Dune: Ridley Scott Almost Made Dune in the 1980s

Dune, the Denis Villeneuve version, finally opened this weekend in the US. It's a grand, stately epic, portentous, and somewhat lugubrious in its seriousness, treating Frank Herbert's novel as a sacred text. As we watched the movie, we suddenly remembered the story about Ridley Scott expressing an interest in making a version of Dune back in the early 1980s.

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The late Harlan Ellison reported this in his 1985 book of essays collecting his LA Weekly columns about Science Fiction movies and television An Edge in My Voice. Ellison wrote of his meeting with Scott around the time the latter was about to make Blade Runner. Alien had been a hit and surprise that would change Science Fiction Cinema for decades. Scott told Ellison he had been approached to develop Dune after Jodorowsky's wildly psychedelic and unfilmable version failed to take off, to the surprise of no one. Scott told Ellison that he was wanted to become the John Ford of Science Fiction movies, a lofty ambition. He probably planned to engage H.R. Giger to design the movie. Imagine a wild, epic Ridley Scott version of Dune with the weird, Freudian gynecological imagery of Giger. In the desert. He would probably have been forced to keep the runtime at 2 hours, per the demands of the time, and he would probably adapted the whole book in that duration.

However, Blade Runner was a box office disappointment, and Scott didn't get to make his version of Dune. You can see traces of it in the barren planet landscapes and the design of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, though. And Sean Young, who played Rachel the replicant in Blade Runner, played Chani in David Lynch's movie.

You can actually see Scott's influence in the Denis Villeneuve version of Dune. The painterly compositions, the Metal Hurlant aesthetics that he shares with Scott whenever they make Science Fiction movies. Villeneuve's depiction of the vastness of the desert recalls David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia through a Science Fiction lens, which is probably the approach Scott would have taken too. There wasn't even a script written for Ridley Scott's version of Dune as far as anyone could tell. Imagine if he had made Dune in 1984 instead of David Lynch. Alien, Blade Runner, and Dune would have been an unofficial Science Fiction trilogy and given a slightly different nuance to Ridley Scott's reputation as a filmmaker. As it is, he's had a prolific and varied career in virtually every genre and got to return to Science Fiction much later in his career.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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