“I Will Kill Him!”: David Lynch’s “Dune” featured Sting’s brief appearance in flying underpants

By on May 12, 2017

In this special “Visions of Superstars: Yesterday & Today” episode of “Night Flight”, we’re treated to a video overview of actor/musician Sting and his band the Police, and scenes from some of his movie roles thus far, including his then-recent appearance as Feyd-Rautha of the House Harkonnen in David Lynch’s film of Frank Herbert’s multi-million selling epic sci-fi novel Dune. Watch the entire episode — it originally aired on August 15, 1985 — over on Night Flight Plus!

The show starts after nearly a minute’s worth of SMPTE color bars and audio tone, so feel free to use this time to calibrate your own monitors!

While we wait patiently in breathless anticipation of the Showtime cable network’s reboot of Lynch’s Twin Peaks TV series — new episodes begin arriving on Sunday, May 21st, 2017 — we thought we’d revisit this special episode, since it features a short somewhat “hidden” interview with David Lynch that you won’t want to miss (it starts around six minutes in).

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At the time this “Night Flight” episode aired, about eight months after Dune was released in U.S. theaters on December 14, 1984, Lynch was likely still smarting from the critical sting he’d felt after his film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune was pretty much deemed a box-office failure.

Obviously, though, the interview with Lynch was likely done before the movie had even been released, since he’s mostly talking here about Sting.

“When I first heard about Sting,” Lynch says, “I said ‘No way do I want a rock star to be in the picture!’, and then I saw Brimstone & Treacle and, uh, I saw Sting, but I saw Sting playing a character and he was fantastic.”

“He’s natural,” Lynch continues. “He’s not afraid, and he has this charisma, this intensity, you know…. he’s gangbusters.”

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Despite this effusive bit of Lynchian praise for Sting’s gangbusters acting talent, and the fact that his appearance in the film was marketed as being a major role, it turned out that Sting — born Gordon Matthew Sumner in Newcastle, England — was only in the final 3-hour edit of the movie for a total of approximately ten minutes of screen time, speaking just ninety words of dialogue.

Here’s a highlight reel, set to the tune of Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb”:

Sting wasn’t very happy about being used as “box office bait,” appearing prominently on the movie poster.

Just a few years later, in July of 1985, he would tell the Australian Courier Mail that the movie company was responsible:

“I was very angry about it. The publicity machine panicked about a film that cost US million and they did anything in their power to sell it. I didn’t even like the film, I don’t have a clue what it was about, it was very confusing.”

Today, Sting’s Feyd-Rautha is usually remembered for one of two things: for wearing what appears to be flying underpants, and for his character’s most famous line, “I will kill him!,” which comes right at the start of a climatic knife fight.

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Originally, Lynch and Sting both had wanted his first on-screen appearance in Dune to be in a full frontal nude scene.

The original scene called for him to step out of a “steam bath,” according to the pop singer, letting his famous tantric cock flap freely in the breeze while he stood there, slathered in oil, delivering one of the precious tiny bits of dialogue his character was given in the script.

However, the movie studio, Universal Pictures, panicked because they thought that Sting’s flagrant nude scene would mean that the the film would be given a hard “R” rating (or more likely a soft “R,” but we’re not sure), which would then limit the amount of screens Dune could appear on, severely cutting into their per-screen profits.

At the very last minute, studio execs told Lynch to tell the film’s costume designers to create something outrageous for Sting to wear instead, and so, just minutes before the scene was about be shot, they came up with his ridiculous winged Speedo for Stingo to wear.

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On December 1, 1983, more than a year before the movie was released, Sting would tell the UK’s New Musical Express that he only appeared in the film because it was being directed by David Lynch:

“… I did it because of David Lynch – if anyone could pull it off it’s this maniac director. He looks like a bank clerk from the Midwest but … Eraserhead is about him, so you can imagine! He says things like ‘peachy keen.’ I have high hopes for it.”

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A few months earlier, in the September 1983 edition of U.S. music rag Rolling Stone, Sting expanded a bit more on the reason he wanted to appear in the film:

I’m doing Dune because of David Lynch and for no other reason. 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. 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.”

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Years later, in 1996, Sting would clarify with The Advocate how his “homoerotic” character’s flying underpants led him to believe his character was, in fact, supposed to be homosexual:

“The director, David Lynch, who’s a strange man, had me in this costume, this flying underpants-sort-of-wing thing, and it just looked like gay cabaret. Up until that point, the character was ambiguous, but after that he was gay, so I said, ‘OK, we’ll go for it.'”

According to what we’ve read, Dune was one of the most expensive movies ever made at that point in cinema history, and it would have been even more expensive had it been shot in the United States instead of Mexico, where it had a troubled, expensive production.

