Art and Experience: Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the new first look photos published by Warner Bros.
One of the most highly-anticipated movies of 2020 is Academy Award-nominated director Denis Villeneuve’s big-screen adaptation of the beloved — and seemingly very difficult to get right, if David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s notorious attempts are any indication — science-fiction novel “Dune.” Especially with the added companion TV series coming to HBO Max.
Naturally, Warner Bros. has kept news about both the movie and companion series relatively secretive, but IndieWire has compiled a list of the eight must-know details about them. From its previous adaptations to its A-list cast, below is everything you need to know about all things “Dune” 2020.
PHOTO:WARNER BROS./CHIABELLA JAMES
Oscar Isaac Is Armored Up
The latest “Dune” photos offered a tease at Oscar Isaac debut in the acclaimed sci-fi franchise. Isaac will co-star alongside Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Rebecca Ferguson.
Timothée Chalamet Is Portraying Paul Atreides
The first teaser photo of Timothée Chalamet’s “Dune” role shows the actor as protagonist Paul Atreides, who is walking on his native planet of Caladan while spaceships begin transporting his family to their new home. Chalamet recently discussed his character in a Vanity Fair feature and noted that his character’s anti-hero storyline appealed to him.
Denis Villeneuve Knew “Dune” Had to be a Two-Parter
It’s Based on a Novel
The original “Dune” is a 1965 science-fiction novel written by author Frank Herbert and is often cited as one of George Lucas’ original inspirations for “Star Wars.” The story was first published as two separate serials in the science-fiction magazine “Analog Science Fiction and Fact,” one in 1963 and then the other in 1965. And since its publication, there have been five “Dune” sequels: “Dune Messiah,” “Children of Dune,” “God Emperor of Dune,” “Heretics of Dune,” and “Chapterhouse: Dune.”
Here’s the synopsis for the original novel: “Dune is set far in the future, amidst a sprawling feudal intergalactic empire, where planetary fiefdoms are controlled by noble Houses that owe allegiance to the Imperial House Corrino. The novel tells the story of young Paul Atreides, heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and scion of House Atreides, as he and his family relocate to the planet Arrakis, the universe’s only source of the spice melange.”
It’s Been Adapted to Film Before…
The first “Dune” adaptation was David Lynch’s 1984 film version, based on the original “Dune” novel. Lynch fave Kyle MacLachlan (in his feature film debut) starred as Paul Atreides, leading a cast that included Alicia Witt, Brad Dourif, Virginia Madsen, Patrick Stewart, Dean Stockwell, Sean Young, and musician Sting. (Lynch also made an uncredited appearance in the movie.)
While Lynch’s “Dune” has become somewhat of a cult classic, reception at the time was negative, from fans of the novel, fans of Lynch’s work, and critics. Roger Ebert called the movie “a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” “Dune” was also seen as a box-office failure, grossing nearly $31 million from an estimated $40 million budget.
…and Also For Television…
In the early aughts, the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) made two miniseries adaptations of Herbert’s “Dune” saga: 2000’s “Frank Herbert’s Dune” and 2003’s “Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune.” The latter served as a combination of the novels “Dune Messiah” and “Children of Dune.” Both starred Scottish actor Alec Newman (“The Bastard Executioner,” “Strike Back”) as Paul Atreides, with the second also including Susan Sarandon (as Princess Wensicia) and James McAvoy (as Leto II Atreides).
While still considered notably flawed adaptations of the source material — criticized for lacking subtlety and being soapier than the novels — both miniseries were better received by critics than Lynch’s 1984 film, with “Frank Herbert’s Dune” winning two Primetime Emmy Awards (Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special) and “Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune” winning one (Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special).
…and, Of Course, Will Be Adapted to Both Film & TV Once More
Between 2008 and 2011, Paramount attempted and failed to adapt “Dune” to film, first with Peter Berg (“Deepwater Horizon”) attached as director and then Pierre Morel (“Peppermint”). Then in late 2016, it was announced that Legendary Entertainment (at the time under the umbrella of Universal Studios but now under Warner Bros.) had acquired both the film and TV rights to “Dune” and later confirmed that Oscar nominee Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”) was attached to direct the film. Soon, screenwriter Eric Roth (“A Star Is Born”) came on to write the film, while co-writers include Roth and Villeneuve. Although Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”) was brought on to co-write the project, he reportedly left the series to focus on the sequel to the upcoming “Dune” film. Spaihts will reportedly remain as an executive producer on the series.
