows emerges a familiar face: the Baron's Doctor (Leonardo Cimino). Thought to be the only speaking part created specifically for Dune by Lynch, we learn this Doctor was actually Scytale, a shape-shifting “face dancer” crucial to the plot of Herbert's second book. Going back to Dune ’84, you may not have noticed Cimino's Doctor accompanied Baron Harkonnen during the Arrakeen attack. The Doc is absent after that, even as the Baron yells creepily, “Where's my doctor?” That’s because Doc/Scytale absconded with Duncan’s body. This Easter egg is Lynchian world-building at its best.

Scytale's 12-year odyssey reanimating “dead Duncan Idaho” into the ghola named Hayt on the nightmarish Bene Tleilax world (mentioned by Paul in Dune) constitutes the entire opening 10 minutes of the script. Lynch calls the planet Tleilax “a dark metal world with canals of steaming chemicals and acids.” Those canals, Lynch writes, are lined with “dead pink small test tube animals.” Initiating Dune II with a focus on Scytale foregrounds him to primary antagonist, unlike Herbert's book where myriad conspirators work against Paul.

“Lynch’s favorite set during production of Dune was Giedi Prime, with machinery and flesh alterations fitting his artistic sensibilities,” says Mark Bennett, founder of the DuneInfo website, after reading the unearthed script. “For Messiah, Lynch decided that Bene Tleilax could be co-opted for his style, since it isn’t described in the novel.”

The planet itself is run by the Tleilaxu, sadists whose mere language (“Bino-theethwid, axlotl”) signals their bizarre nature, giving Kenneth McMillan's grotesque Baron from the ‘84 Dune a run for his money. Here's a particularly surreal/Lynchian passage, where Scytale sings a haunting “boogie tune”:

Scytale's friends are laughing and wildly rolling marbles under their hands as they watch Scytale sing through eighteen mouths in eighteen heads strung together with flesh that is like a flabby hose. The heads are singing all over the pink room. One man opens his mouth and a swarm of tiny people stream out singing accompaniment to Scytale. Another man releases a floating dog which explodes in mid-air causing everyone to get small and lost in the fibers of the beautiful carpet. Though small they all continue to laugh, a laughter which is now extremely high in pitch. Scytale (now with only one head) crawls up a wall laughing hysterically.

“The Bene Tleilaxu make for deliciously strange villains, right up Lynch’s alley,” says Dune scholar Kara Kennedy (Frank Herbert’s Dune: A Critical Companion), who I also provided with a copy of the screenplay. “He lets loose with them in his script.”

Scytale breathes new life into Idaho over many years in a place described as “a beautiful hot pink room with violet light which is a blend of living room and rubbery surgical room.”

“You can imagine Frank Herbert and Dino De Laurentiis wondering if Lynch was writing a sequel to Eraserhead!” says Bennett.

Scytale's visage “face-dances” into Idaho at several points, which may have necessitated early morphing technology before it was developed for Ron Howard's 1988 film Willow.

“I recall Richard Jordan as Duncan Idaho agreed to a smaller presence in Dune for the promise of the breakout character in Dune Messiah and beyond,” Stilgar actor Everett McGill told me after reading the uncovered script. “I’m not surprised David begins this story with a full-on reanimation of dead Duncan Idaho among all the fun and jarring Lynchian images.”

Following his Frankenteinian revival of Duncan, Scytale gets a new mission from red-headed Abulurd Harkonnen II (half-brother of Baron Vladimir/father of now-deceased Feyd and Rabban) to aid in stealing a sandworm from Emperor Paul Atreides, now Muad'Dib. This demi-brother Abulurd plays no real part in Herbert's books, but is mentioned in the appendices.

“With Abulurd, I suspect Lynch was attempting to find a way to keep the Harkonnen in the story,” says Kennedy. “He enjoyed crafting their characters, but they are all dead by the end of the original film.”

The half-finished script also features the return of Lynch's oft-maligned inner voice monologues, such as when Abulurd thinks to himself: “Yes … this Scytale could make a good distrans—unwittingly … yes!” (For the uninitiated, a “distrans” is essentially a person or animal carrying an implanted message that can be unlocked with a word, not unlike William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic.)

After getting his marching orders, Scytale boards a Heighliner to Wallach IX, a snow planet where he, Princess Irulan, Mother Mohiam, and a Guild Navigator plot Paul's downfall. From here the script resembles Dune Messiah more closely, as this is where the book begins.

“Dune Messiah was a problematic sequel,” says McGill, who frequently collaborated with Lynch, including on Twin Peaks. “The fast-moving adventure of the first book runs right up against the slog of civil administration in the second. Preserving the Empire can be a lot of meetings, decrees, or conspiracies. David’s treatment shows he was working hard against that.”

