The Spice

There Are Two 1970s Dune Scripts You've Never Heard Of — And They're Incredible

Forget Jodorowsky! The most fascinating lost Dune scripts come from the early 1970s.

Lost Dune art by John Schoenherr, via Omni Reboot (2013)
John Schoenherr

Imagine if the director of the James Bond smash-hits Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball directed a Dune movie in 1974. Now imagine that same Dune movie, which would be fairly faithful to the book and designed for mainstream audiences, hit theaters in 1975, two full years before Star Wars. In 1972 and 1973, two different screen treatments were written with this exact goal in mind. And both predate the bonkers attempt from Alejandro Jodorowsky and the David Lynch scripts by years.

Outside of the more infamous attempts fans have heard about, there have been many attempts to turn Dune into a movie over the decades. And among many of those efforts, these two screen treatments stand out as being the most viable of all the never-made Dune movies.

Written in 1972 and 1973 for Arthur P. Jacobs, these partial Dune scripts represent an interesting alternate cinematic universe, in which the Dune franchise didn’t become the next Star Wars, but instead, was the next Planet of the Apes franchise. Here’s what almost happened, why it didn’t happen, and why these scripts are among some of the most interesting Arrakis artifacts of all time.

Planet of the Apes, next stop, Dune

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was the second film in the highly successful Apes franchise. It hit theaters in 1969, the same year Dune Messiah was published.

United Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After successfully adapting Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel Planet of the Apes into a banger sci-fi film franchise in 1968, producer Arthur P. Jacobs wanted Dune to be his next big movie project. In 1972 — the same year the fourth Apes films hit theaters — Jacobs commissioned a film treatment for Dune from writers Joe Ford and Bob Greenhut. Interestingly, Jacobs asked for this film treatment before getting the rights from Frank Herbert, because, apparently, he wanted to see if the adaptation could actually work on paper before spending too much money. This Ford-Greenhut screen treatment was completed in March of 1972, and by August of that year, APJAC got the film option for Dune, for exactly $10,000. Cheap!

From there, APJAC made it clear they intended to start filming Dune in 1974, which seems to suggest a 1975 release. Several sources (including detailed reporting from and suggest that the star of The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan, was cast in this Dune, and a variety of directors were approached, including Haskell Wexler, Fred Zinnemann, and Charles Jarrott. But the most significant director they approached was David Lean, famous for the classic films The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, the latter of which, of course, has several parallels to Dune. Finally, Bond legend Terence Young was in the running to direct Dune, who had just directed the spaghetti western/martial arts romp Red Sun in 1971.

The 1972 Dune script

Paul versus the hunter-seeker in the 1963 issue of Analog containing "Dune World."

John Schoenherr

Although Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, has claimed that Lawerence of Arabia screenwriter Robert Bolt wrote a Dune script, researchers and historians have never found any evidence of this. That said, there are two screen treatments from the APJAC Dune era. The first one (1972) was written by Joe Ford and Bob Greenhut and is readable online right now at Duneinfo. The second one (1973), written by Rospo Pallenberg, is a little harder to get your hands on, but also extremely interesting. In writing and researching my Dune history book, The Spice Must Flow, I read both of these scripts and realized an entire book or documentary could probably be made just about this forgotten era of Dune.

First up is Joe Ford and Bob Greenhut’s 1972 screen treatment, the document that convinced Arthur P. Jacobs to buy the film option. Overall, this treatment, which contains several fully scripted scenes, is much more faithful than anything Jodorowsky would attempt just a few years later.

One of the most interesting things about this script is the way it sets everything up right away. Here, Duke Leto meets the Emperor in person and is told to take over spice production on Arrakis. Interestingly, in this version, the Emperor openly acknowledges that the Harkonnens have been mistreating the Fremen, which is why he needs Leto to take the reins.

Leto and the Emperor talk in person about House Atreides taking over Arrakis.


Leto — with Duncan at his side — makes it clear he wants to ally himself with the Fremen. He also suggests that the idea of terraforming Arrakis wasn’t just a secret dream of Liet-Kynes, but instead, something the Imperium actually promised. “I'm sure their [Fremen] hate [of the Imperium] comes from the many unkept promises to accomplish planetological feats on Arrakis improving the environment,” Leto says. “We keep taking spice and return nothing.”

While this Ford-Greenhut script is fairly faithful to the overall arc of the first novel, it does completely exclude Alia. Just like the Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts script for Dune: Part Two, it would seem that Ford and Greenhut were equally concerned about how a super-intelligent toddler would play out in a Dune movie.

