When it was announced that acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve was set to tackle Frank Herbert’s Dune – a novel which many believe to be “unfilmable”, reactions were divided. After viewing the first Dune trailer for the upcoming 2020 iteration, however, I’d happily wager the general consensus will be far more optimistic.
In terms of a large-scale and high-concept sci-fi film, who better for the job than Villeneuve? Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 – the man has been preparing for this project for the last few years. Think about it. This is a director who has mastered slow-burn tension, brooding introspection, breaking otherwise complex narratives down using subtext and implication (showing not telling), the art of taut action sequences, as well as having the necessary foresight to manage high-concepts. And that’s referring to Villeneuve’s films outside of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049.
Dune’s plot is one which isn’t the easiest to summarise in a sentence or two, hence the looming cloud of being “unfilmable” hanging over its head. Completely bringing you up to speed could potentially involve diagrams, footnotes, and maybe even animated shorts. But in broad strokes, here’s what you need to know.
In the distant future, Duke Leto Atreides of House Atreides (portrayed by Oscar Isaac) is charged with supervising the hostile desert planet Arrakis – otherwise known as the titular Dune. In a tale that has become all-too-familiar in both fiction and reality, the reason for this occupation is because of its resources. Arrakis holds the sole reserve of this universe’s most valuable substance: “the spice”, which is essentially a drug that can extend human life, enable superhuman levels of thought, and make foldspace travel possible (travelling faster than the speed of light).
Naturally, the prospect of obtaining something widely considered to be the most valuable substance in the universe comes with a good measure of politics and plenty of threats. Duke Leto senses this may be an elaborate trap with his enemies waiting on the other side, but decides the opportunity is simply too great; he takes his concubine Lady Jessica (portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson), son/heir of House Atreides Paul (portrayed by Timothee Chalamet), and trusted advisors to Arrakis – where everything soon descends into chaos. Clashes with a competing family of criminals. Sandworms. That’s where the real story begins.
In addition to Isaac, Ferguson, and Chalamet, Dune will star Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck – House Atreides’ weapons master, mentor to Paul; Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho – House Atreides’ swordmaster, also a mentor to Paul; Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – the man formerly charged with supervising Arrakis, sworn enemy of Leto; Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban – Baron Harkonnen’s nephew, obviously the physical type of adversary given Bautista isn’t exactly Daniel Day-Lewis; Zendaya as Chani – Paul’s mysterious Fremen (natives of Arrakis) love interest; and Javier Bardem as Stilgar – leader of the Fremen tribe.
This time around, Dune has been adapted for screens by Villeneuve himself, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange, Passengers), and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider, A Star Is Born). The cinematography has been accomplished by Greig Fraser – who you will have encountered in Zero Dark Thirty, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and soon encounter in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Finally, onto the matter of score + soundtrack, you can expect the one and only Hans Zimmer composing some rousing and tension-building tracks. Fun bonus fact – Zimmer turned down Tenet for this gig.
Dune is scheduled for international release on December 18th. Though given the current state of global affairs, it’s best to manage expectations by throwing an asterisk next to that date in anticipation of yet another 2021 correction.