Paul's ceremonial wife Irulan (Virginia Madsen) returns to Arrakeen, transformed over 12 years with new buildings bracketed by “gardens of strange, exotic plants from throughout the universe,” with a solid gold palace at the center. In the much-derided ending of 1984’s Dune, a god-like Paul Atreides made it rain for the first time on Arrakis, possibly destroying all sandworms (water kills them).

While the Dune II draft acknowledges that rainfall (Irulan asks Paul, “Are you never going to let it rain again?”), worms still run rampant, including one that Paul keeps beneath his massive underground throne room, which the screenplay describes as “the largest room in the universe, with an approach passageway in solid gold ten miles long, with 800-foot ceilings.”

In his novel, Herbert demonstrated unrest among the Fremen through conversation; in his script, Lynch laid out opposition to Paul's rule via a more cinematic form: a knife fight. An anonymous Fremen warrior challenges Paul to a duel, but Paul's partner Chani (who would have been played, like she was in Lynch’s first film, by Sean Young) says he has to kill her first before getting a stab at Paul. Chani makes short work of this warrior, putting him on the ground with two kicks and a knife to the neck: “If I kill them … the word spreads that even the concubine of Paul kills the strongest of the challengers.”

This scene is also a showcase for Young's Chani as a fierce combatant. Despite being a trained dancer and athlete, Young had no real fight choreography in Dune. “I never had major fights in that show,” Young confirmed to me during interviews for my book.

Next, Paul has one of his trademark dream visions. In it, he sees a vast ocean of blood, a metaphor for the terror his jihad has wrought on the universe. An elusive, unseen consciousness calls out to Paul, obscured in shadow until it transforms into “a massive black vibrating soft cube of screams.” Chani wakes Paul, and the two argue over whether to let Irulan bear his heir.

In the city, Scytale (disguised as Duncan) murders one of Paul's former loyalists—Farok—and kidnaps Lichna, the daughter of Paul’s trusted Fremen soldier Otheym (Honorato Magaloni in Dune), all as Abulurd observes from the shadows. Meanwhile, Paul holds a council meeting providing his now-teenage sister Alia (previously played by 7-year-old Alicia Witt) with a big entrance: “sexy, 17 and wears a very beautiful version of the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother robes.” Lynch auditioned actress Jennifer Jason Leigh for the first Dune, making casting director Jane Jenkins earmark her for a “grown-up Alia.”

A Guild Navigator, one of the large mutated Spacing Guild leaders, arrives in his giant terrarium bearing a “precious gift” for Paul: the Duncan ghola, now called “Hayt” with the “metal eyes of the Bene Theilaxu.” Stilgar (McGill) senses danger: “The creature in the tank gives me shudders, Sire, but this gift! Send it away.”

"I like very much that Stilgar goes through the roof over the ghola Duncan Idaho gift," McGill says. "He sees it as a huge threat and an abomination of the man Stilgar knew. I was happy to see that Stilgar could still be played as a check on Paul’s rulership."

Meanwhile, Mother Mohiam (Siân Phillips)—Paul’s Bene Gesserit nemesis from the first book/film—is removed from the Guild’s Heighliner, then taken to a cell under Stilgar's watch. There is a terrific scene of Irulan and imprisoned Mohiam speaking to each other while holding a secret secondary conversation with finger gestures translated by voiceover. The Reverend Mother covertly instructs Irulan to assassinate Chani if she becomes pregnant, and to force an incestuous relationship between Paul and Alia.

“The finger-talking between Irulan and Mohiam is in the novel, but the novel tells us what is said rather than actual dialogue. [Lynch] had to write a lot of 'new' dialogue,” says Bennett.

This leads into what would surely become an iconic moment: Alia fighting a training robot naked with a sword. While from the book, Lynch adds the element of Irulan watching her and goading her with a clumsy suggestion of sexual tension with her brother. Paul enters the room to stop the increasingly fast/dangerous robot, witnessing Alia's naked body. As soon as Irulan perceives a possible attraction between Paul and Alia, she breaks down and tells both of the Guild's conspiracy against them. Said confession happens later in the book, and—if his pen strokes crossing out this section of the script are an indicator—Herbert was not a fan of the change. It does, however, move the plot forward.

In a scene reminiscent of a police procedural, Duncan and Alia investigate the uncovered body of Scytale's kidnap victim Lichna—her head smashed and hands missing. “Someone didn't want her recognized,” Detective Duncan notes. Alia relays these findings to Paul and warns him to be rid of Hayt/Duncan (to whom she is wildly attracted), while a feasting Chani reveals to Alia she is pregnant. Next, Chani and a security officer named Bannerjee clear the girl Lichna (actually Scytale in disguise, since the real Lichna is dead) to deliver a message: Paul must go to Farok to learn of the Fremen conspiracy against him. Despite seeing through Scytale's disguise, Paul agrees to visit Farok alone. This is where Lynch's script ends.

