The upcoming Venice Film Festival world premiere of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” is inspiring moviegoers to look back on the last big screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal science-fiction novel, David Lynch’s 1984 “Dune.” That release was such a notorious critical misfire that Lynch wanted his name off it, as his creative vision was meddled with by producers and the studio. Lynch said as recently as April 2020 that his “Dune” remains “a huge, gigantic sadness in my life.” For cast member Francesca Annis, who played Lady Jessica, “Dune” was a misfire as soon as she heard the first lines of dialogue spoken in the movie.
“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 recently told Deadline. “Any Hollywood film that has to explain itself in detail at the beginning is in trouble.”
Annis continued, “My experience of working on Dune was that if David Lynch had been able to make his own film, it would have been brilliant, but unfortunately [producer] Dino [De Laurentiis] oversaw every single tiny thing. Dino was already thinking about the video sales. David had wanted to make the scenes very dark, all the underworlds very dark and look very sinister. Dino wouldn’t allow it. It had to be lit brightly so that it would transfer well to video, where I think at that time things went down a shade. David and DoP Freddie Francis were constantly being hamstrung and I don’t think David made the film he wanted to make.”
Whatever bad blood was occurring between Lynch and De Laurentiis did not translate to set. “There wasn’t a bad feeling on set from my perspective,” Annis said. “David doesn’t project that. He’s such a professional and obsessed with his work that he never brought that with him onto set.”
Annis ended up somewhat feeling the wrath of De Laurentiis herself. While calling the producer “controlling,” she shared the following anecdote: “I remember during ‘Dune’ that David told Dino that he had a script for me. He wanted me to read it when we finished ‘Dune.’ The script was ‘Blue Velvet.’ But Dino wouldn’t let me read it. He said, ‘No, that’s not a script for Francesca. She’s not that type.’ That’s how I remember it, at least. So, I never even got to read it.”
Annis’ “Blue Velvet” role would end up going to Isabella Rossellini. As for “Dune,” it proved not to be the Hollywood breakthrough the actress thought it might be. Head to Deadline’s website to read Annis’ interview in its entirety.