While moviegoers were treated to a sneak peek of DUNE when seeing Christopher Nolan’s TENET opening weekend, the first official trailer has officially debuted for the world to see. Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune” is a story of political intrigue, betrayal, and prophecy and is now being adapted to film with a mind-bendingly spectacular cast and one of the most talented directors working today.
In early August, AMC was invited to watch a special conversation moderated by Stephen Colbert with DUNE director Denis Villeneuve and his all-star cast. Colbert, an avid fan of DUNE since his teenage years, gave us a special look into the world of Frank Herbert’s epic novel and how Villeneuve brought the story and these characters to life.
Here are some of the highlights from this special discussion, along with additional insight into the movie:
A Coming of Age Story
Frank Herbert’s novel has been called one of the greatest science-fiction stories of all-time, influencing many beloved television shows and films, including STAR WARS. Director Denis Villeneuve loved this book since he was 14 and he called this project his “dream movie.” In a move like Warner Bros.’ most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, DUNE will be split across two films, which Villeneuve said was a must for him as he felt he could not tell the entire story in just one movie.
The story of DUNE is akin to “Game of Thrones” in that it focuses on a deep rivalry between old bloodlines and features an initially imposing set of clans, social structures and creatures. It is the story of two powerful governing houses — House Atreides and House Harkonnen — as they vie to control the desert planet Arrakis. That planet is essentially one vast desert, which is the root of its nickname, Dune.
As Duke Atreides and his family take control of Dune — a scenario which everyone knows is a potentially deadly political maneuver — several groups begin to suspect that his son Paul, the main character of the story, may be the prophet who will unite rival houses and lead the universe to a new age.
While science fiction and fantasy take reign in the story, Villeneuve felt those were more background elements and this is a very human, coming of age story, and that’s what appealed to him most.
The Charismatic Timothée Chalamet
It’s very possible that DUNE might have the best casts in film history, featuring stars from some of the highest grossing and most beloved franchises of all-time, including STAR WARS, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, and the superhero worlds of Marvel and DC.
In the lead role is Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. Director Denis Villeneuve described that the casting of Chalamet as an easy one because “he is by far one of the best actors of his generation. The contrast of someone who seems to have a lot of experience, but at the same time to look like someone in his teenage years like Paul Atreides is what I was looking for. He has an insane charisma that we found from the old Hollywood stars of the 1920s and silent movies, which is very rare.”
The Empathetic Father
Oscar Isaac plays Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides. In sharing more about his character, Isaac explained, “Leto is the epitome of what a father should be. He’s under incredible pressure to save his family, his House, and to adapt to this new existential threat which is moving to this strange planet. He tries to live up to these bigger ideals, which is sensitivity, empathy, love, and order and trying to give that and show that to his son, knowing that he’s not going to be there forever.”
The Lady of Dune
Rebecca Ferguson, who was unable to attend the conversation due to previous filming obligations for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 7, plays the important role of Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother. In not revealing too much about the film, her costar Chalamet shared, “there is no DUNE without Lady Jessica. The triggering event of the story doesn’t happen without her character.”
A Protective Father Figure
Close to the House Atreides is the war master, Gurney Halleck, played by Josh Brolin. Brolin described his character as “a parent of sorts to Paul – he’s taken a real liking to this kid. He’s a great Braveheart type of warrior, but at the same time, has a love of poetry, heart, and has a real a softness to him.”
The Gracious Warrior
In a role that only Jason Momoa could play is Duncan Idaho, the swordmaster of House Atreides and a mentor to Paul. Momoa was very humbled and gracious on being involved with this film calling Denis Villeneuve a “cinematic genius” and said “this film set the bar for how I want my career to go, working with Denis and with this level of actors. I learned so much every day.”
The Mysterious Fremen
Rounding out the cast is the group of Fremen, the native inhabitants to the planet Arrakis, who protect the planet and its environment from the abuse that it’s taken. Javier Bardem, playing Stilgar, the leader of this group, shared the Fremen’s “ethics, morality, and environmental thinking in their ways was brilliant.” Also in the Fremen tribe is Chani (played by Zendaya), a young Fremen woman who develops a special relationship with Paul.
Filming in Budapest, Hungary and Jordan
In addition to splitting the story across two films, another condition Villeneuve wanted in making this was to film in the real desert and try to capture everything in-camera as much as he could. He compared this as “you don’t shoot JAWS in the swimming pool – you need to be in the real environment” and advocated for the film to be shot on location in Budapest, Hungary, and Jordan.
With this story, Villeneuve also felt an importance of being in a real environment, sharing “at the very core, what I love about DUNE is the exploration of life and the ecosystem and biosphere. All the science that Frank Herbert put behind that is so beautiful and poetic – I think in order to bring this story to the screen, I needed to be as close to nature as possible.”
From the conversation with Colbert, the chemistry among the cast felt very special and unlike a typical movie. Actor Oscar Isaac described the filming experience as “the enthusiasm that we had on set making this thing which I know from seeing little bits of the movie, does get translated onto the screen. It was thrilling completely being there with Denis, being there on the sets, and especially working with these incredible people. We just had so much fun – it was unlike anything that I have had the chance to be a part of.”
He later poked fun at his costar Josh Brolin, sharing, “no set piece, no X-Wing, no Millennium Falcon can compare to the sheer scale of Josh Brolin’s head – it was just massive, both literally and figuratively and really made me feel like I was in an alien planet.”
Audiences won’t have to wait much longer as the highly anticipated DUNE opens at AMC later this year.