Interestingly, Herbert left a cryptic scribbled note on the back of the final page, a prescient one given the imminent end of the project: “Metaphors: Sand from Paul's boot (hourglass).”

Messianic Tendencies

Since Lynch's Dune II pages abruptly end midway through the story, there’s no indication of what the Twin Peaks impresario might have done with the scene where Paul’s sight is incinerated by a stone burner. Barry Nolan, who did the blue-eye visual effects for the first Dune film, mocked up a test version of the blackened eyes Paul received as the result. “I said, 'In case we do a second one, here. I’ve made his eyes black,’” Nolan says in my book. “David thought it was so great.”

In terms of political blindness, the unfinished nature of the script leaves open just where the generally Libertarian-leaning Lynch stood with the politics of Dune. In Herbert’s novel, and Denis Villeneuve's 2021 Dune, Paul is reluctant to kick off the holy war to end all holy wars. That’s largely missing from Lynch’s take.

Herbert has stated that showing why we shouldn't trust charismatic leaders is the very essence of his overall Dune story. Was that erasure a commercial concern, or did it reflect Lynch's relatively apolitical nature? He may have voted for Reagan and Obama, and told interviewer Richard Barney that he is “not a political person,” but adapting Dune Messiah would have forced Lynch to pick a side: Does he consider Paul a true hero, or a reluctant horror who killed 61 billion (with a “b”) people?

“A few book scenes are missing in the script, mostly word games that don't progress the plot,” says Bennett. “Also missing is Paul talking to Stilgar and Korba about how he's killed more people than Hitler, a favorite among Dune fans countering the ‘Paul is a hero’ argument. The script seems to be treading around that aspect of Paul's crusade.”

Given Paul's more book-accurate manipulative trajectory from Dune: Part One (the “prophecy” of his arrival was fed to the Fremen by the Bene Gesserit) and what we have seen of Paul's Nuremberg-esque rallies in the forthcoming Dune: Part Two, Villeneuve will no doubt address the heel turn Paul takes if/when the Canadian filmmaker ultimately adapts Dune Messiah.

As when Lynch was promoting his own Dune film four decades ago, Villeneuve has been bullish talking up the next movie, as during a recent press conference. “It will make absolute sense for me to do this movie. [Dune Messiah] is being written right now,” Villeneuve said. “The screenplay is almost finished, but it is not finished. It will take a little time.”

Villeneuve could try to expound on the book in ways similar to the ones Lynch employed, but given the Shakespearian tragedy inherent in the material, it may not make for the stuff of franchise-building blockbusters.

“Dune Messiah was not going to be the epic adventure of Dune,” says McGill. “This tale is about the sober reality following an intoxicating revolt, and to boot our messiah ends up wandering off into the desert, blind as a bat.”

Kennedy adds of Dune II, “Without the burden of trying to prop up a heroic figure, which he never seemed to care for in his film, Lynch seems more comfortable with this material and able to explore the strangeness of villains and squabbles of factions. The characters are grittier, the motives murkier, and Lynch leans into the weirdness with this script.”

While infused with the plot of Dune Messiah, Lynch's script for Dune II is more than a fascinating curiosity; it is a glimpse into an alternate post–Return of the Jedi movie landscape where a visionary oddball conjured Herbert's sci-fi works onscreen as a dark, sophisticated, and eye-poppingly weird cinematic odyssey that—as George Lucas' Star Wars remains—could still be a viable franchise today the way Lynch envisioned it: weirding modules, heartplugs, face dancers—the works.

“I was really getting into Dune II. I wrote about half the script, maybe more, and I was really getting excited about it,” Lynch said in 2013. “It was much tighter, a better story.”