Hans Zimmer is also set to score the film, having worked with Villeneuve previously on “Blade Runner 2049.”
In March 2018, Villeneuve made clear that he planned to adapt the novel into a two-part film series, and a little over a year later, Legendary CEO Joshua Grode confirmed that they would be following through on that plan. As Grode told The Hollywood Reporter, “That’s the plan. There’s a backstory that was hinted at in some of the books [that we expanded]. Also, when you read the book there’s a logical place to stop the movie before the book is over.”
Then in June 2019, it was announced that Legendary would also be putting the “Dune” TV rights to use, too, with spin-off series “Dune: The Sisterhood,” exclusively for WarnerMedia’s impending streaming service, HBO Max. “Dune: The Sisterhood” will focus on the Bene Gesserit — a powerful, ancient order of women with mysterious origins — and also function as a prequel to the 2020 film. The pilot for “Dune: The Sisterhood” is set to also be directed by Villeneuve, who will serve as executive producer alongside Brian Herbert.
Here’s the synopsis for the series, “told through the eyes of a mysterious order of women known as the Bene Gesserit. Given extraordinary abilities by their mastery of the body and the mind, the Bene Gesserit expertly weave through the feudal politics and intrigue of The Imperium, pursuing plans of their own that will ultimately lead them to the enigmatic planet Arrakis, known to its inhabitants as Dune.”
As far as casting goes for “Dune: The Sisterhood,” that remains to be seen. But the “Dune” movie cast is star-studded, led by Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides, with Oscar Isaac filling the role of Duke Leto Atreides, Paul’s father, and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, Paul’s Bene Gesserit mother.
Other cast members include Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Zendaya as Chani, Javier Bardem as Stilgar, Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam, Dave Bautista as Glossu Rabban, David Dastmalchian as Piter De Vries, Chang Chen as Dr. Wellington Yueh, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron Harkonnen, and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck.
Don’t Expect That Cameo
When asked at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — while promoting his role in Michael Almereyda’s period drama “Tesla” — if he’ll be making a cameo in Villeneuve’s new film, Kyle MacLachlan told IndieWire, “no.”
However, he also made clear that he’s “very excited” to see the film.
“There will be another one, there will be a couple of us out there, running around, there’s plenty of room I think, and Timothée I think will do a fantastic job,” he said. “I’m very much looking forward to the vision Denis has. David Lynch, of course, it’s a very specific vision, so this will be something completely different, I’m sure. Why not have both stand on their own merits?”
It’s Truly for the Fans
Past adaptations of “Dune” have been criticized by hardcore fans of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction saga. So the question remains if disappointment will continue with Villeneuve’s “Dune.” As details have been tight-lipped about both the movie and the spin-off series, look to those directly involved with the project. Villeneuve himself has already promised that his adaption will be nothing like Lynch’s 1984 movie.
“David Lynch did an adaptation in the ’80s that has some very strong qualities. I mean, David Lynch is one of the best filmmakers alive, I have massive respect for him,” Villeneuve said. “But when I saw his adaptation, I was impressed, but it was not what I had dreamed of, so I’m trying to make the adaptation of my dreams. It will not have any link with the David Lynch movie. I’m going back to the book and going to the images that came out when I read it.”
David Dastmalchian, one of the stars of “Dune” as well as a frequent Villeneuve collaborator, has brought up the concept of staying “true to the spirit” of the novel when talking about the film. According to Dastmalchian, “in the way Denis has talked about the film and what I’ve seen, it’s absolutely true to and in honor of everything that Frank put into the novel…[Denis is] just so fearless, man. He makes choices and then he goes into the places that we need right now as audiences.”
“Dune” star Stellan Skarsgård has also chimed in about this aspect of the adaptation, promising fans that Villeneuve has full creative control of the movie. “It’s fun when you get one of those big sci-fi movies and you know it’s going to be directed by a true filmmaker,” said Skarsgård. “It’s not going to be directed by the studio. It seemed like they were giving him pretty free hands. And you have to, because his personal stamp on the film is paramount for the success of it.”
PHOTO:VIANNEY LE CAER/INVISION/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK
Filming for “Dune” — which was on location in Budapest, Hungary, and Jordan — began this past March and wrapped in July.
“Dune” is scheduled for a December 18, 2020 release, a month later than its originally announced opening (November 20, 2020). The release date for “Dune: The Sisterhood,” on the other hand, has yet to be announced. (HBO Max’s target release date is Spring 2020.)