When it was announced that Arrival, Sicario, and Blade Runner 2049 filmmaker Denis Villeneuve would be tackling Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune, fans were ecstatic. Villeneuve has a knack for atmosphere and digging into characters in a thematically resonant way, not to mention collaborating with some of the world’s most brilliant cinematographers to create stunning imagery. But the news got even better when we learned that Villeneuve’s plan for Dune was to split the story in half and tell it in two movies.
While Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment haven’t yet greenlit Dune 2 (that we know of), we know a script is already underway for a follow-up. Part of Villeneuve’s big Dune plan involves not only a sequel but a spinoff TV series for Warner Bros.’ streaming service HBO Max called Dune: Sisterhood. That show will follow a group of female characters known as the Bene Gesserit, with Villeneuve planning to direct at least part of it, and at first Dune co-writer Jon Spaihts was set to serve as showrunner.
But last November, Spaihts was pulled off of Dune: Sisterhood not over creative differences, but so he could begin work on writing the Dune sequel movie. And as part of Vanity Fair’s preview of the film, Villeneuve revealed that he wouldn’t agree to sign on to make the movie unless he could tell it in two parts, not unlike Warner Bros.’ approach to It and It: Chapter Two:
“I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie,” says Villeneuve. “The world is too complex. It’s a world that takes its power in details.”
So the story of this Dune movie, which was written by Spaihts, Eric Roth (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Villeneuve himself, will only cover about half of Herbert’s novel. The other half will be told in an eventual sequel, assuming the first film succeeds.
Villeneuve has to please not just general audiences but also fervent fans of Herbert’s book who have thus far not gotten a successful adaptation. David Lynch tried in the 80s and fell short, and now Villeneuve believes splitting the story in half is the key to making it work on the big screen.
But Villeneuve also has surprises in store for fans of the book—namely a couple of significant changes to Herbert’s story. Broadly speaking, the story follows the young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) whose family begins warring with another faction over control of “the spice,” a drug that extends life and enhances one’s mental capacities, and which is produced on the planet of Arrakis.
For the feature film adaptation, Villeneuve tells Vanity Fair that he’s expanded the role of Paul’s mother Lady Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson. She is “even more fearsome than before” in the script, serving a greater role in defending and training Paul, and Ferguson tells Vanity Fair the changes were for the better:
“She’s a mother, she’s a concubine, she’s a soldier,” says Ferguson. “Denis was very respectful of Frank’s work in the book, [but] the quality of the arcs for much of the women have been brought up to a new level. There were some shifts he did, and they are beautifully portrayed now.”
Another major change involves the character of Dr. Liet Kynes, who in the book is an imperial Planetologist and serves as an independent broker on the planet of Arrakis. In the book. Dr. Liet Kynes is a male character, but in Villeneuve’s version she’s a woman, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster. The actress tells Vanity Fair that Villeneuve gender-flipped the character because of the story’s lack of female characters.
And last but not least there’s the villainous Baron Vladimir, played by Stellan Skarsgard. He’s described as being literally monstrous in the book, and indeed Skarsgard wore prosthetics to get the physicality right, but Villeneuve tells Vanity Fair that he toned the character down a bit for the movie:
“As much as I deeply love the book, I felt that the baron was flirting very often with caricature,” says Villeneuve. “And I tried to bring him a bit more dimension. That’s why I brought in Stellan. Stellan has something in the eyes. You feel that there’s someone thinking, thinking, thinking—that has tension and is calculating inside, deep in the eyes. I can testify, it can be quite frightening.”
Dune is still on track to hit theaters this December, despite the COVID-19 shutdown, and I absolutely cannot wait. Everything we’ve seen and heard thus far is pretty darn spot on, and it’s all the more exciting knowing there’s even more where that came from in the form of an eventual sequel.