Denis Villeneuve prefers practical filmmaking over CGI, which means he searched far and wide to find the perfect desert to represent the planet Arrakis in his upcoming “Dune” adaptation. Arrakis is a desert planet that is home to the universe’s most valuable resource, a super-powered drug called spice that enhances human abilities and powers space flight. Villeneuve found his Arrakis in Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Desert. The location was also used by J.J. Abrams for desert sequences in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“We were looking for locations that had big, rocky mountains with desert around, which sounds achievable but it’s not particularly easy to find in the UAE, especially when they’re also looking at other countries like Jordan where you have places like Wadi Rum,” Robbie McAree of Epic Films told The National. Epic Films provided production services for “Dune” in Abu Dhabi.
“Eventually it changed. They fell in love with the UAE and the desert landscape so much that they decided to choose the UAE for the vast desert landscapes,” McAree continued, adding that Villeneuve’s decision to shoot “Dune” in July and August coincided with the hottest months of the year in the UAE capital. Special tents had to be created with air conditioning to keep the heat from affecting the crew and camera equipment.
“Logistically it was challenging, however, we did come up with an approach that was safe for everyone,” McAree said of the heat. “We would film for a few hours in the morning, we’d have a break during the hot hours in midday and then we’d go back out again in the late hours of the afternoon.”
According to McAree, Villeneuve decided to go ahead with shooting “Dune” in the heat for a particular reason: “Summer in the UAE has grayer skies and a lot more haze. For Denis’s vision of ‘Dune,’ it was absolutely perfect. We all knew that it was going to be harsh but he wanted that for a reason.”
Villeneuve said as much himself in a behind-the-scenes video released by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, Villeneuve revealed what drew him to Liwa as a central location for the film.
“What I found in Abu Dhabi is unmatchable,” the director said. “There’s a scale to the dunes and the desert in a variety of shapes that we thought was absolutely mesmerizing. There’s also some climatic conditions there that were perfect for us because of the proximity to the city, it’s like a strange kind of haze in that air that I was looking for that matched totally with the look of the film.”
“Dune” opens in theaters and HBO Max on October 22.