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First, however, we have to consider Frank Herbert’s celebrated first novel, Dune, which for many years after its first publication, in 1965, was thought to be “unfilmable.”

Herbert — who originally published the text of Dune as two separate serialized long stories in Analog magazine — would eventually write five sequel novels, comprising what is known as the Dune saga or sometimes Dune Chronicle.

Herbert has said that the idea he developed for Dune’s labrynthian space opera plot, which depicts complex fictional family dynasties — much like the way aristocratic houses in “Game of Thrones” rule where they live — over several generations, across several planets, and chiefly concerns how they are all battling against one another for wealth and power.

The stories are set in the year 10,191 by the way.

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One of these planets, Arrakis, also known as Dune, is the home to an important spice called “melange,” which just happens to be the most important element in the universe.

Dune/Arrakis is the only planet that produces the spice, which in addition to being the key to greater life longevity and increased lifespans, not to mention enhanced brain function and expanded consciousness, it also allows for “folding space,” which Herbert’s way of describing how a spacecraft can travel across the galaxy without ever moving in physical space, a pretty nifty trick!

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The important thing to remember is that whoever owns the rights to mining melange from the planet Arrakis also own the keys to obtaining that wealth and power, and the ability to time-travel across the span of space.

Also important to remember is that the spice itself is actually Herbert’s clever metaphor for a couple of things which exist in our own world, including oil (and our own world’s dependency on it).

It’s also a magic dust that is treated the way pharmaceuticals and narcotic drugs are now being treated on our planet, i.e. necessary for life, at least in some people’s lives.

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Without simplifying the stories too much, basically the world of Dune is about the Atreides — who rule the desert planet Arrakis — battling against their sworn enemies, the Harkonnen, who hail from the planet Giedi Prime.

Arrakis/Dune, it should also be pointed out, then, is populated by human computers (humanity was once enslaved by thinking machines thousands of years ago, so advanced computer technology has been banned), and now humans on Dune have developed their minds to perform the complex tasks once assigned to computers.

These stories, Herbert says, were also based on history itself, and founded on the role that religions — in particular, the way Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are important religions here on Earth — were also foundations for the planets in this Dune universe.

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Herbert:

“I’m a history buff… and I got the idea that we had not looked at the messianic impulse in human society… the impact of a messiah, on history, as the creator of a power structure. Because no matter how good the messiah, other people enter the scene. Other people are attracted to the power structure. Every messiah I studied in history was a reformer.”

The novels which encompass the stories of David Lynch’s 1984 filmic adaptation, Dune, were written in such a way that the reader knows the complex, intelligent thoughts of the characters — many of them members of Arrakis’s royal family — and their differing philosophies and world views, which presents one of the main reasons the books were thought to be impossible to turn Dune into a single movie.

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Originally, Herbert says he was inspired by the true story of T.E. Lawrence from David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which is the origin of his character of Paul Usul Muad’Dib Atreides and why the story is essentially how Paul becomes the military leader of a foreign desert people.

In fact, one of the first movie adaptations was a planned collaboration between David Lean and producer Arthur P. Jacobs, although Lean ultimately declined to participate.

Jacobs was still trying to find another director for his project when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1973.

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The next attempt was made by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, the director of El Topo and The Holy Mountain.

Jodowrosky’s elaborate vision for what the film should be was actually an adaptation of Herbert’s novel, although much of the additional story that he wanted to tell was based on a dream he’d had, which we’ve detailed in this previous Night Flight post about the feature-length documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

The maverick movie director recruited all kinds of interesting individuals to bring his overly-ambitious story to the screen — comic book artists Christopher Foss and Jean Giraud aka Moebius; artist & designer H. R. Giger; the British rock bands Pink Floyd, Gong and Tangerine Dream; Spanish artist Salvador Dalí; and, filmmakers Orson Welles and Dan O’Bannon — and began pre-production on the film but quickly burned through his budget before filming a single scene, and the project was ultimately taken away from him.

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The next filmmaker to consider working up a Dune movie was director Ridley Scott, who agreed to work on the project in 1979, with Rudy Wurlitzer coming aboard to write the screenplay and H.R. Giger retained from the Jodorowsky production to work on its design.

Unfortunately, he would suffer a personal disaster — his older brother Frank Scott died of cancer — and Ridley Scott felt that the project was too time-intensive, and he wanted to work on other films, and so he handed off the rights to movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, who had also expressed an interest in making the film.

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Scott would eventually hire the art design team from his 1979 film Alien — including H.R. Giger — to make his 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner.

