Long before he decided to become a director, Denis Villeneuve was just a teenager when he saw the cover of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dunes” in a bookshop. At the age of 14, he was obsessed with biology, and had already learned that science fiction is a way to dream on a grand scale.
Then he read the book and was struck by the atmospheric and poetic tale of a young man’s heroic journey dealing with religion, politics, destiny, heritage, the environment, colonialism and giant space worms.
“It became an obsession,” said Villeneuve, 54.
And it was just the beginning of a decades-old dream that finally came true with his own version of “Dune,” which opened in North American theaters this week.
Villeneuve isn’t the first filmmaker to dare to imagine the making of “Dunes,” but he’s the first to see his vision come true in a way that pleases fans and novices alike.
For a book that has inspired so much science fiction over the past 50 years, from “Star Wars” to “Alien,” movie adaptations have been tough. First, it was the almost legendary film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky starring Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Salvador Dali (told in the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune). Later, David Lynch’s version was a commercial and critical failure when it came out in 1984.
“Dune” looked damned until producers Mary Parent and Cale Boyter acquired the rights through Legendary and discovered that Villeneuve, who had established himself as a filmmaker with such a rare ability to produce large-scale, commercially viable and intellectually viable films, was a lifelong fan. Plans were made to try to make “Dune” again with a budget of $165 million.
“My film is not an act of arrogance,” Villeneuve said. “It’s an act of humility. My dream was for die-hard ‘Dune’ fans to feel like I had a camera on their mind.”
The book was his bible and compass throughout the process. He kept it in place so that the spirit was always present and encouraged his crew and had a look at it too. And he was not held back by huge expectations. After all, he was the one who made the sequel to “Blade Runner” (although that’s another story and he still thinks it was a bad idea, even though he’d do it again in a heartbeat).
“I wouldn’t say the ‘dunes’ mission is impossible. I think it’s difficult,” Villeneuve said. “Creativity is associated with risk. I like to jump without a safety net. It’s part of my nature.”
Part of this difficulty lies in focusing on a film that will appeal to fans and beginners alike. The first step was to convince the studio that it would take two films to tell the whole story. Despite their agreement, the second must receive the official “green light”.
He and screenwriters John Spaihts and Eric Roth simplified the structure to focus on Paul Atreides, a young aristocrat whose family controls the dangerous desert planet Arrakis, home to the universe’s most valuable resource, as intergalactic battles between ruling families. to heat up. He only had one name on his mind for the role: Timothée Chalamet.
“There aren’t many actors like Timothy,” said the director. “Timothy has an old soul. For a young man of his age, he has a really impressive maturity. At the same time, Timothy looks very young in front of the camera.”
He has a “rock star” charisma that would lend credence to his development as a Christian who “will lead the world into chaos”.
The film is full of praised actors, including Rebecca Ferguson as Paul’s mother, Mrs. Jessica, and Oscar Isaac as his father. It also features Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Ramping and Stephen McKinley Henderson and Zendaya, who have taken a round-the-world trip through Hungary, Jordan, Abu Dhabi and Norway.
“I’ve been in adventure movies that really try to add a lot of excitement. But there’s just something very poetic about the way Dennis approaches this huge movie and its scale,” Isaac said. “Even if there are explosions, even if there are giant worms, he always looks at them through his capillary lens, which is completely unique to me.”
It was especially important to be in the desert to film the Arrakis scenes, which included harsh conditions and billowing sand, well, everywhere.
“It was impossible to do it on stage or in the studio,” Villeneuve said. “Maybe I’m too old-fashioned, but that’s how I work.”
Originally, “Dune” was scheduled to hit theaters last year, before the pandemic disrupted most movie releases. Villeneuve used that time to benefit his film.
“It was really nice to have the opportunity to let the movie sleep a little bit, come back to it, and make it come alive,” he said. “If people don’t like the movie, I have no excuses because I had the time and resources to create it.”
But while the extra time is welcome, the pandemic has also led to the decision to release all Warner Bros. tapes. by 2021 simultaneously in theaters and on the streaming service HBO Max. Villeneuve responded at the time with a strong open letter published in Variety in which he spoke not only about his film but about the implications for the future of cinema.
Ten months later, the pandemic has continued and the launch strategy has run its course, even as movie attendance has increased.
“We are in an epidemic and this reality is twisted right now, and I totally understand if people can’t go to the cinema or are afraid of movies. I respect that and that is the priority. Health is the priority,” said Villeneuve. “But the movie was made and designed. I dreamed of seeing it on the big screen.”
The film has already grossed $129 million overseas. Now it remains to be seen how things go with North American audiences, who will have the option of going to the movies or watching it on HBO Max. In Danger is the sequel to the first movie, or more accurately, the finale of the first movie.
“I don’t know when it will be decided, but it is about whether the movie will generate enough excitement, and whether there is enough passion in it. We will see. I am at peace with that. I hope there will be a part 2,” the director said. I know the rules and I agree to play the game. It’s a good challenge and I’m ready to do it. I hope that happens. I intertwine my fingers.”
Villeneuve is grateful for the opportunity to show the world at least part of what he has been dreaming of for nearly 40 years.
“I had the best moments of my life doing Dune,” he said.
Follow Lindsey Bahr on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ldbahr.
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