“I recognize you,” Paul, the teenage protagonist of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” whispers. He’s talking about a lovely lady who has been in his dreams, all windswept hair and piercing eyes, somewhere between a dream and a perfume advertisement. She is before him now, real and blood, no longer a vision. She’s flintier than expected, more harsh than imagined. Expectation collides with reality.
When you listen to Villeneuve talk, you can see he’s well aware of expectations, whether they’re those of fans of Frank Herbert’s original novel, the studio, or even his own. Villeneuve had to delve into his own psyche to meet them, which is both ironic and appropriate. In an interview with CNN, he explained how he used meditation and dream work to “return to the source.”
“The goal,” he said, “was to attempt to bring those pictures back to the surface that I had in my head when I (first) read the book — those uncorrupted visions that I had at 13 years old.”
The possessive has accompanied the 1965 science fiction book “Dune” everywhere it has gone in cinema: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune,” David Lynch’s “Dune,” and now Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune.” Many images created in the mind’s eye from a single source. However, the point where anticipation meets reality has always been a sensitive one. In the 1970s, Jodorowsky’s picture was shelved, while Lynch’s was critically blasted in the 1980s. Villeneuve’s film is subject to the vagaries of a tumultuous global box office, but he may have finally nailed the spirit of it.
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Since his teenage years, the French Canadian has been thinking about “Dune,” and he’s held pictures and thoughts within him for decades. “I told my team at the start that I’d appreciate it if we could attempt to produce pictures that aren’t influenced by anything else,” he stated. The filmmaker said, “It’s a really romantic approach.” “It’s technically impossible,” says the narrator.
Pop culture, you know, has a habit of getting in the way of itself. Sci-fi films have both plagiarized Herbert’s book and clogged the path back to it, bombarding viewers with pictures and ideas lifted from “Dune” before most people have seen the original material. “‘Star Wars’ is without a doubt the most well-known,” the filmmaker remarked. “Having to deal with the absurdity of having to deal with the (Star Wars) movies that have been profoundly influenced by ‘Dune’… to distinguish ourselves from that enormous cultural impact, was a really fascinating task,” Villeneuve says of the early films.
“We held Frank Herbert’s comments near to us,” he said. “It was our method of bringing something new to the screen that wasn’t just rehashed concepts.”
‘Like the novel, our endeavor is a tragedy.’
The tale of Paul Atreides, an aristocratic scion born with magical abilities he doesn’t fully comprehend, is told in “Dune.” When the galactic emperor orders his family to take over a profitable mining business on the desert planet of Arrakis, it ignites an interplanetary war between ruling families, with the planet’s native people, the Fremen, trapped in the crossfire yet unbowed. As the Atreides’ position is jeopardized, Paul is more led by his mother, a witch who belongs to a cult whose schemes outshine even the most astute political strategist.
The capacity of science fiction to hold up a mirror to civilization is unrivaled, and “Dune” has a full hall of them. A cautionary story about combining politics and religion, an eco-parable, and criticisms of colonialism, messianic leaders, and resource exploitation may all be found within its pages.
“As time passed, the novel grew more relevant,” Villeneuve remarked. Was there ever a thread that he was especially keen on emphasizing? “We are concentrating mostly on Paul Atreides’ trip,” he added, “but we are feeling those concepts, they are in the background everywhere.”
“This endeavor is a tragedy, much like the novel,” Villeneuve said. “It’s essentially the tale of a young guy who will have to bear the weight of a horrible religious legacy,” says the author. Villeneuve selected Timothée Chalamet as his tragic avatar, the sole actor he considered. “Timothée has the maturity required to bring this character to life, as well as the lovely youth he brings,” Villeneuve added. “Timothée seems to be youthful but has an older spirit, as well as the charm of a rock star, which will be required later in part two.”
“Dune” is, in fact, “Dune: Part I.” Villeneuve proposed splitting the book, and Warner Bros. agreed on the condition that the first picture be completed before filming the second, he said.
It was a risky move to look up his CV. The filmmaker was wounded by “Blade Runner 2049,” his 2017 sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, which was a critical triumph but a box financial flop. Similarly, “Dune” is a well-known science fiction film with a long history. “I’d say ‘Dune’ is by far my most accessible (picture),” Villeneuve remarked, adding that he chose a PG-13 classification for the film.
“However, you can’t anticipate a movie’s financial success,” he countered. “It’s a way of expression. You always strive to create the greatest film you can in the moment you are in, and you never know what will happen. Nobody can do it. We’d all be millionaires right now if we knew how well our film would go.”
Part two has already been written, according to Villeneuve. And what are its chances? “To be honest, I’m extremely hopeful.”
‘Of course, there was peer pressure not to do it,’ says the author.
The difficulties of reassembling Villeneuve’s star-studded ensemble (which includes Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and others) may be daunting, but that won’t deter a filmmaker who walked into the deserts of Jordan and the UAE with a crew eager to follow.
“Of course, there was pressure not to do it since bringing a film crew into the midst of the desert and creating a safe atmosphere for them is very difficult… But it was critical for me. It wasn’t a bargaining session “Villeneuve said the following. “I’m a traditional director. Virtual surroundings do not excite me; I need reality.”
Beyond the visual advantages (his Arrakis is really magnificent), the filmmaker discovered his tribe in the desert. “I wanted the environment to inspire us — the performers, the cameraman, and myself,” he said. The cast may form themselves away from civilisation, out in the dunes. If nothing else, “Dune’s” primary theme is “adapt or perish.” “In ‘Dune,’ nature is the god, biology is the religion, and I wanted us to be in connection with nature, as Frank Herbert was when he created the novel,” he added.
Anything to get closer to the text and aligned with the 13-year-old whose imagination put the wheels in action, it seems. “The book was our Bible,” Villeneuve said. The director brought his old copy with him on set, dogeared and careworn. Even yet, before their time is up, the latter chapters will witness more action.
“Because of the nature of the narrative, if part two ever sees the light of day,” he vowed, “it will be a larger movie.” “It’ll be a more intensive cinematic trip; it’ll be a big task — and a thrilling one.”