Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Everything we know about the movie so far

Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most popular and influential science-fiction novels ever published, and Oscar-nominated Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve is bringing it back to the big screen.

Villeneuve has promised that his adaptation of Dune will be a more faithful take on the source material than prior adaptations, and he’s assembled an all-star cast to make it a reality. Here’s everything we know about Villeneuve’s Dune so far, including its December 18 release date.

Baron Harkonnen

We’ve known for some time that Stellan Skarsgard would play Baron Harkonnen, the villainous head of House Harkonnen, but Skarsgard is a clean-cut, trim man. Harkonnen, in canon, is not. Now, we finally have our first look at Harkonnen from an unexpected source: His action figure. ComingSoon.net broke the first image of the morbidly obese, although apparently less sweaty Harkonnen.

The first trailer

On September 9, the first trailer for Dune entered the world. The premiere was preceded by a behind-the-scenes presentation of the film hosted by Stephen Colbert for Twitter Movies. A number of cast members and people involved in the film, including director Denis Villeneuve discussed the filmmaking process, the source material, and some of the challenges in reviving Dune.

Race to the finish

Dune still has a December 18 release date but Denis Villeneuve revealed to Indiewire that he must “sprint to finish” the film. “I was planning to go back and shoot some elements later because I wanted to readjust the movie. I needed time,” he said. “At the time I didn’t know that it would be a pandemic … as we were about to go back to do those elements. The impact was that it crushed my schedule right now. It will be a sprint to finish the movie on time right now, because we were allowed to go back to shoot those elements in a few weeks … it meant also that I have to finish some elements of the movie, like VFX and the editing, being in Montreal as my crew stayed in Los Angeles.”

While it sounds like the film will avoid a delay for the time being, that December 18 date may soon be in jeopardy.

The images

Empire Magazine’s newest cover features the stars of Dune and includes a first look at Denis Villeneuve’s depiction of the gargantuan sandworms of Arrakis.

New images on Twitter show stills of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), and Stilgar (Javier Bardem) — all also from Empire Magazine’s cover story.

Reshoots beginning

As much of the world begins to open back up from the coronavirus pandemic, Rebecca Ferguson revealed on Instagram that she’s heading back to Budapest for reshoots on Dune. Based on her caption, it sounds like she won’t be alone.

The first look

Warner Bros. Pictures released the first look at Dune in April, via a preview of the film published by Vanity Fair.

The preview included some quotes from Villeneuve and star Timothée Chalamet about the experience of working on the film, as well as the first photo of Chalamet as Paul Atreides, the young aristocrat who finds his life on the desert planet Arrakis thrown into chaos when his family is targeted by rivals.

The cast

In February 2019, reports confirmed that Legendary Pictures added a superstar trio to Dune‘s cast. Josh Brolin, who menaced the Avengers as Thanos, will play Paul Atreides’ mentor, Gurney Halleck.

Meanwhile, Star Wars actor Oscar Isaac will trade his X-Wing for a sandworm as Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides, and Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa (below), will reportedly play Duncan Idaho, the only character to appear in all six of Herbert’s Dune novels.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The aforementioned actors will join Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Beautiful Boy), who will star in Dune as Paul Atreides, the central figure in Herbert’s original novel. Actress Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible, The Greatest Showman) will play Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica, a royal concubine with a rebellious streak.

As if the cast wasn’t filled with enough familiar faces, Dave Bautista — no stranger to either space operas or Villeneuve films — joined the cast of Dune in January 2019. Around the same time, Thor and Good Will Hunting actor Stellan Skarsgard was announced in the role of Dune villain Baron Harkonnen, the story’s vicious antagonist and head of the rival family that rips apart Paul’s privileged life.

Finally, Ferguson’s The Greatest Showman co-star (and Spider-Man franchise actress) Zendaya will also play a role in the film, as well as No Country for Old Men villain Javier Bardem. The latter will play Stilgar, the leader of the indigenous population of the desert planet, known as the Fremen.

The story

Dune takes place on the desert planet Arrakis, the only place in the galaxy where spice — the most valuable substance in the universe — can be found. In the world of Dune, the drug-like melange is a cornerstone of human society and also facilitates interstellar travel by imbuing its users with a form of prescience.

The feudal empire overseeing the various planets will do anything to control the supply of spice, making it a powerful bargaining chip in the empire’s politics.

Herbert’s Dune follows the noble family Atreides as they take stewardship of Arrakis, the harsh desert planet where spice is produced. Their place of power soon puts them in the crosshairs of rival families, and young heir Paul Atreides eventually finds himself on the run after an attack on his family.

The story follows Paul’s adventure on Arrakis among the native Fremen, a mysterious culture that lives in the desert environment, and the gradual awakening of the powerful abilities that will help him lead a rebellion.

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. 

The legacy

Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time for a reason — but it has had a difficult time making the leap from page to screen. As chronicled in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky first 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.”

Alicia Witt in Dune (1984)

David Lynch brought Dune to theaters (above) 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. A Sci-Fi Channel miniseries released in 2000 gave the story more room to breathe and hewed closer to the source material, but failed to make much of a long-term impact.

Early reports suggest that’s something Villeneuve will adjust in his adaptation of Dune. 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.”

Updated on September 18, 2020: Added new trailer and Baron Harkonnen action figure.

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