On December 18th one of the most anticipated film adaptations is set for release. The first half of Frank Herbert’s Dune novel has been adapted by director Denis Villeneuve as a movie that is so far just known as Dune 2020. Starring Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica the director intends to remain faithful to the source material. If the movie is successful the second half of the novel will also be adapted. Its release date remains unknown. However, writer and producer Jon Spaihts left the production of the Dune: The Sisterhood to start work on the sequel pre-production. My guess a late 2022 is the most likely release date.
Cast and characters
The following cast members have been announced to play a role in the first movie.
- Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, the scion of House Atreides
- Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, Paul’s Bene Gesserit mother and concubine to Duke Leto
- Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides, a nobleman newly bestowed with the stewardship of the dangerous planet Arrakis, source of the spice
- Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, weapons master of House Atreides and Paul’s mentor
- Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, sworn enemy to Leto and former steward of Arrakis
- Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban, the brutish nephew of Baron Harkonnen
- Zendaya as Chani, Fremen daughter of Imperial Planetologist Liet-Kynes and Paul’s love interest
- David Dastmalchian as Piter De Vries, a twisted Mentat loyal to the Baron
- Stephen McKinley Henderson
- Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam, a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and the Emperor’s Truthsayer
- Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, swordmaster of House Atreides
- Javier Bardem as Stilgar, leader of the Fremen tribe at Sietch Tabr
- Chang Chen as Dr. Wellington Yueh, a Suk doctor in the employ of the Atreides family
Notable absences are Count and Lady Fenring as well as Emperor Shaddam and his daughter Princess Irulan. As none of these characters plays a direct role until well into the second half of the novel I believe they will not appear in this movie. It would risk overstuffing the first movie. Yet, these characters are frequently referred to so their absence will be ominous, not unlike emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious in the original Star Wars Trilogy.
Where to end the first movie?
As this adaptation splits Frank Herbert’s novel in two the question arises: “Where should the first movie end?“. The fall of house Atreides is a prolonged affaire spanning multiple chapters. First, their army is defeated, then the Duke Leto dies during his confrontation with Baron Harkonnen and finally Paul and Jessica are transported into the desert to die. This is followed by an encounter with the imperial planetologist Keynes and yet another flight into the desert. Finally, Paul and his mother Jessica meet with the Fremen from Sietch Tabr. This part is concluded with Paul fighting a duel with the Fremen Jamis. Any of these moment can be used to conclude the first movie. It all depends on where the emphasis of the story is placed.
Previously I would have preferred to end the movie after the death of Jamis. This would bring a note of optimism as Paul and his mother are brought into the Fremen fold. However, this moment is well into the second half of the novel. Ending the movie just after the death of Duke Leto or Paul and Jessica being sent into the desert would end the movie too soon and it would be too open ended. Considering the Dune franchise is risky (financially speaking) care needs to be taken to ensure the first movie ends well and viewers are enticed to wait at least two years to know how the story ends.
And so I have settled upon two possible moments:
- After the Sardaukar storm the outpost were Keynes is interviewing Paul and his mother about creating an alliance with the Fremen. It effectively concludes the Keynes character and it gives viewers an impression of what to expect.
- After Jessica and Paul have survived their trek through the desert and finally meet Stilgar and his Fremen warriors.
The Dune franchise has long been adapted across other media. There are of course the TV series made by the Sci Fi Channel in the early 2000s as well the video games. In January the news came that the novel is finally also being adapted as a graphical novel – to hopefully reach a wider audience. I am not certain if this is an official tie-in media or an independent release orchestrated by Brian Herbert. However, if the first part is released in October will do much to create buzz for the movie.
Finally there are also more Dune video games set for release, maybe as many 3 games are in development. These are being developed by Norwegian studio Funcom, but they have a close relationship with Petroglyph Games the spiritual successor to Westwood Studios. The latter of course developed a series of Dune RTS games. During a recent financial statement Funcom described its game as a “Multiplayer Open World Game” leading to speculation it may a survival game of sorts. The investment they are planning to make is between 35 and 50 million dollars. That will probably not make it a triple A.
The latest news
In the last few weeks news regarding the film is finally being released. Some footage has already been shown to industry insiders to apparently rave review. Commentary suggests Dune could be as great as Star Wars was in 1977, or Lord of the Rings in 2001. And considering the literary origin of Dune I hope the latter will remain true.
One mystery that remains however is whom will the planetologist Liet Keynes. It looks as though director Denis Villeneuve has opted to do some gender bending and actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster has got the part. This led to no small amount of controversy amongst and fans (and trolls), but I understand it will balance the movie out with more female leads.
At this stage everybody is waiting for the teaser trailer to be released. Again industry insiders have stated the best time would be to show it with movies such as Black Widow and Wonder Woman. I hope it will be as good as the Blade Runner 2049 teaser, but I also hope it will reach a larger audience.