‘What the Fuck Was This?’: Behind the 1984 ‘Dune’ Promotional Tour

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After six months of shooting, six months in postproduction, and nine months of concentrated editing, Dune was ready to be unleashed onto 1,700 screens worldwide simultaneously, a rarity then. There were four gala premieres scheduled for the film: Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Miami; and London.

The DC premiere at the Kennedy Center took place on December 4 and included Dune author Frank Herbert, Kyle MacLachlan (“Paul Atreides”), Francesca Annis (“Lady Jessica”), Dean Stockwell (“Doctor Wellington Yueh”), Raffaella De Laurentiis (producer), and, of course, Dino De Laurentiis (executive producer). The latter wrangled Herbert and David Lynch (along with his wife, Mary Fisk) invites to a White House state dinner to meet President Ronald Reagan, whom Lynch admired. Supposedly the President and First Lady Nancy Reagan told Herbert they enjoyed the film, though official records show Dune wasn't screened for the president until December 22, at Camp David.

“It is an important town for an important movie,” Dino told The Washington Post. “The Kennedy Center is the most important in the United States. That is why we have the premiere of Dune here.”

MacLachlan, smiling between book signings at the premiere, told a reporter: “I don’t feel like a God Emperor, just an actor. Actually, the process of filming was boring and tedious. The fun came in seeing it in its final form. This is the second time for me, I saw it once before in New York. Yes, I do hope there’s a sequel. I’d like to be in lots more. I’d read all the Dune books years before the movie, but once I was cast in it, I began to read them voraciously.”

“I think the movie captures the book,” Herbert opined. “Of course, it leaves out scenes, but it would have to, otherwise we’d be here 14 hours.”

However, negativity around Dune was already circulating. Lynch tried to quell the bad buzz (Variety had dubbed it a “Dune-boggle”) to the Los Angeles Times shortly after this premiere, saying: “I don’t know how the rumors got started, but they aren’t based on truth … that the picture was in trouble, it wasn’t going over well and that we had a bad preview. Well, I was at the Los Angeles preview, and the feeling I got was that we had a successful previ...

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