Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most popular and influential fiction novels ever, but it’s also a dense and complicated book that seems to defy adaptation. Director Denis Villeneuve is trying anyway. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker, who previously helmed Arrival and Blade Runner, promised that his Dune will be a more faithful take on the source material than other adaptations, and he’s assembled an all-star cast to make it a reality. Here’s everything that we know so far.
In February 2019, reports confirmed that Legendary Pictures added a superstar trio to Dune‘s cast. Josh Brolin, who is currently menacing the Avengers as Thanos, will play lead character Paul Atreides’ mentor, Gurney Halleck. Star Wars veteran Oscar Isaac will trade his X-Wing for a sandworm as Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides. And Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa, is in talks to play Duncan Idaho, the only character to appear in all six of Herbert’s Dune novels.
They’ll join Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Beautiful Boy), who will star in Dune as Paul Atreides, the nobleman-turned-messiah and the head of an interstellar uprising. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible, The Greatest Showman) will play his mother, Lady Jessica, a royal concubine with a rebellious streak.
That’s not all, either. Dave Bautista, no stranger to either space operas or Villeneuve films, joined Dune in January 2019. So did Thor and Good Will Hunting actor Stellan Skarsgard, who will play Dune‘s villain, Baron Harkonnen. Ferguson’s The Greatest Showman co-star Zendaya and former Bond and No Country for Old Men villain Javier Bardem will also appear.
Dune takes place on the desert planet Arrakis, the only place in the galaxy where the mind-expanding “spice” melange can be found. In Dune‘s world, the drug-like melange is a cornerstone of human society, and the Empire will do anything to keep its supply of the spice under its control.
That causes problems when the Emperor begins to suspect that Arrakis’ overseer, Leto Atreides, is a rival to his throne, and plots to have Atreides eliminated. Before long, Leto’s son Paul and his mother, Jessica, are forced to flee into the desert, where they ally with Arrakis’ native population, the Freman, and eventually launch a full-on revolt against the Emperor and his forces.
It’s a great story — Dune is the best-selling science fiction novel of all time for a reason — but it’s not exactly tailor-made for the big screen. As chronicled in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to turn the book into a film in the ’70s, but was stymied by a lack of funds and a script “the size of a phone book.” David Lynch brought Dune to theaters in 1984 with Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart, and Sting in key roles, but his take was a commercial and critical failure despite its ongoing cult appeal.
Neither of those adaptations followed Herbert’s novel very closely, and while a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries in 2000 gave the story more room to breath, it failed to make much of a long-term impact. That’s something that Villeneuve wants to fix. While Villeneuve respects Lynch’s vision, he told Yahoo! Movies (by way of Indiewire) that the upcoming film will be “going back to the book, and going to the images that came out when I read it.”
Villeneuve’s first Dune movie will only cover half of the original novel, and the director says “the goal is to make two films, maybe more,” to tell Dune‘s complete story. If it’s a success, expect to see Dune at the box office for years to come. After Dune, Herbert wrote five increasingly bizarre sequels, and his son Brian Herbert (with sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson) kept the series alive after his death with a series of novels and short stories. If Legendary wants a franchise, Villeneuve’s film might only be the beginning.
Updated on February 15, 2019: Added new cast and plot information
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