Denis Villeneuve Scales The Challenge of DUNE

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The spice must flow . . . but, y’know . . . better than it did the last time.

It’s been 35 years since David Lynch’s Dune failed to impress critics and audiences; Roger Ebert somewhat acidly called it “an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion,” and the film failed to recoup its $40 million dollar budget at the box office. However, a new Legendary Pictures adaptation of the original 1965 Frank Herbert novel aims to do justice to the original book and theoretically launch a new franchise centered on Herbert’s work.

The theatrical poster for the 1984 Dune
The theatrical poster for the 1984 Dune

Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) revealed early last year at the Rendez-Vous Québec Cinema film festival that the book would be divided across two films, with the possibility of more features being developed. He added that that Dune will probably take two years to make,” presumably referring to production for both films, which is scheduled to begin in March of this year at Origo Films Studio in Budapest, where much of 2049 was shot. Penning the adaptation for the film are Eric Roth (A Star Is Born, Forrest Gump), Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers), and Villeneuve himself. Frank Herbert’s son, author Brian Herbert, is an executive producer on the film and he took to Twitter in June of last year to give an update on the progress of the script.

Frequent Villeneuve collaborator Roger Deakins will not be serving as cinematographer on the film, which is a shame because the sumptuous visuals he brought to films like 2049, Sicario, and No Country for Old Men would have felt right at home on the dunes of Arrakis. However, accomplished cinematographer and recent Oscar-nominee Grieg Fraser is taking the director-of-photography chair for the production, after providing lensing duties for Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty, and Vice.

Oscar-nominated actor Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy, Call Me By Your Name) has been cast in the lead role of Paul Atreides, aka Muad’Dib, who was played originally by Lynch-alum Kyle Maclachlan in the 1984 film. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman, Mission Impossible: Fallout) will take on the role of Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother, while Stellan Skarsgård (Thor, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Hotel Artemis) were recently cast as father and son villains, Baron Harkkonen and Glossu Rabban, respectively.

Baron Harkonnen, one of cinema's gooiest villains
Baron Harkonnen, one of cinema’s gooiest villains

Star Chalamet pursued Villeneuve for the role and was a big fan of the original Lynch film, but the director has said that he won’t be keeping the original adaptation in mind when constructing his own film. In an interview with Yahoo! Movies last year, Villeneuve said he wanted to reproduce the images that “haunted” him when he read the novel as a teenager. “David Lynch is one of the best filmmakers alive, I have massive respect for him,” said Villeneuve. “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.”

He also wants his vision of the world of Dune to stand apart from that of Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, who famously attempted to adapt Dune in the 1970s. Jodorowsky collaborated with artists like H. R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Moebius to develop a visually-psychedelic adaptation that would have starred Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí, and Mick Jagger, and would have reportedly run over 14 hours. Villeneuve, probably wisely, has demurred from that kind of undertaking, and he remarked in an interview with FANDOM in 2018 that “I think he’s a fantastic filmmaker and I would have loved to see his Dune. I think it would be a very singular Jodorowsky movie. Will it have been the vision I have for Dune? Very far away. I mean, I am sure because he is so unique.” The French-Canadian director also pointed out that many of the ideas for the first Star Wars film, from space royalty to spice freighters to a desert setting, were inspired by Dune. Villeneuve said his “ambition is to do the Star Wars movie I never saw. In a way, it’s Star Wars for adults. We’ll see.”

The cover to Jodorowsky's original treatment of Dune
The cover to Jodorowsky’s original treatment of Dune

The world of Dune is an imaginative and epic setting that has spawned over a dozen sequel and prequel novels, comics, video games, and two Sci-Fi Channel mini-series and continues to be loved by fans a half-century past its debut. Roger Ebert may have thought Lynch’s film was “the worst movie of the year” in 1984, but Villeneuve and his team are giving Dune a second chance to be something great.

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