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One of the richest sci-fi stories yet to produce a major film franchise is Frank Herbert's Dune. Although the story is a fan favorite amongst genre devotees, it's had a troubled journey breaking through in the way Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and other cultural phenomenons have. But with a new adaptation of the beloved 1965 book headed toward screens, we could finally have reached a turning point for the beleaguered tale.
From director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) and starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, the adaptation was met with several set-backs during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently set for an Oct. 22 release date, The Hollywood Reporter confirms, nearly a year after its original set date. Ahead, everything we know about the remake, including a look at its all-star cast and new trailer.
The film is based on a groundbreaking sci-fi book series.
Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, is the first installment in a six-book series. The follow-up novels are Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune, though the first is undeniably the favorite (and arguably, the best-received) among fans.
Set in the year 10,191, the series follows young Paul Atreides (Chalamet), the heir to a noble family in a universe where humans have colonized the galaxies and divided them amongst dynasties, ruled over by the Padishah Emperor. At the beginning of Dune, the Atreides family is granted power over the mining planet Arrakis, home to a highly valuable spice known as melange, which makes a longer lifespan and intergalactic space travel possible. Due to the covetable nature of melange, every other family in the galaxy challenges the Atreides for dominance. Paul escapes the war that erupts around him to the desert, where he is declared a prophet-like figure named Kwisatz Haderach by the Fremen who reside in the area. The complex story and advanced visual technology required to tell it made translating the series to the big screen a Herculean task.
The film will debut on HBO Max and in theaters.
Following the lead of Wonder Woman 1984, Dune will be available for both streaming and theatrical viewing on October 1. The movie will stream exclusively on HBO Max for a month, while simultaneously playing in theaters that have safely re-opened during the pandemic. Warner Bros. announced the landmark decision on December 3, confirming that all of its 2021 releases will follow a similar model. It’s unclear whether Dune will be available to HBO Max subscribers for free or at an additional cost, like Black Widow or Mulan on Disney+ earlier this year.
Dune boasts an all-star cast.
Chalamet's Paul Atreides is the heir to an intergalactic throne fighting to protect his family's planet of Arrakis. Zendaya will play Chani, a young Fremen who connects with Paul early-on through his dreams. Rebecca Ferguson will play Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica, and Oscar Isaac will play Paul's father, Duke Leo Atreides.
Other ensemble members include Javier Bardem as Freman leader Stilgar, Jason Momoa as Paul's swordmaster teacher Duncan Idaho, Josh Brolin as Paul's warrior mentor Halleck, Charlotte Rampling as Reverend Mother Mohiam, Stellan Skarsgard as House Atreides enemy Baron Harkonnen, and Dave Bautista as the Baron's nephew “The Beast.”
One change to the source material comes with the casting of Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Rogue One) as Dr. Liet Kynes, an Arrakis ecologist who becomes a Fremen leader. The character is usually portrayed by a white man (the late Max von Sydow played him in the 1984 film adaptation), but Duncan-Brewster is a Black woman. “What Denis had stated to me was there was a lack of female characters in his cast, and he had always been very feminist, pro-women, and wanted to write the role for a woman,” Duncan-Brewster told Vanity Fair. “This human being manages to basically keep the peace amongst many people. Women are very good at that, so why can’t Kynes be a woman? Why shouldn’t Kynes be a woman?”
The first trailer depicts a fantastical journey to the desert.
Cast members from the film and director Villeneuve joined Dune fan Stephen Colbert for a virtual Q&A during the first trailer's exciting premiere. According to Deadline, Villeneuve joked about the epic scale of the footage, explaining, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool.” In fact, the trailer has enough visual spectacle to sustain moviegoers for months. “There’s something happening to me,” Chalamet's Paul begins, via voiceover. “There’s something awakening in my mind; I can’t control it. There’s a crusade coming.”
As Paul grapples with the nature of his dreams, he endures a box of pain (courtesy of a veiled Reverend Mother Mohiam), and sets his sights on Chani. “Dune is a movie about the capacity of adaptation because there are a lot of changes coming,” Villeneuve warned. “That’s why Dune is more relevant than ever.”
The second trailer gives an eye-opening glimpse at the epic scale of the film.
“My planet, Arrakis, is so beautiful when the sun is low,” Zendaya (as Chani) tells us in the first few seconds of the second trailer, in which audiences are finally allowed a full view of the film's gargantuan production value. Spaceships! Explosions! Visions of the future! It's everything a Dune fan could hope for, at long last.
As Chani whispers Paul's name, Chalamet gasps awake. “I've been having dreams about a girl on Arrakis,” he tells Momoa's Duncan. And so it begins. Watch the full clip below.
Villeneuve sees the movie as "a call for action for the youth."
Although the movie is based on a 55-year-old book, Villeneuve has spoken about how resonant the themes—about religion and power, dwindling resources, and exploitation—are today. “No matter what you believe, Earth is changing, and we will have to adapt,” he told Vanity Fair. “That’s why I think that Dune, this book, was written in the 20th century. It was a distant portrait of the reality of the oil and the capitalism and the exploitation—the overexploitation—of Earth. Today, things are just worse. It’s a coming-of-age story, but also a call for action for the youth.”
The director, who will reunite with composer Hans Zimmer for the film's music, also opened up about the complexity of adapting Dune. “It’s a book that tackles politics, religion, ecology, spirituality—and with a lot of characters,” Villeneuve told the oulet. “I think that’s why it’s so difficult. Honestly, it’s by far the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life.”
The movie will be split into two parts.
Once Villeneuve completes his most challenging film, he'll have to return for a follow-up. In April 2020, Villeneuve confirmed to Vanity Fair that he would be splitting the movie into two parts in an effort to tackle Herbert's behemoth original novel. “I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie,” Villeneuve told VF. “The world is too complex. It’s a world that takes its power in details.”
In a statement to Vanity Fair, Villeneuve spoke about filming the movie in the southern deserts of Jordan and his eagerness for audiences around the world to watch. “I look forward to a time when we can all get together again as Dune was made to be seen on the big screen,” the director said. The film's cinematographer Greig Fraser told Collider that although the story will be adapted into two parts, the first is “a fully standalone epic film that people will get a lot out of when they see it.” The script for Dune was written by Eric Roth (2018's A Star Is Born) and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus).
Dune has been adapted into movies and TV shows before.
Just because the series was labeled un-filmable doesn't mean several filmmakers didn’t try. In the ’70s, avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to mount a film adaptation to no avail, as depicted in the 2014 documentary Jodorowsky's Dune.
Then the Oscar-nominated auteur David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) helmed a big-screen adaptation of the book in 1984. Starring Kyle MacLachlan in his first major movie role, Dune was met with lackluster critical reviews and flopped at the box office. (It’s now considered somewhat of a cult classic.)
That was followed nearly two decades later by an early-aughts Syfy miniseries starring Alec Newman, which failed to make much of a cultural impact. Then came a lengthy development process on a new movie at Paramount between 2008 and 2011, which involved filmmakers including Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon) and Pierre Morel (Taken). Villeneuve boarded the project in 2016. Dune: The Sisterhood, a female-centric HBO Max series, is also in the works with Villeneuve set to direct the pilot.
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