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Why Sting didn't want to be in David Lynch's 'Dune'

The illustrious career of David Lynch is one of the most revered in all of cinema, having had a significant impact on the medium with experimental creations such as Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and, of course, his cultural TV powerhouse, Twin Peaks. A figure of great significance in arthouse cinema, David Lynch has also forayed into mainstream cinema for the occasional flourish, with The Straight Story distributed by Disney as well as his notoriously bombastic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. 

Despite Arthur P. Jacobs, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Ridley Scott each having tried and failed to adapt the classic science fiction novel, David Lynch was deeply unsatisfied with the final 1984 film, largely due to considerable studio interference. Questioned about the film at a Q&A shot by Donald Revolinski and Chamolie Thomson, the director was asked: “When you talk about Dune, you say that you view it as a failure because you didn’t have final cut, my question is, if you had had final cut how would the movie be different?”. 

In response to the audience question, David Lynch responded, “I don’t even like talking about Dune really, but I’ve said before I knew when I was signing the contract that I was signing away final cut and from that moment I felt like, looking back, I started selling out”. Continuing, the Dune director added, “I knew Dino [De Laurentiis], I knew what he was like, what he would go for and what he wouldn’t, so I’d have to go way back before that. I don’t know what it would’ve been but it wouldn’t have been what it is”.  

Watching the film back with the knowledge of Denis Villeneuve’s contemporary adaptation, and David Lynch’s effort certainly feels underwhelming, eliciting a camp, theatrical feel rather than the sophisticated science fiction tone it was aiming for. Starring longtime Lynch collaborator Kyle MacLachlan in the lead role, as well as Patrick Stewart, Francesca Annis and singer, songwriter Sting starred as a carrot-topped antagonist, Dune had all the necessary star power to become a bonafide success. 

A massively popular musician in the 1980s, Sting also featured in several films during his time at the peak of stardom, including Brimstone & Treacle, The Bride and Plenty, alongside Sam Neill and Meryl Streep. Despite having just three feature film credits to his name upon the release of Dune in 1984 however, according to an interview with the Rolling Stone, Sting stated, “I’m doing Dune because of [director David Lynch] and for no other reason”. 

Continuing, the musician added, “I didn’t really want to do the movie, because I didn’t think it was wise for me to be in an enormous movie. I’d rather keep a groundswell building up in my movie career. So, I sort of went along dragging my heels”. 

Having since become somewhat of a cult classic thanks to David Lynch’s popularity, the truth is that Dune was a significant box office failure and the only black mark on the director’s impressive filmography. Whilst we wish Kyle MacLachlan, Sting and Patrick Stewart could appear in Denis Villeneuve’s new film, we don’t think it will take too long to get used to Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Javier Bardem among the superior ensemble cast.

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