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By ED NAHA (Berkley; 1984)

If only they’d known!

     DUNE is of course the world famous science fiction novel by Frank Herbert that was turned into a Hellaciously expensive 1984 Universal Pictures movie, financed by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by David Lynch. This is the studio-approved book about the production of that film, apparently “one of the most spectacular motion pictures ever made.”

     DUNE was indeed one of the most expensive and elaborate movies of all time back in ‘84, a massive undertaking lensed on Mexico sound stages with a huge multinational cast and every sort of pre-digital special effect imaginable. Lynch, coming off ERASERHEAD and THE ELEPHANT MAN, might seem a bizarre pick for director, yet he was also George Lucas’ first choice to helm RETURN OF THE JEDI (a fact that goes unmentioned in this book). To Lynch, DUNE apparently seemed the more promising project--once again: if only he’d known!

     As it turned out, DUNE was a dull and convoluted affair that saw Lynch awkwardly attempting to mesh his obsessions with those of Frank Herbert. The film flopped miserably in the US, and Lynch has all-but disowned it (for more on DUNE’S calamitous release see Harlan Ellison‘s book WATCHING, which alleges dumping on the part of Universal).

     This book, of course, tells a different story. It was published before DUNE’S release, when everyone involved was feeling optimistic. Even the famously iconoclastic Lynch is upbeat about the restrictive filming conditions, proclaiming “Restrictions are great to force you to think, to capture ideas…this has been one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve ever had” (Lynch later claimed he was “deluding” himself the whole time and that the only good thing to come out of the experience was that he got to make BLUE VELVET).

     Author Ed Naha writes in a breathless and enthusiastic style about DUNE’S filming. He’s frank about the problems Lynch and co. faced--constant delays by customs agents, 120-degree temperatures, time-consuming special effects and a horrific facial burn suffered by actor Jurgen Prochnow--but never delves too deeply into any of them. Naha also glosses over the creative clashes between David Lynch and the De Laurentiis’s (Dino and his producer daughter Rafaella, both extremely take-charge personalities) that Lynch subsequently complained about.

     In short, this is a shallow account, just as you’d expect from a studio-approved making-of book. It is, however, quite enjoyable in hindsight, being a fascinating look at how hundreds of talented people somehow deluded themselves into thinking they were making something great, when in fact they were making DUNE!