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9/9/2020 • 3 min read
The first footage for DUNE, from ARRIVAL and BLADE RUNNER 2049 director Denis Villeneuve, is finally here! To prepare for the release of this first footage, Warner Bros. held a virtual junket with a preview of the trailer and a conversation between host Stephen Colbert and Villeneuve, with cast members Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem in attendance.
Watch the trailer below, then read about how the filmmakers approached adapting Frank Herbert's monumental and thrilling novel.
Having watched that amazing footage, those new to DUNE might still want a bit more explanation of the story. We have a full explainer here, but the short version is that Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, the son of a duke who moves with his family to the desert planet Arrakis, aka Dune, as they take control of the planet's spice mining operation. That spice is crucial to interstellar travel. It also has the potential to unlock the destiny of one person who can become the Kwisatz Haderach — a prophecized figure who can see deep into the past and perceive much of the future.
Event host Stephen Colbert enthused about Frank Herbert's original novel, which he first read when in his teens, and which had "a huge impact" on him. "There are emotional tools that [Herbert] describes in the book," he says, "that have literally stayed with me for my entire life."
"It's been called the greatest science fiction novel of all time," said, Colbert, "but it has a lot of fantasy elements as well, and is at its heart really a coming-of-age story, not just for Paul Atreides, but for humanity."
Director Denis Villeneuve said that he also first read the book in his early teens, and quickly "read the whole series — I became a Dune fan, and I became obsessed by it… I felt it had massive potential for the screen. Massive."
Star Timothée Chalamet, meanwhile, found Dune by "following Denis Villeneuve's career." "Well, I have good news for you, Timothee — you still have a chance to encounter it in your youth," quipped Colbert.
Villeneuve explained his approach to DUNE as "a simple, epic adventure story, but it has so many rules and themes, which makes the books so rich — and we tried to keep that richness in the movie." You can say that humans need to earn our destiny in order to change the world. The movie is a kind of call to action for us to change things, especially for the youth. It's about fate and destiny."
And, yes, DUNE is the first of two movies adapting the original novel. Villeneuve made the decision to split the story into two films "right at the beginning." He asked for two things when taking the job: "the story is so rich and complex that to be faithful to the book, we'll need to make at least two movies. It's perfectly natural for us, as screenwriters, to break the story into two parts. But the movie itself has its own arc. It is one journey, but to tell the story we needed two movies."
Chalamet is, Villeneuve says, "one of the best actors of his generation, and I needed someone with that huge talent to sustain this movie on his shoulders." The actor has, he says, "a whole soul. I have the impression when I talked with him that he's lived many lives, and it's something that really touched me — and he looks so young on camera so that contrast of having someone who seemed to have a lot of experience while being in the middle of his teenage years is Paul Atreides. There's something very romantic about his presence in front of the camera, and he has an insane charisma that we found in the old Hollywood stars from the '20s, that old silent movie charisma that is very rare. We have to remember that Paul Atreides will lead a world later on, and we needed that rock star charisma."
Timothée Chalamet described a warm working environment. "To step into a movie of this scale, and I'm looking at Jason's face, Javier's face, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Zendaya, Rebecca — I felt more supported than I was leading." He describes the cast as "intimidating, inspiring, and also really supportive." As for his approach to Paul, the actor said "When you're young, the world functions as a mirror — you're confirming everything about yourself with what's provided to or said about you. And when you're the Kwisatz Haderach, that's maybe overwhelming."
Playing opposite Chalament is Zendaya. Her character, Chani, is the daughter of Javier Bardem's character Stilgar, who leads a group of native Fremen. The Fremen live out in the sands of Arrakis and are bound by deep and seemingly unshakeable traditions. "This whole thing has been a magical experience," she said. "I've always been a huge fan of sci-fi and wanted to be part of something that is this massive and quite literally another world." She says when Chani first meets Paul, "she's tough, she's a warrior, she's native to this planet, it's all she knows. When this other kid comes in, she's not really feeling it. That's to the Fremen culture — they have very strong bonds among each other. She doesn't know about his visions; he knows her, but she doesn't know him. But she sees something in him that is an indicator of what's to come."
Sharon Duncan-Brewster plays Doctor Liet Kynes, who in the novel was a male character. "Denis was adamant that we concentrate on what Kynes represents," she explained. "He's an integral role. He connects all the dots. He connects the Harkonnens, House Atreides, the Fremen, planet Arrakis, the sandworms. He understands all these worlds and moves in between each and every one, seemingly with one agenda, but as things go we start to understand there's more game-playing, more preservation for the good of certain people. As far as Denis was concerned, it was about concentrating on the essence of this person, not the fact that he was a man."
Oscar Isaac plays Paul's father, Duke Leto Atreides. The actor says the Duke is "the epitome of what a father should be. He's noble, and House Atreides is a noble house — it's the beacon of ethics and higher consciousness. That's the key, higher consciousness. How do you keep pushing towards that. And he's human, I think that's the biggest thing, and doomed, the way humans are." The Duke knows that his new position might be a trap, but he's "trying to live up to bigger ideals," like "sensitivity, empathy, and love and order, and trying to show those to his son."
And while DUNE features some absolutely incredible sights and wild ideas like mile-long sandworms and precognitive prophecies, that heart is what makes the story work. Knowing that actors like Isaac, Chalamet and Zendaya are bringing the characters to life, together with the visionary and deeply empathetic director Denis Villeneuve, tells us that DUNE will be as special as the novel that inspired it.
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
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