Re: New Dune movie

i was on the road opening weekend of Part 2, but did catch it the following weekend. while it's a really great film, it's not a really great adaptation. i'm must less enthused on that front with this film than i was with Part 1. with Part 1, i was pretty forgiving, wanting to see his entire vision before passing judgement. now that i have, the changes he made resulted in some extremely weird things happening on screen with the snowball effect of those choices.
  • the timeline is very compressed. the events of the films seem to take place over the course of a few months, max, while it takes years in the book.
    this means everything in those years doesn't really happen. paul doesn't have two years to learn the ways of the desert, slowly get his blue eyes via long-term spice consumption, earn the trust of the fremen, etc. the speed at which the things that do happen happen doesn't really make much sense.
  • that also means that his twins with Chani do not exist here. it didn't happen. the Harkonnen killing Paul's son is one of the main events that starts his emotional and moral turn. the children also bind him and Chani in a much deeper way. the murder of his son helps justify and explain why Paul does what he does in the book. in the film, his turn kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn't really make much narrative sense.
  • when Paul drinks the water of life in the book, he's gone. out. near death for a month. on screen, it seems like he has a tummy ache for a day then is totally fine. we don't really get to see the visions he has and how he struggles with their meaning. it is just kind of presented like "here, he's done this, now he's Super Paul". that's a real bummer.
  • the fact that they don't spent two years with the Fremen also means that Alia isn't born in this film. this alone has huge snowball effects, as of course Alia now doesn't kill the emperor. the "fully sentient baby" conversations now take place between Jessica and Alia in utero. while that does accomplish a few of the necessary things, it just kind of makes it feel like Jessica is becoming unhinged. these are drastically different points from the novel, the implications of which for the future of the franchise remain to be seen. we do get to see Alia on screen - in a vision Paul has of the future - and she's fully-grown Anya Taylor-Joy. i guess that part at least bodes well for the time jump before Part 3, but it completely changes the entire Atriedes family history on Arrakis. very bizarre.
  • Thufir Hawat is not in Part 2. that once again completely changes entire story lines and motivations, as he isn't forced to serve the Baron, etc. i know DV has come out saying this was the most painful cut he had to make, but he did have to for the sake of the film. look, i realize that there are going to be compromises when you only have six hours to tell a novel full of hundreds of characters, but this is kind of a big deal on both the Atriedes and Harkonnen sides.
  • Chani. at the end, she essentially fucks off on her own. i don't really understand why the drastic change in Chani and her actions here, but i guess once she wasn't "simply" Paul's concubine, mother of his children, she became an entirely different character. this move seems to set her up as future Paul's enemy on Arrakis, which is again a pretty weird take on what happens next. remains to be seen the further effects of this decision.
there are more, but these are the huge ones that stuck out, off the top. more issues - we still didn't see or even discuss the Spacing Guild or Navigators, for example. that means that really, we have no real concept of why the spice matters so much to the rest of the universe, other than someone saying interstellar travel isn't possible without it. DV could have at least shown them for a few moments during the emperor's party's journey to Arrakis, teasing them, setting them up for how prominent they must be in Part 3, but nope. very disappointing. and while we do get a few seconds of screen time showing Gurney playting the baliset and singing, once again no flashbacks to the banquet scene or anything resembling that. then again, i guess if you're essentially going to completely remove most of the characters present there, there's kind of no point in filming it. speaking of which, while there were things filmed that were cut, DV has gone on record as saying that he doesn't believe in director's cuts, that the movie is the movie, so it seems we won't be getting any kind of extended cuts of these films. just a bummer all around on that front.

while that's a lot, there is a lot more to be said about it, but i want the opportunity to watch it again, maybe a couple more times, before fleshing out that opinion. in preparation for seeing Part 2, i rewatched Part 1. i still feel like Part 1 was a near-perfect film and adaptation. it was better than i hoped for. but, i was much less enthusiastic about Part 2 after seeing it. again, it's certainly a good film - even if you only consider the technical aspects like the bleak, brutalist set design and the practical in-camera work done here - it's just not a great adaptation. i don't know why people feel like they need to "make source material their own" or something. again, i realize that there are necessary changes you must make when adapting a novel, especially one this large and sweeping in scope with lots of internal dialog and exposition, but you need to walk the line between doing what you must and over-simplifying things, creating some stripped-down version of the book. i think DV swung too far in that direction with this. the film felt a lot like the last couple seasons of Game Of Thrones, where it was just racing from milestone to milestone and completely ignoring characters or the "why" in between. i feel like it didn't have to be that way. all of that being said, this is now a new DV world, sort of Herbert-adjacent in an "inspired by" way, and i am curious to see where he's going to go with Part 3. also, i assume that will be the end of it for him. i kind of hope so, but i hope these are successful enough to hand the reins of the following books to someone else to film the next trilogy. but the reality is, if anything is "unfilmable", it starts with that next book after the 10,000 year time jump. i mean, the main character is some weird half human, half worm hybrid. i don't really know how they would accomplish that on screen.

i guess one of the positives about all the changes made by DV is that he's really investing in the BG long game storylines. that helps set up the rumored BG spinoff TV show, which should be extremely good if handled correctly.

TL;DR here for me is Part 1 is 5/5, Part 2 is maybe 4/5 as far as stand-alone films go. as an adaptation, taken together, this is probably 3.5/5 or less.

Re: New Dune movie

I thought Dune 1 was kind of meh. I'll see Dune 2 eventually I suppose. Fortunately I've never read the book so I don't have any issues with things being changed. But I'm still not rushing out to see this. I did see Lynch's Dune on the big screen a few weeks ago at the 40th anniv. showing, which I'm content with.
Just cut them up like regular chickens