“There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man--with human flesh.”
– from “Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan
Welcome to the official SciFiEmpire.net Dune (2021 film) page. I will be posting the latest news and insights right here. If you want to discuss them you can head over to the discussion board. Alternatively you can follow the link to my ‘Dune Overview‘, it contains links to the wider Dune franchise with discussions on the novels, games and series that have so far been released.
The Dune (2021 film) overview
Dune has now officially been released in cinema and HBO Max. Director Denis Villeneuve adapted the first half of Frank Herbert’s Dune novel as a feature film, starring Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica. Villeneuve has remained faithful to the source material. That is important as many fans of the franchise will remember the failed adaptation by director David Lynch in 1984. While it has some redeeming qualities I dislike it a lot. For this re-adaptation to succeed there needs to be more than just a good director and stellar cast. Legendary Productions have added several successful artists to the production, such as editor Joe Walker.
Hans Zimmer has created the soundtrack while Greig Fraser performs the cinematography. Both roles are vital to properly bring the desert planet to life as its own character. Note that this movie is only the first half of the adaptation, Dune Part 2 has now been officially confirmed for an October 2023.Writer and producer Jon Spaihts has left the production of the Dune: The Sisterhood series to start work on the sequel’s pre-production.
Denis Villeneuve has considered making a Dune movie for over 30 years, ever since he read the novel in his youth. Now one of his biggest challenges is he has to measure up to his own dreams. Villeneuve did not dislike David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation as many fans, such as myself, do. He considers it does have merit. But the adaptation left him only half-satisfied. The origins of the current Dune adaptation started with a discussion between him and composer Hans Zimmer during the production of Blade Runner 2049.
Zimmer is also a mega-fan of the novel and an obvious choice as composer. With Gladiator, The Dark Knight and Inception just a few of the epics he composed for. A little while after this conversation Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros greenlit the production (Empire, September 2020). The decision to split the story into two movies was easy. This avoids one of the biggest mistakes with the David Lynch adaptation. Lynch condensed the story into just over 2 hours long making it incomprehensible. Villeneuve and screenwriter Jon Spaihts did have to decide on a breakpoint (see my discussion elsewhere on this page).
Another major decision was to use real desert locations and practical sets. Filming thus took place in Wadi Rum Jordan and the dunes of Abu Dhabi. Only the sandworms and the spaceships were an addition in post-production. Denis Villeneuve has also gathered a large ensemble cast. Timothée Chalamet was chosen by the director because he could embody an ‘old soul’ with youthful looks. Rebecca Ferguson was cast as Lady Jessica fully intending for her role to be fleshed out and not side-lined as in other adaptations. Sharon Duncan-Brewster plays Imperial planetologist Liet-Kynes, changing the gender of the character and bringing Frank Herbert’s original work more in line with the 21st century. More A-list celebrities include Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem and Charlotte Rampling. When filming began in Budapest the description of the cast was “an embarrassment of riches”.
Risks of adapting Dune
Adapting Dune is not without major risk. The 1984 version famously flopped while Denis Villeneuve previous movie Blade Runner 2049 underperformed at the box office despite rave review. The risk is that Dune is too brainy for a modern audience. During the summer of 2020 scenes were reshot in Budapest to clarify plot points. Director Denis Villeneuve hopes that the books many themes will also resonate with the audience. Especially the theme of prescience, which according to Villeneuve ties in with modern problems regarding resource exploitation. However, as the Covid-19 pandemic is unlikely to be over in December (there is even a risk there will be a second wave of infections) it is possible the movie will be delayed into 2021. Higher earnings will make it more likely for the second part to also be adapted.
Cast and characters
The following cast members are 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
- Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet-Kynes the Imperial Planetologist.
Notable absences are casting for the roles of 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 film. It would risk overstuffing the plot, while the emphasis should be on character development. Yet, there are plenty of references to these characters so their absence will be ominous, not unlike emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious in the original Star Wars Trilogy.
The original work by Frank Herbert features plenty more characters. During a party thrown by Duke Atreides a number of prominent locals are in attendance. Notably the spice smuggler Esmar Tuek. His character might not appear all together, though I suspect his son features in the second movie. Characters such as Harrah and Jamis have been cast. Which is strange as neither appear until well into the second half of the novel (unless I am very much mistaken). If they do have a role, it will have consequences for the point in the story the Dune (2021 film) will end.
Finally, a trailer for Dune (2021 film)
With the movie set for release in just a few months we can finally see some moving footage. Below is the first trailer for those who have not seen it. You can also read my in-depth analysis of the trailer in this article.
