A Side-by-Side, Shot-by-Shot Comparison of Denis Villeneuve’s 2020 Dune and David Lynch’s 1984 Dune

As a longtime fan of all things Dune, there’s no living director I’d trust more to take over the “property” than Denis Villeneuve. But why remake Dune at all? Oh, I know, the original film—directed (in several cuts) by “Alan Smithee,” also known as David Lynch—is a disaster, so they say. Even Lynch says it. (Maybe the nicest thing he’s ever said about the movie is, “I started selling out on Dune.”) Critics hated, and largely still hate, it; the film’s marketing was a mess (Universal promoted it like a family-friendly Star Wars clone); and the studio felt it necessary to hand glossaries to early audiences to define terms like Kwisatz Haderach, gom jabber, and sardaukar.

But when I first saw David Lynch’s Dune, I did not know any of this. I hardly knew Lynch or his filmography and had yet to read Frank Herbert’s books. I was a young science fiction fan who saw in the movie exactly what Lynch said he intended: “I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world.” I did not know to be upset about his deviations from the books in the grotesque imagining of the Third Stage Guild Navigator or the decision to cover Baron Harkonnen in bloody, oozing pustules. The film’s impenetrability seemed like a feature, not a bug. This was a world, totally alien and yet uncannily familiar.

In hindsight, I can see its many flaws, though not its total failure, but I still find it mesmerizing (and what a cast!). Villeneuve, I think, was in a very difficult position in updating such a divisive work of cinema. Should he appeal to fans of the books who hate Lynch’s film, or to fans of the classic film who love its imagery, or to the kinds of theatergoers Universal Studios feared would need a glossary to make it through the movie? Add to this the pressures of filmmaking during a pandemic, and you can imagine he might be feeling a little stressed.

But Villeneuve seems perfectly relaxed in a recent interview above for the Shanghai International Film Festival, and the trailer for the new film has so far passed muster with everyone who’s seen it, generating excitement among all of the above groups of potential viewers. As you can see in the video at the top, which matches shots from the preview with the same scenes from the 1984 film, the new Dune both does its own thing and references Lynch’s disputed classic in interesting ways.

No director should try to please everyone, but few adaptations come laden with more baggage than Dune. Maybe it’s a good idea to play it safe, anchoring the film to its troubled past while bringing it in line with the current size and scope of Hollywood blockbusters? Not if you ask the director of the Dune that never was. Alejandro Jodorowsky intended to bring audiences the most epic Dune of all time, and was relieved to find that Lynch’s adaptation was “a shitty picture.” By contrast, he pronounces the Villeneuve trailer “very well done” but also compromised by its “industrial” need to appeal to a mass audience. “The form is identical to what is done everywhere,” he says, “The lighting, the acting, everything is predictable.”

Maybe this is inevitable with a story that filmgoers already know. Maybe Villeneuve’s movie has surprises even Jodorowsky won’t see coming. And maybe it’s impossible—and always has been—to make the Dune that the cult Chilean master wanted (though breaking it into two parts, as Villeneuve has done, is surely a wise choice). Herbert’s vision was vast; every Dune is a compromise—“Nobody can do it. It’s a legend,” says Jodorowsky. But every great director who tries leaves behind indelible images that burrow into the mind like shai-hulud.

Related Content:

The Glossary Universal Studios Gave Out to the First Audiences of David Lynch’s Dune (1984)

The Dune Coloring & Activity Books: When David Lynch’s 1984 Film Created Countless Hours of Peculiar Fun for Kids

Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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  • Sami says:

    The 1984 version looks sooooo much better. Why is it that today’s movies have all completely lost the vividness and lights. Movies are not supposed to be dark, they’re movies – fantasy!

  • Steve P says:

    I guarantee if Lynch did the movie today it would surpass anything Denis Villeneuve would accomplish. This day and age we have easy access to CGI…back in 84 it was animatronics and matte screens. Lynch version albeit it was made over 30 years ago still stands the test of time…

  • trommo says:

    Complain all you want about Lynch’s DUNE (actually just stop) – it’s got style, atmosphere and lots of classic Lynchian weirdness. So many scenes have been vividly impressed in my memory since I first saw the film decades ago.

    From what I can see, Jodorowsky is right on about Villeneuve’s version – it’s a drab industrial product, competently designed and manufactured.

  • Rivka says:

    Stopped reading at gom “jabber”. Smh.

  • Rivka says:

    From what you’ve seen….that amounts to next to nothing. See the movie before comparing. I will.

  • K says:

    I was 11 when David Lynch’s Dune came out. I liked it back then. When I got a little older, I not only still enjoyed it, but I actually appreciated certain scenes more, in particular, the set pieces, particularly in the throne room. David Lynch basically made a movie that wasn’t supposed to have been ATTEMPTED to be made, let alone actually made and released. That’s what I think now. I read the books, and while I think they’re great, I’m by no means a purist or any of the hardcore type fans. Perhaps it had something to do with reading them as a kid, I never got stuck into one specific subject, storyline, or author. Whatever I read, I finished it, and immediately look for something else to read. Even when I was young, I just automatically assumed that if a movie came out that was based upon a book, it wasn’t going to be the same, especially with something like Dune. What’s read and envisioned in my mind wasn’t necessarily going to be the same as how anyone else would see it, if at all. And watching the movie, that’s how someone else

  • K says:

    ….and watching the movie, that’s how someone else saw the book in THEIR head. And it wasn’t how I saw it when I read it, but that was OK. I had “seen” my version already. I wanted to see something new. And I did. Anyway, maybe I was a weird little kid and still weird now. I’m generally not big into remakes, particularly if it’s of something I already enjoyed watching, but I get that a lot of people had a bug up their ass over Dune(like I need to start talking about that). There’s a good 3 decade and a half gap since the last theatrical version. Honestly, I hope it is good. I don’t believe in not liking something ahead of time(that’s lame). I will say one thing though: The remake of Dark Side of the Moon kinda made me do an eyeroll, because DSOTM ,the entire album, I usually listen to in full at least once a month. Pink Floyd doesn’t need anything remade. It’s Pink Floyd. Couldn’t let it go, my one gripe. Anyway, be nice to each other.–K

  • Adrian Knagg-Baugh says:

    I think the Lynch version isn’t bad. Some of the effects are a bit dated, and as with any adaptation it’s compromised by what to include, what to leave out, where to focus. But even the link in the article about the supposedly awful depiction of the 3rd stage navigator just contains comments that say it isn’t inconsistent with the scanty descriptions in the books. Perhaps it could have been a little smoother, perhaps a tiny bit more fishlike, but it was certainly a cromulent imagining of the creature’s look. I’m looking forward to seeing the new version too.

  • Navin says:

    A Dune movie never will be a bad movie. The story is too big and enigmatic. A big challenge for the director to come to terms with the story in a cinematic medium. Jodorowsky came to the task with his big spiritual ego and brought the ideas that later will be exploited successfully in Alien and Mad Max Fury Road.A story like Dune surpasses time so it can be adapted to the currents . Is the director is too faithful to the story, sorry.

  • Navin says:

    A Dune movie never will be a bad movie. The story is too big and enigmatic. A big challenge for the director to come to terms with the story in a cinematic medium. Jodorowsky came to the task with his big spiritual ego and brought the ideas that later will be exploited successfully in Alien and Mad Max Fury Road.A story like Dune surpasses time so it can be adapted to the currents Is the director is too faithful to the story, sorry.

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