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Denis Villeneuve, the arthouse director with a penchant for mainstream success, signed on to direct the notoriously unfilmable sci-fi classic Dune in February of 2017. At that point, the director had recently released the alien contact powerhouse Arrival, and the release of his masterful Blade Runner sequel was still on the horizon. The Canadian director’s name has become synonymous with artistic, thought-provoking films that can engage a mainstream audience. Directors like David Lynch and Alejandro Jorodowsky may have failed to bring Dune to the silver screen properly, but if there’s any contemporary director who can do it right, it’s Villeneuve. Let’s take a look at everything we know so far about Villeneuve’s Dune.
Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel may only be around 400 pages, but it manages to convey a remarkably realized sci-fi world, a deep cast of characters, and a complex, thought-provoking plot nonetheless. The density of Herbert’s work has baffled directors for years—Jorodowsky’s failed attempt was pegged to be ten hours long, and Lynch’s 1984 adaptation was panned for the way it strayed from the book in order to fit the constraints of a feature film. (Villeneuve has said his Dune won’t make the same mistake.)
When Legendary Studios acquired the rights to Dune in 2016, it was rumored that the novel would be getting a miniseries adaptation, a la Game of Thrones or Sharp Objects. In fact, the series was previously adapted as such, in a Sci-Fi (now known as Syfy) Channel-produced series in the 2000s. The new Dune may not be stretched out that long, but the novel’s plot will be split across two movies, as confirmed by Frank Herbert’s son, Brian, on Twitter.
Previous adaptations have varied wildly in their prospective casting of the lead characters of Dune. Jorodowsky’s drug-trip vision of the work included roles played by Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine and even Mick Jagger, while Lynch’s version relied on smaller-time character actors, including future Lynch all-star Kyle McLachlan in his first feature film appearance.
Villeneuve appears to be walking the line between those two casting philosophies: Two of the lead roles are going to relative Hollywood newcomers Timothee Chalamet, who will be portraying main character Paul Atreides, and Rebecca Ferguson, who will be playing Atreides’ mother, Lady Jessica. Both Chalamet and Ferguson have had a streak of acclaimed performances in the last few years: Chalamet in Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name and Beautiful Boy, and Ferguson in the really-quite-phenomenal Mission: Impossible sequels, starting with 2015’s Rogue Nation.
Ferguson has yet to comment on her casting, but Chalamet said that Villeneuve is one of his favorite directors in an interview with The Playlist. “What’s especially inspiring about Denis films are the size of them,” he said. “They reach a big audience. These are films meant to play in front of big crowds … So, that would be a dream come true and is going to be a dream come true.”
There is no set release date for the film as of right now—really, only two actors are confirmed to be attached, so it would be a bit ridiculous to hope for a solid date just yet. Principal photography is set to begin sometime in 2019, which means production could extend well into 2020 or even 2021. That’s right: Dune likely won’t come until we’re in the future. Our only wish is that it will come out before the planet ends up looking like the desert planet Arrakis. One can only hope.
On Jan. 7, news broke that Dave Bautista had joined the cast of Dune. The Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner 2049 actor will play “Beast” Rabban, the sadistic nephew of a baron who oversees Arrakis. Stellan Skarsgard signed on to play that very baron on Jan. 9.
Another big name has joined the cast as of Jan. 29: Oscar Isaac, who’s in talks to play Paul Atreides’ father, Duke Leto. Isaac was followed shortly by Javier Bardem, who was reported to be in negotiations to play Stilgar, Fremen leader and Paul Atreides ally, on Feb. 1.
Production on Dune began in mid-March, Warner Bros. announced, also revealing that Hans Zimmer will score the film, the full cast of which has now been set:
The studio has shared the following synopsis for the film:
A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.
Villeneuve and company are shooting on location in Budapest, Hungary, and in Jordan.
Watch this space for further updates on Dune.