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 Duke Leto dies during his confrontation with Baron Harkonnen. 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 moments 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 will 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. The Dune miniseries from 2000 circumvented this by adding a storyline featuring Princess Irulan uncovering the deadly politics behind the fall of House Atreides.
An important subplot
In the novel by Frank Herbert there is an important subplot concerning the rising tension between the house Harkonnen and the Emperor. In theory, this material could be supplanted to the second movie to flesh out the story before the inevitable confrontation between houses Atreides, Harkonnen and Corrino. Considering the Dune franchise is risky (financially speaking) care needs to be taken to ensure the first movie ends well. Viewers should be 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. This should be the first screen time for Jamis, though he may appear earlier whenever Stilgar does. This does not account for the apparent casting of Harrah – Jamis’s wife.
Considering what we have seen from the trailer the movie will probably end after the initial encounter Stilgar at the small desert outpost.
The Dune franchise has seen adaptations across other media. There are of course the TV series from Sci Fi Channel in the early 2000s as well the video games. In January of 2020 an announcement came that the novel is to be 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 keeps to its December release date it will do much to create buzz for the movie. There will also be a comic adaptation of the House Atreides novel, with the first issue set for October.
Finally, there are also more Dune video games in development. Maybe as many three games. Development is 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 be 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 production. There is also a ‘rumor’ one of the studios working for Funcom is Hello Games, the developers behind No Man’s Sky.
The Art and Soul of Dune
For those interested in knowing more about the behind the scenes production and design of Dune (2021 film) can pre-order “The Art and Soul of Dune“. Written by Tanya Lapointe it is similar to her books The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 and Blade Runner 2049 – Interlinked. Just as those two this book will be considered as an official companion book. It will contain exclusive interviews with cast and crew.
The latest news regarding Dune (2021 film)
In the last few weeks news regarding the Dune (2021 film) is finally released online. Some footage was shown to industry insiders to apparently rave reviews. 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.
Vanity Fair was the first to release a bunch of still images of the movie featuring the principal cast and the director. The images are nothing short of spectacular. The scenery depicted by the Wadi Rum area of southern Jordan fits my mental image of Dune perfectly. In some of the images we can see Duke Leto and Gurney Halleck wearing some kind of armor cuirass. If those are a substitute for energy shield I will complain. The first Dune movie, of which this is NOT a remake, got shields horribly wrong. Yet, the 2000 Dune mini-series got it right.
I will presume that the cuirass is complimentary to the Holtzman shield. Besides that we get a good look at stillsuits. For those that do not know those are the dark leather like garments worn in some of the images. Their intention is to capture the bodies perspirations and urine. By converting it back to clean water a person can survive in the deep deserts of Arrakis. Fans are pleased with their look. Some noted how the characters do not cover their heads.
Who plays Liet-Kynes in Dune (2021 film)?
One mystery was whom would play the planetologist Liet Keynes. Now it is confirmed that 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 fans (and trolls). Though I am confident it was a considered choice and I understand it will balance the movie out with more female leads.
At this stage everybody is waiting for the teaser trailer. Again industry insiders have stated the best time would be to show it with movies such as Black Widow and Wonder Woman. However, the former got a delay to November and the latter to August due to the Corona epidemic. This will mean the first teaser will just be released straight to YouTube – and I am fine with that. It will get a buzz starting regardless and we can always see the full trailer at the cinema this fall when ‘hopefully’ the worst of the epidemic is over.
In a somewhat surprise announcement reshoots were announced for August 2020. I say somewhat as this is by no means unusual. Most major feature films involve pickup shoots to slightly alter the look and feel of some scenes. I had just imagined that Dune 2021 was done. The reshoots were made in Budapest Hungary, also were Blade Runner 2049 was filmed. That means they were reshoots of interior scenes. The news was confirmed by Oscar Isaac who will play Duke Atreides. “We’re going to do some additional shooting in mid August… they’re saying in Budapest in Hungary,” said Isaac. “I saw some things cut together and it just looks amazing. Denis [Villeneuve] is a real artist and it will be exciting to see it come together. It’s kind of wild that we’re doing some additional shooting a few months before it’s supposed to come out, but that happened with Star Wars as well.”
With Dune now officially released it is time to take stock. Since the summer I have a YouTube channel and of course I created a review for Dune as soon as I could. You can watch it below. Please like the video and subscribe to the channel if you want to.
The Dune (2021 film) discussion board
This was it for the Dune (2021 film) page. If you want you can discuss the upcoming movie at the dedicated discussion board.