Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune is widely considered one of the greatest science-fiction novels ever written, and now it's set for a new movie adaptation from Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve.
Various directors tried and failed to tackle the book, with the most famous unmade version being that of cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky. His ambitious plans were so enormous - including casting Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles, getting Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack and having legendary illustrator Moebius design the film - that a documentary was made about the project. When that fell through, producer Dino De Laurentiis hired a young David Lynch, fresh from his Oscar-nominated work in The Elephant Man. The final result was widely slammed, although it has its bright moments, and Lynch would later distance himself from the film, saying his artistic vision had been curtailed.
The Sci-Fi Channel would make a miniseries of the novel in 2000 and other directors would attempt to get a new film into production (both Peter Berg (Battleship) and Pierre Morel (Taken) were signed on as directors at various points in time) but to no avail. However, in November 2016, it was revealed that Legendary Entertainment had required the rights to Dune, and the following month, it was announced that Denis Villeneuve would direct the project. Not much has been revealed since then, but here is everything you need to know about the upcoming Dune movie. We’ll keep this updated as new stories break.
- Title: Dune
- Release date: Unknown
- Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson
- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- Writer: Eric Roth
Last Update: September 30, 2018
What’s the Story of Dune?
Condensing the plot of Dune into a manageable synopsis is no mean feat. It's a tangled novel of political machinations and religious fanaticism that eschews many of the common markers of the science-fiction genre. The story takes place amid feuding noble houses who each control their own planets. The first novel's main hero, Paul Atreides, is part of the family who are the stewards of Arrakis, the desert planet which is the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe: the spice melange. The drug can unlock future sight in some humans and is crucial for interstellar space travel. The overarching story follows the battles for control of Arrakis by the many noble families of the galaxy and Paul's rise from heir of the House Atreides to one of the most powerful figures in the universe.
Dune was the first book to win the Nebula Award for Best Novel. Arthur C. Clarke praised the novel by saying, "I know nothing comparable to it except Lord of the Rings." There are five sequels to the first book, and from 1999 onwards, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson published a number of prequels, as well as two official sequels to the central Dune series.
Denis Villeneuve Will Direct
Québécois director Denis Villeneuve was revealed as the director of Dune last year, fresh off the release of his critically acclaimed Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. While that film was generally considered a box office disappointment (it made just under $260 million from a budget of around $150-185 million) it received excellent reviews and was seen as a worthy successor to Ridley Scott's classic. It also wasn't his first foray into sci-fi, as the previous year saw the release of the Oscar winner Arrival, starring Amy Adams. Between both his English and French language films, Villeneuve has garnered a reputation as a director of excellent psychological understanding and visual flare on both a large and small scale, which is essentially perfect for a Dune film.
Timothée Chalamet Will Play the Lead
Paul Atreides, the hero of Dune, is the fifteen year old heir to the House of Atreides, the aristocratic rulers of the planet Caladan. He eventually gains superhuman powers, rises to the top of the political ladder, and becomes a godlike figure - all of which was Frank Herbert's way of commenting on the problems of absolute power and undisputed heroes. In Lynch's film, he was played by Kyle MacLachlan, with whom he would become a regular collaborator. At the time, MacLachlan was 24, certainly too old for Paul, although not much older than the actor who will play the part in Villeneuve's film.
Timothée Chalamet, fresh from his Oscar-nominated turn in Call Me By Your Name, is 22, but has already been unofficially crowned the hottest actor of his generation. Any project he signs onto will arouse interest but it is notable that Chalamet has chosen Dune as his first big-budget project and not a more traditional franchise role. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Enquirer, Chalamet explained his decision to sign onto Dune:
"So I always told myself, if you do a big movie, make sure it’s with a really great director. I met Denis at the Hollywood Film Awards last year. I didn’t want to scare him away with my enthusiasm for the project, so I didn’t even bring it up. I just said, “Hi.” [...] Denis said, “Would you consider doing this?” I was like, “Yes, of course I would.” I have read the script and the book and I am so grateful that it’s a big movie and yet, there’s a real arc to this character."
Rebecca Ferguson Also in the Cast
The ensemble of Dune is large and detailed, which would make for a tricky prospect for any casting team. Jodorowsky had hoped to cast an array of figures as eclectic as Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí (who would later demand a fee of $100,000 an hour), Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger and Hervé Villechaize. Lynch's cast was even more impressive: Kyle MacLachlan, Brad Dourif, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Sting, and Linda Hunt.
