Though released just a few weeks ago, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune seems already to have garnered more critical acclaim than David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the same material. This comparison is, of course, unfair: Lynch was working under different conditions in a different time, not to mention with a markedly different cinematic sensibility. And in fact, Lynch’s version of the ambitious, saga-launching novel by Frank Herbert does have its fans, or at least viewers willing to praise certain of its aspects. Lovers of 1980s music, for example, value its score composed by the virtuosic rock band Toto — with the exception, that is, of a track from Brian Eno, Roger Eno, and Daniel Lanois.
Brian Eno in particular is credited with popularizing ambient music, and “Prophecy Theme,” heard on the Dune soundtrack album as well as in the film itself, conjures up an atmosphere as effectively as any other piece of his work in the genre. “David flew me to Los Angeles to see Dune,” Eno recalls in a New York Times interview about his recently released compilation Brian Eno (Film Music, 1976-2020), which includes the track.
“It wasn’t finished then. And I don’t know whether his intention or his hope was that I would do the whole soundtrack, but I didn’t want to, anyway. It was a huge project, and I just didn’t feel like doing it. But I did feel like making one piece for it, so that’s what I did.”
Dune was indeed a formidable undertaking, and one that ultimately proved too big for Lynch. Some fans would argue, even after the successful first installment from Villeneuve, that it’s too big for any filmmaker. But the world Herbert created, one both sweeping and uncommonly detailed, has inspired many a creator to produce impressive work for projects both realized and unrealized. Perhaps it counts as a missed opportunity that the latest Dune film, with its apparent clean-slate approach to previous attempts at adaptation, didn’t commission a score from Eno, whose signature sonic textures could nicely have complimented Villeneuve’s instinct for the sublime. But then, a studio can’t go far wrong with Hans Zimmer either.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.