Francesca Annis, the actress who played Lady Jessica in David Lynch’s Dune, reveals when she knew the movie was in serious trouble. Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi novel Dune is largely regarded as one of the best of the genre, yet translating it to film has proven to be a difficult task. Denis Villeneuve will try his hand at it next month and hopes to fare better than Lynch did. The first and so far only adaptation to actually make it to the big screen, the 1984 Dune starred Kyle McLachlan as Paul Atreides, the role filled in by Timothee Chalamet in Villeneuve’s version.
At the time, Lynch’s Dune was one of the most expensive movies ever made and arrived with some eager expectations tied to it. However, saddled with a complex mythology and trying production, the movie was only seen as a misfire in many people’s eyes. Lynch has even disowned Dune, at one point calling it the only film he isn’t proud of making. Though some fans have since come around to appreciate the 1984 Dune, its legacy remains fairly tarnished.
Annis recently reflected on Dune in an interview conducted by Deadline‘s Andreas Wiseman, her own son. When asked if she felt the script was too complex or convoluted, Annis took things a step further and shared her reaction to seeing Dune for the first time at the premiere. Evidently, it didn’t take her long to realize it wouldn’t work. “I’ll tell you, when I first went to see the film at the premiere — and I’ve only seen it once – as soon as Princess Irulan started to talk in voice-over at the beginning, explaining the story, I thought ‘Uh oh, this film is in trouble,’” Annis said. “Any Hollywood film that has to explain itself in detail at the beginning is in trouble…“
In writing Dune, Herbert created a vast and detailed world that has often been the trickiest element to capture when adapting it. To combat this, Villeneuve plans to split the novel into two parts, with an eye on perhaps crafting a Dune trilogy. Lynch, meanwhile, sought to encapsulate the entire book with the 1984 movie. As Annis pointed out, any big screen epic that needs voiceover to help explain things right away isn’t starting off strong. Perhaps in giving himself more room to breathe, Villeneuve will be able to sidestep this issue.
Because of the lukewarm response to Lynch’s Dune, there’s even more pressure on Villeneuve’s. The movie will arrive in October after being delayed from last year, and it will be available on HBO Max the same day as theaters. Warner Bros. hasn’t officially greenlit part 2, but should Dune prove to be a success, Villeneuve will get his chance at continuing the story. One might say the bar isn’t exceptionally high after the 1984 Dune, but many – including those from that original movie – are rooting for it. Only time will tell how it fares.