Dino De Laurentiis managed to secure director David Lynch to direct Dune, but only after Lynch — a hot prospect at the time due to his cult classic debut film Eraserhead and the critically-lauded film, The Elephant Man — had decided to turn down the opportunity to direct the third film in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, for producer George Lucas, meeting with him at Skywalker Ranch to discuss the possibility of directing the film.

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Lucas, it turns out, had listed Dune as one of his influences when he made the 1977 film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and there were some obvious similarities to the creation of the two separate universes, mainly in that they both created stories that take place in space, in the future.

At the time, most people in Hollywood could not understand why David Lynch would pass on a dream project like Star Wars, which he talks about in this interview.

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Lynch really didn’t want to be a “franchise” director, though, and when he turned down the opportunity to join the Star Wars team, he was then soon approached by De Laurentis and presented with the chance to direct Dune, and he didn’t really know how he was going to adapt it into a movie unless they were going to do multiple movies, which brought him right back to having to consider directing films for yet another “franchise.”

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David Lynch and Frank Herbert

Lynch envisioned adapting the first three Dune books into an epic cinematic trilogy, with the first film, Dune, acting as the opening chapter in the story.

Lynch reportedly wrote seven drafts of the screenplay before finishing and was halfway through adapting the sequel Dune Messiah, when plans were abandoned to go any further.

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One of the significant relationships Lynch developed during Dune was casting a relative unknown actor named Kyle MacLachlan, making his film debut as Paul Atreides.

It’s MacLachlan’s Paul Atreides, by the way, who battles Sting’s Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in a duel to the death, fighting him off with a, “crysknife,” whose blade was made from the tooth of a dead sandworm of Arrakis.

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After Dune, of course, MacLachlan continued to work with David Lynch on his 1986 film Blue Velvet as well as the ’90s“Twin Peaks” TV series.

As mentioned, the epic production on Dune was rife with problems for Lynch, who ended up devoting three and a half years of his life to working on the film.

Lynch oversaw a crew of seven hundred men and women who worked on the production (over 1700 were employed overall).

Two hundred workers alone spent two months hand-clearing three-square miles of Mexican desert in order to create the planet Dune.

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David Lynch on the set of Dune, 1984

The wardrobe alone for the huge cast numbered more than four thousand different costumes. There was some fifteen thousand extras who worked on the film, as well.

Even Lynch himself makes a cameo appearance as a besieged spice harvester; it was his first major cameo in a film, and the first time he’d grace a screen before appearing as the recurring character of FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole in “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991).

Post-production costs on Dune spiraled out of control. When the director’s cut was turned over to Universal Pictures, it was nearly three hours long, at a time when most movies were still around two hours long.

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Lynch and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis

When the film was finally released on December 14, 1984, audiences decided to pass on seeing it, which led to losses estimated between $10-$20 million, depending on your source, which made Dune, for a time, one of the biggest box office disasters of all time.

Critics savaged the film too, including Roger Ebert, who called it “a real mess… incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless.”

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As for Sting, the pop singer hasn’t been too complimentary of David Lynch’s Dune over the years, telling Q magazine, in April 1998:

“I’m not the sort of person that seeks out his own films or albums but I actually saw Dune quite recently when I was flicking through the channels in a hotel room in the Midwest. Suddenly there they were, the flying underpants. They were great but very tricky to get on under your flares. I still don’t actually know what Dune was about but then I don’t know if anyone did. I think David Lynch made a three and a half hour film that was cut down to two hours so it probably made sense before the edit.”

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For author Frank Herbert, however, David Lynch’s film adaptation of Dune was, in his words, “a visual feast.”

Here’s the first of a six-part 1983 publicity interview with Frank Herbert & David Lynch, should you like to know more.

Here’s an interview Lynch did about the film in 1985:

In 1988, Dune was completely re-edited without David Lynch’s consent for broadcast TV, and in attempt to make the plot easier to understand, the film was cut with more exposition. The TV edit ran four hours, with lots of commercial breaks figured in.

Lynch was so upset that his film was edited so haphazardly — entire scenes were spliced out-of-order and out of context; inappropriate musical cues were played over scenes that should have had no music at all; and, fight scenes and transitional sequences were arbitrarily thrown together with bits and pieces of footage from other scenes of the film — that he complained to the Director’s Guild of America to have his name removed from the credits so he would not be associated with such incompetent film editing.

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His director credit was then changed to “Alan Smithee,” and the film’s editing credit (for the TV version) was further attributed to one “Judas Booth,” a name created by combining two famous traitors from history, Judas Iscariot and John Wilkes Booth.

Night Flight’s “Visions of Superstars: Yesterday & Today” from August 1985 also features music videos and biographical profiles of the Beach Boys, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan and a special David Bowie/Mick Jagger segment. You can watch it over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.