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'Dune: Part 2' Is Happening—But Denis Villeneuve Wants More

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Last weekend, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the sci-fi series Dune crash landed into theaters and living rooms and the crowd went wild. Wild! In his review for Esquire, Chris Nashawaty went so far as to call the film “the best sci-fi movie of the decade.”

The glowing reviews have surely come as a relief to the director as well as Warner Bros. studio, who decided to throw a chance, as well as truly piles of money, at Frank Herbert’s beloved novel despite its reputation for being notoriously difficult to adapt. (Plenty of other directors have tried and failed. David Lynch’s 1984 version was widely considered a disaster, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt in the ‘70s didn’t even make it into theaters. Years of production woes and a ballooning budget forced studio execs to pull the plug.)

What seems to have spared Villeneuve’s Dune from the poor outcomes of previous attempts was his crucial decision to break the massive story into two parts. "Right at the beginning, I strongly recommended that we should do this in two parts,” Villeneuve said in an interview with Newsweek. Fortunately, the film’s financier, Legendary Studios, agreed to the proposition, freeing Villeneuve from the unenviable task of shoehorning the 800-page novel into a film that would inevitably have been both too long and too short.

That left the first film ending on a cliffhanger, but now, audiences may be placated because, officially, a sequel is en route. All along, Part Two's fate has rested on how Dune performs at the box office. And the film’s $40.1 million opening weekend haul now made the plan inevitable. (It also released simultaneously on HBO Max.) Legendary Studios confirmed on Twitter this week that Part Two has been greenlit, writing, "This is only the beginning... Thank you to those who have experienced Dune so far, and those who are going in the days and weeks ahead. We're excited to continue the journey!"

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Toby Emmerich, Chairman of Warner Brothers Picture Group, added, “Denis Villeneuve has crafted a film that is both visually extraordinary and emotionally transporting, as evidenced by its global success both critically and at the box office. We are thrilled to continue on this journey with Denis and his cast and crew, and our partners at Legendary, and can’t wait to bring the next chapter of this epic tale to theaters on October 20, 2023.”

The Hollywood bosses have kept viewers in suspense, but to some degree, the writing has been on the wall. WarnerMedia Studios CEO Ann Sarnoff even suggested as much during an earlier conversation with Deadline. “Will we have a sequel to Dune? If you watch the movie, you see how it ends," she said. "I think you pretty much know the answer to that." Sarnoff is likely referring to the film’s rather abrupt ending, which plenty of moviegoers have commented on. Despite loving the film, even Nashawaty said he felt like it ended “just as the real adventure seems to be beginning.”

In Part Two, viewers can expect Villeneuve's plot to favor the second half of Herbert's Dune, which tracks Paul's rise to power among the Fremen and his eventual rebellion against Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Paul's journey to becoming the fabled "Kwisatz Haderach" will test his character and imperil his life. Meanwhile, the Atreides family expands: Paul and Chani grow romantically entwined, as his clairvoyant visions predicted, and Lady Jessica gives birth to a daughter, Alia, with outstanding Bene Gesserit abilities. We won't spoil all the delicious twists and turns, but rest assured that the outline provided by the back half of the novel lends itself to a thrilling, more plot-driven story. It also means that the cast will have to expand; Villeneuve will need to cast his Emperor Shaddam IV, along with the Emperor's daughter, Princess Irulan, who later becomes Paul's wife.

As for Villeneuve, the ambitious sci-fi director seems excited to get back to work—and in a perfect world, he won't be stopped at just one more movie.

"I always envisioned three movies," Villeneuve told Entertainment Weekly. "It's not that I want to do a franchise, but this is Dune, and Dune is a huge story. In order to honor it, I think you would need at least three movies. That would be the dream. To follow Paul Atreides and his full arc would be nice. Herbert wrote six books, and the more he was writing, the more it was getting psychedelic. So I don't know how some of them could be adapted. One thing at a time. If I ever have the chance to do Dune: Part Two and Dune Messiah, I'm blessed."

In Dune: Messiah, Herbert's second book in the series, Paul's story comes to a close, while Herbert's thorny thematic questions about power, destiny, and messiahs come into sharper focus. While Dune traces Paul's rise to power, Dune: Messiah traces his fall. In this story, Paul sits on the throne after unleashing a jihad that killed 61 billion people across the galaxy. Paul rules the known universe as the most powerful Emperor in history, but various factions conspire to dethrone him. The story ends with Paul, both physically and psychically blinded, wandering to his death into the desert of Arrakis, with his son set to take the throne in the following book.

Villeneuve has his work cut out for him, but with only Dune: Part Two on lock, we'll refrain from getting too excited about the possibility of seeing Dune: Messiah on screen. What else can viewers expect from Dune: Part Two? Hopefully more Zendaya! The young actress is rumored to have an expanded, starring role in the sequel. Watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.

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