Denis Villeneuve has become one of the most prominent voices in science-fiction cinema thanks to critically-acclaimed projects “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” but his next undertaking in the genre is bound to be his biggest: “Dune.”
The iconic novel has proved to be one hell of a challenge for directors in the past. Alejandro Jodorowsky infamously tired and failed to adapt “Dune,” while David Lynch succeeded but lost creative control in post-production and ended up hating the theatrical version that was released. Can Villeneuve deliver cinema’s first genuinely great “Dune” movie? Here’s everything fans need to know about the upcoming film.
The Source Material
“Dune” was created by author Frank Herbert, whose 1965 science fiction novel won the Nebula Award for Best Novel and tied for the Hugo Award. Hebert wrote five sequels: “Dune Messiah,” “Children of Dune,” “God Emperor of Dune,” “Heretics of Dune,” and “Chapterhouse: Dune.” The story takes place in the distant future and centers on warring families who are in control of individual planets.
The protagonist of the first two novels is Paul Atreides, whose family becomes the owner of a desert planet named Arrakis, which is home to a valuable drug called “spice” that enhances mental abilities. The drug is the most sought after commodity in the universe, which makes the Atreides family the target of warring families, including the villainous House Harkonnen.
This Is Not David Lynch’s “Dune”
“Dune” was first adapted into a feature film by David Lynch in 1984. Backed by Universal Pictures, the project was notorious for several creative disagreements between Lynch and producers, which ultimately led to the director being denied final cut privileges. Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment in November 2017, Villeneuve said that Lynch’s movie would bear no resemblance to what he was planning on doing with the source material.
“David Lynch did an adaptation in the ’80s that has some very strong qualities,” Villeneuve said. “I mean, David Lynch is one of the best filmmakers alive, I have massive respect for him. … But when I saw his adaptation, I was impressed, but it was not what I had dreamed of, so I’m trying to make the adaptation of my dreams. It will not have any link with the David Lynch movie. I’m going back to the book, and going to the images that came out when I read it.”
Two Parts From the Start
While Lynch’s “Dune” did not spawn a franchise, Villeneuve boarded “Dune” from the beginning with plans to create a two-part epic. The filmmaker confirmed his plans in March 2018, saying, “‘Dune’ will probably take two years to make,” Villeneuve said. “The goal is to make two films, maybe more.”
Villeneuve originally had plans to make “Blade Runner 2049” a two-part movie, so much so that he knew exactly where the film would split. Warner Bros. ultimately wanted one movie under three hours and that’s what the director delivered. Given Villeneuve’s film centers around the character of Paul, who appears in the first two books, it’s possible the first film covers “Dune” and the second “Dune Messiah.” Rumor also has it the movies will just cover the first book and split it in half.
Timothée Chalamet Gets His First Blockbuster Leading Role
Chalamet was the first actor cast in “Dune,” joining the project last September in the lead role of Paul Atreides. Kyle MacLachlan starred as the character in David Lynch’s film. For Chalamet, who had a small role in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and has since gone to make a name for himself in independent films, a lead role in a major studio tentpole checks off a major bucket list item.
“It has always been my dream to do a big movie,” Chalamet told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “And looking at the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio or Joaquin Phoenix, those guys exclusively work with great directors. So I always told myself, if you do a big movie, make sure it’s with a really great director.”
Chalamet told The Playlist last year Villeneuve is one of his favorite filmmakers. “What’s especially inspiring about Denis’ films are the size of them,” the actor said. “They reach a big audience. These are films meant to play in front of big crowds. And, conversely, he’s also made movies like ‘Incendies’ that are like intimate affairs. So, that would be a dream come true and is going to be a dream come true. And, I’m chomping at the bits for that experience. I can’t wait.”
…And the Rest of the Cast Is Pretty Impressive
Villeneuve has rounded out the ensemble cast around Chalamet with an impressive group of actors. Stellan Skarsgård is playing the film’s chief antagonist Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, while director’s “Blade Runner 2049” star Dave Bautista is playing the Baron’s sadistic nephew, Rabban. Rebecca Ferguson is set to appear as Lady Jessica, the mother of Chalamet’s Paul Atreides. Charlotte Rampling has been cast as Reverend Mother Mohiam, a high-ranking member of the supernatural sisterhood known as Bene Gesserit. Oscar Isaac is playing Paul’s father Duke Leto Atreides, Zendaya is starring as Paul’s wife Chani, and Javier Bardem will appear as Stilgar, the leader of a secret community on the planet Arrakis. Josh Brolin has also been cast as Gurney Halleck, a swordsman loyal to the Astreids family.
A Break From Roger Deakins
Villeneuve and Roger Deakins make one of the strongest director-cinematographer pairings in Hollywood. The duo’s offerings “Prisoners,” “Sicario,” and “Blade Runner 2049” have all resulted in Oscar nominations for Deakins. “2049” famously won the DP his first Best Cinematography Oscar.
For “Dune,” however, Villeneuve will be partnering Greig Fraser, himself an Oscar-nominated cinematographer thanks to “Lion.” Fraser’s other notable credits include “Mary Magdalene,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Foxcatcher,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Vice.” Villeneuve can still deliver the goods without Deakins, as he did with DP Bradford Young on “Arrival.”
Villeneuve’s Longtime Editor Returns
While Villeneuve will be bringing in fresh blood behind the camera, he’s keeping things the same in the editing room. As IndieWire exclusively reported in January, editor Joe Walker is set for “Dune” after working on Villeneuve’s last three movies: “Blade Runner 2049,” “Arrival,” and “Sicario.” Walker earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts on “Arrival” and picked up BAFTA Award nominations for both “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049.”
The editor’s other main collaborator is none other than Oscar winner Steve McQueen, whose movies he’s been editing since the director first started directing with 2008’s “Hunger.”
Walker previously told Collider that as an editor he will stay away from both the book and Lynch’s movie. “I want to be fresh,” he said. “It’s good for me to come in from the outside a little bit and read the script when they’re ready for it and when it comes my way. I don’t want to overload it too much with the older film and reading the book. I just want to see what [Villeneuve’s] vision is.”
Legendary has announced it will release “Dune” in November 2020. Production on the film is scheduled to begin this spring in Jordan and Budapest, the latter being the same location where Villeneuve filmed the majority of “Blade Runner 2049.” It’s safe to assume Jordan will be used for portions of the film set on the desert planet Arrakis.