Speaking of different family relations, this Dune script makes Feyd-Rautha the Baron’s son rather than his nephew.

The Baron and his...son!!?


The 1972 script, like Dune: Part Two, hammers home the cautionary tale aspect of the original novel, by making it clear that in one of Paul’s future visions, his takeover of the throne leads to the long-term downfall of the Fremen. Like a Planet of the Apes movie, this 1972 Dune had the guts to end on a bummer note.

The 1973 Dune screen treatment

An illustration of Paul before his first worm-riding, in The Illustrated Dune from 1978.

John Schoenherr

Interestingly, after what is a fairly straightforward, faithful-ish stab at a Dune script, APJAC switched writers and commissioned Rospo Pallenberg to write a brand-new treatment of Dune about a year later. By this time, Pallenberg had done a script for a 1969 version of Lord of the Rings, which would have been directed by John Boorman. That Lord of the Rings movie never happened, and in 1972 Boorman did Deliverance instead, and then, infamously, Zardoz in 1974. But, in 1973, Arthur P. Jacobs was impressed enough by the Pallenberg Lord of the Rings script that he asked Pallenberg to do a treatment for Dune.

And here’s where things get wild. In Pallenberg’s version, Dune becomes a mystery box story, and instead of just outright knowing that the Guild Navigators have been mutated by the spice, this detail becomes a revelation that Paul encounters at the end.

From the Pallenberg screen treatment:

The Navigators are saturated with the drug melange upon which they exist. They are completely hooked, spaced-out... Ten thousand years ago they became addicted and retreated to the inner holds of the spaceships with all the secrets of High Technology and Science, never again to meddle in human affairs. Melange addiction gave them Prescience and a superhuman understanding of the abstract forms of Space and Time...They were able to guide the ships psychically. But they became totally incapacitated as humans... When strife developed on Dune, they had hoped that all efforts upon the prize planet would annul each other and amount to nothing, enabling them to continue their existence untinged by human contact. Now that Paul has power over the Navigators, the Emperor abdicates... The Fremen acclaim Paul the "Emperor Mouse."

Notice that the planet is not called Arrakis, but instead, just “Dune.” And instead of being Muad'Dib, Paul is called “Emperor Mouse.” This is because, in the Pallenberg script, nearly all the cool Dune words are changed for extremely conventional and generic labels. For example, the Bene Gesserit are just called “The Women of Sisterhood” in this version.

Pallenberg’s script also has Alia, but in this version, Paul “vows to erase all the ancient consciousness,” and basically turns her back into a regular baby. In essence, this Dune ends pretty much the same way the book ends, with Paul in control of the universe, but it’s closer to the happy-ish ending of the 1984 movie. In fact, the movie ends with “a whiff of cloud, the first ever seen over Dune.” A decade later, in the 1984 movie, Kyle MacLachlan’s Paul literally made it rain.

Why the early 1970s Dune didn’t happen

Arthur P. Jacobs (center) in 1969, Claude Wolff Petula Clark are to the right. Jacobs’ wife, Natalie Trundy ​is to his left.

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

We’ll never know which script Arthur P. Jacobs would have wanted to be filmed for two reasons. First, on March 6, 1973, there was a WGA strike, which meant the development of the Dune script stopped at that point. And then, on June 27, 1973, three days after the strike ended, Arthur P. Jacobs had a heart attack and died at the very young age of 51. Although Jacob’s widow, Natalie Trundy, promised to get all the APJAC in-development movies completed, by 1974, the year-long option for Dune expired, and the rights were snatched up by Caméra One, the studio that spearheaded the Jodorowsky project for the next few years.

Had Jacobs lived, there is every reason to believe some version of Dune would have started filming in 1974, as planned. And had that happened, with either of these scripts — or perhaps a different script altogether — then Dune would have been in movie theaters the same year as Jaws, and two years before Star Wars.

Jodorowsky’s Dune may have been the most bonkers sci-fi movie never made. Frank Herbert’s Dune script might have been the clunkiest Dune movie ever made. But, the APJAC 1970s Dune is something else even more interesting: the one unmade Dune project that was also poised to be the most mainstream. And, because of the track record of other movies produced by Arthur P. Jacobs, this forgotten Dune might have been something that’s only just now happened for the franchise, over 50 years later. This canceled Dune probably would have been a hit.

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