13 Facts You Might Not Know about the Movie Dune

(Image: Universal Pictures)

Frank Herbert's novel Dune is one of the most respected science fiction novels of the Twentieth Century. David Lynch's 1984 film version did not acquire such acclaim. It was an expensive film that utterly bombed at the box office.

I've never understood why. Since I first saw it in 1988, I've loved the movie. It's one of my favorites. Here are 13 bits of trivia that you might not know about it.

(Photo: Lionel Allorge)

1. Trying to condense a long book into a movie is always a challenge. Film director Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to make the movie in 1975, but among other problems, his script would have been 11-12 hours long.

(Photos: cootsimagery, Library of Congress, Luke Ford)

2. Jadorowsky wanted Orson Welles to play Baron Harkonnen, Salvador Dalí to play the Emperor and David Carradine to play Dr. Kynes.

3.  Kyle MacLachlan, who played Paul Atreides, was a devoted fan of the novel. He said, “I first read Dune when I was fourteen years old. I’ve read it every year since that time. It’s almost been my bible.” (Naha 44)

4. Paul Smith, who played Rabban, is a big man. To keep his costume from splitting, designers made his costume out of tire rubber.

(Video Link)

5. Kenneth McMillan, who played Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, wore a 250-pound costume. The fleshy protrusions are made of colostomy bag rubber. It was tremendously hot and the designers worried that McMillan would overheat. So they built a duplicate costume that was water cooled with tubes that ran inside.

6. To add visual effects, the directors used what was, at the time, the largest blue screen in the world. It measured 35 feet high and 108 feet wide.

7. The desert scenes were filmed in the Samalayuca desert in northern Mexico. It’s a dry place, but not as lifeless as the waterless Arrakis. So producers hired 200 workers to spend 2 months stripping a section of all rocks, plants and animals.

Video Link)

8. The smoke in the desert battle scenes, such as in the one embedded above, was made by setting piles of tires on fire.

9. Alicia Roanne Witt, who was 8 years old, played the character Alia, who was 2 or 3 years old. To make Alicia look smaller, they had her perform her scenes while kneeling on a little wheeled platform that would be pulled with wires when she needed to appear to walk in a scene. They also occasionally used a young stunt double.

(Video Link)

10. When Paul pries open a sandworm segment (embedded video and screenshot above) with his maker hook, the audience sees the guts of the sandworm. These consists of thousands of condoms filled with gelatin.

11. During the movie, Lady Jessica takes the Water of Life during a Fremen rite. It was supposed to be water. But before shooting, someone had switched the water out with vodka.

(Video Link)

12. The Third-Stage Guild Navigator was 15-foot long animatronic prop with 40 points of movement. Special effects modeler Carlo Rambaldi designed it to look like both an an alien and a human fetus.

13. An actor prerecorded the Navigator’s dialogue, which was then played back during rehearsals. Director David Lynch especially enjoyed this feature. He joked:

The Guild Navigator is a joy to work with. He’s a great actor. He’s better than human actors, in fact, . . .  ‘cause he always says his lines right time after time after time.” (Naha 257)


Naha, Ed. The Making of Dune. New York: Berkley Books, 1984.
Brian Herbert. Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. New York: Tor, 2003.

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The only disappointing thing about Dune is the way it was butchered by the studio - which was why David Lynch took his name off the project as director.
If only it had been given the Lord Of The Rings treatment and split into three movies, it could have worked - but then that was also why it took LOTR so long to be made.
That's the way it goes - it's a great movie tho - one of my favourites, even though it's a curate's egg and got cut to smithereens on the editing floor, especially the jump to the final battle.
The Jodorosky version would have been utterly mindblowing too!
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I have enjoyed every single Dune movie or tv event, and as a HUGE sci-fi geek, I really am incredibly overdue to read the novels. Maybe I should fix that this year.
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