Casting for Villeneuve's Dune has the potential to be just as dazzling, but for now, the only attached names are Chalamet and Mission: Impossible star Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson was reported by The Hollywood Reporter to be in talks with Legendary at the beginning of September 2018, and will reportedly play Paul's mother, Lady Jessica. In Lynch's film, she was played by English actress Francesca Annis.
Did Legendary Buy the Dune Rights for Villeneuve?
For Villeneuve, Dune is a dream project. In a September 2016 interview with Variety, while promoting Blade Runner 2049, he described adapting Dune as "a longstanding dream of mine" but "it's a long process to get the rights and I don't think I will succeed." There was no indication in this interview that Villeneuve was in any way attached to a Dune project. Legendary did not buy the film and television rights from the Herbert estate until November and Villeneuve wasn’t officially signed on until the next month.
It’s possible that Villeneuve was already in talks with Legendary at that point and that his involvement with the adaptation was a key selling point for the Herbert estate signing the rights away to a new production company. The timeline is very tight, too much so to be entirely coincidental. It would be notable for Legendary if they saw Villeneuve as a worthy investment, even as the box office numbers for Blade Runner 2049 proved underwhelming.
The Film May Only Adapt the First Half of the Book
The first edition print of Dune clocked in at 412 pages, although later editions are far longer. The most recent paperback is just under 600 pages. Even before the saga expands into a multitude of sequels (many of which were written or co-written by Brian Herbert, Frank’s son), that first novel is a dense and complex read. It's a multi-layered political saga with complex themes and a massive ensemble of characters. Even Lynch's film, which is 136 minutes long, barely scratched the surface and struggled to condense it all. It’s been all but accepted by Dune fans that any future adaptation would need at least more than one film to get the story going.
Speaking at Rendez-Vous du Cinema Quebecois, Villeneuve confirmed plans to make at least two Dune movies, saying, "Dune will probably take two years to make. The goal is to make two films, maybe more." He also told Fandom, "I could be involved with one or two movies", but that nothing was confirmed because of the difficulties in making it through to theatrical process:
It Won’t Be Like Lynch or Jodorowsky’s Visions
Nobody would blame Villeneuve for wanting to take inspiration from David Lynch in any capacity. While his Dune adaptation is flawed and not especially Lynchian, it has real moments of epic bedazzlement. Jodorowsky’s unmade film left behind an array of pre-production materials and sketches that have led to many “What if?” scenarios too. While Villeneuve expressed admiration for Lynch and his vision, he told Yahoo! that his version would be its own thing:
"David Lynch did an adaptation in the ’80s that has some very strong qualities, I mean David Lynch is one of the best filmmakers alive, I have massive respect for him. 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 told Fandom that he would not be drawing from Jodorowsky:
"Because Jodorowsky is a very unique visionary. He has a very strong, unique vision. I am a total different human being. It would be very presumptuous and arrogant for me to try. I would love to talk to him. I’ve wanted to meet him for a long time. 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."
When Will Shooting Start?
Brian Herbert has tweeted often about Villeneuve's behind-the-scenes pre-production planning over the past few months, although a start date for production has yet to be announced. Given the scale of the movie and everything required - a massive cast, lengthy shooting time, detailed planning stages (no crew has been announced yet beyond the involvement of screenwriter Eric Roth) - it makes sense that Legendary would not want to set a date in stone.
According to Omega Underground, Villeneuve is planning a return trip to Orgio Film Studios in Budapest, Hungary (the same place where he shot Blade Runner 2049) for principal photography, and that production on Dune could start as early as February 2019.
There’s no poster for Dune yet, but we’ll keep update this page when the poster is released.
The trailer for Dune won’t premiere for many months, but we'll update this page when the trailer is released.
More Dune News
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- Dune Movie & TV Rights Picked Up By Legendary
- Why Denis Villeneuve is the Perfect Director For Dune
- Dune: Denis Villeneuve Calls Film 'The Project of My Life'
- Dune Movie Reboot Lands Forrest Gump Writer Eric Roth
- Dune Reboot Won't Draw from David Lynch's Adaptation
- Denis Villeneuve's Dune Will Be 'Star Wars For Adults'
- Denis Villeneuve's Dune May Start Filming In Early 2019