When Sting and his shiny codpiece stole the show in the first movie version of Dune

28 February 2024, 14:29 | Updated: 28 February 2024, 14:30

Dune – the trailer for David Lynch’s 1984 movie

By Mayer Nissim

Before Denis Villeneuve wowed cinemagoers, David Lynch attempted to bring Frank Herbert's vision to the big screen.

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One of the biggest films of recent years is Dune, Denis Villeneuve's critically-acclaimed hit adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic 1965 sci-fi novel.

Too big for just one movie in fact, the story continued in 2024's Dune: Part Two, which picked up right where the previous film left off.

Given the success of Herbert's book, it's no surprise that Villeneuve's movies were far from the first attempt to adapt the story for the screen.

Long before Denis or even the 2000 TV miniseries by John Harrison, Alejandro Jodorowsky spent a couple of million dollars trying and failing to make his own 14-hour epic between 1971 and 1976.

And riding high on the success of The Elephant Man, David Lynch turned down the chance to make Return of the Jedi to instead direct his version for producers Dino and Raffaella De Laurentiis, though it didn't quite work out like that.

One of the ten existing Alejandro Jodorowsky's epic 1970 Dune storyboard copies
One of the ten existing Alejandro Jodorowsky's epic 1970 Dune storyboard copies. Picture: Getty Images

The finished film was something of a curate's egg. Lynch had to smoosh his planned two (or three?) movies into a single film over multiple drafts, while the shoot in Mexico was beset by various issues. But the biggest problem came in the edit.

A four-hour-plus rough cut was hacked down to 137 minutes, rather than the three hours odd Lynch hoped for, with the producers and Lynch also having to film new scenes and add voiceovers to make the film hang together (it still didn't, really).

Lynch later said he "started selling out on Dune", and also had his name removed from a two-part TV "extended edition" re-edit of the film made in 1988. Despite a recent softening in his comments, a so-called "director's cut" has never really been entertained.

Kyle MacLachlan in David Lynch's Dune
Kyle MacLachlan in David Lynch's Dune. Picture: Alamy

For all its flaws, Dune (1984) is certainly not without its charms.

There's the pure charisma of Kyle MacLachlan – soon to be a Lynch mainstay – as Paul Atreides. The disgustingly grotesque presentation of Kenneth McMillan as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Small but important roles for the likes of Jack Nance, Siân Phillips, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow and Sean Young.

And best of all there was Sting as Feyd-Rautha, Baron Harkonnen's younger nephew.

Sting in David Lynch's Dune (1984)
Sting in David Lynch's Dune (1984). Picture: Alamy

In 1984, Sting was an all-conquering pop superstar.

While he was yet to properly launch his solo career – his debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles was still a year away – he'd released five albums with The Police, with the last four going all the way to number one in the UK.

The last, Synchronicity, had not just matched that feat in the US, but went EIGHT TIMES Platinum over there with sales of eight million, making the group one of the biggest in the world.

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And Sting had some not-insignificant acting experience by this point, too.

He had the key role of bellboy The Ace Face in Quadrophenia in 1979, and also popped up in the road movie Radio On as Just Like Eddie the same year.

His odd role in the Sex Pistols movie The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle ended up on the cutting room floor (until it resurfaced in the 2000 documentary The Filth and the Fury), but he also appeared in Artemis 81 and Brimstone and Treacle in the early '80s.

Sting, the Ace Face, in Quadrophenia
Sting, the Ace Face, in Quadrophenia. Picture: Alamy

Still, his part in Dune was a league above. Jodorowsky had wanted Mick Jagger to play Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in his version and in a sense, Sting was the 1984 equivalent.

"I'm doing Dune because of David Lynch and for no other reason," Sting told Rolling Stone in 1983 before the film's release.

"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."

The strangeness of David Lynch's Dune
The strangeness of David Lynch's Dune. Picture: Alamy

"So, I sort of went along dragging my heels. Then I met David, and I loved him.

"He's a madman in sheep's clothing, and I just felt I had to do the movie because I know he's going to do something extraordinary."

Sting was of course absolutely correct, though it's fair to say that Lynch's most extraordinary work was yet to come.

Scene or maybe even movie stealing with Sting in Dune
Scene or maybe even movie stealing with Sting in Dune. Picture: Alamy

But for any moment Sting is on the screen, he completely steals the movie, despite all the odd goings on around him.

Part of that is his pure rock star charisma and good looks. A lot of it is also down to his incredibly toned body and the scene where you see him completely stripped down and oiled up, naked save for his shiny codpiece.

Rather than entice a proper rock star to play Feyd-Rautha in his movie, Villeneuve went for the next best thing: Austin Butler, who recently played Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann's biopic of The King.

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And speaking to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Butler revealed that he had nattered to Sting about picking up his mantle... and that codpiece.

"I met him last night, he came to the premiere, it was so surreal, my mind was blown," Butler said.

"He's the best, he's so cool. He came up to me afterwards and he was so lovely and debonair.

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"I asked him about it, and he said he still has the codpiece from the original one. He said he's gonna dry clean it and let me wear it if I want to."

Whether or not Austin Butler inherits the quirky bit of costume, we're delighted to hear that Sting has been taking good care of it.

And given the director's recent comments ("If I could go back in I’ve thought, well, maybe I would on that one go back in... but I mean, nobody’s…it’s not going to happen"), we're still hoping for a re-cut, remastered, new cut of David Lynch's Dune so we can see it up on the big screen once more.