Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited adaptation of the sci-fi series Dune crash landed into theaters and living rooms in October 2021, and the crowd went wild. Wild! In his review for Esquire, Chris Nashawaty even went so far as to call the film “the best sci-fi movie of the decade.” Ticket sales at the box office were equally enthusiastic.
That all surely came as a relief to the director as well as to Warner Brothers, who decided to throw a chance (read: piles of money) at Frank Herbert’s beloved novel despite its reputation as notoriously difficult to adapt. (Plenty of other directors have tried and failed. David Lynch’s 1984 version was widely considered a disaster, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt in the ‘70s didn’t even make it into theaters. Years of production woes and a ballooning budget forced studio execs to pull the plug.)
What seems to have spared Villeneuve’s Dune from the poor outcomes of previous attempts was his crucial decision to break the massive story into two parts. “Right at the beginning, I strongly recommended that we should do this in two parts,” Villeneuve said in an interview with Newsweek. Fortunately, the film’s financier, Legendary Studios, agreed to the proposition, freeing Villeneuve from the unenviable task of shoehorning the 800-page novel into a film that would inevitably have been both too long and too short.
That left the first film ending on a cliffhanger, but a sequel is officially en route, eyeing an October 20, 2023 release. And the wheels of production are already turning. In an interview with Collider, Villeneuve revealed that the screenplay is finished, meaning that Part Two is barreling full steam ahead toward filming in Jordan later this year. “The screenplay is finished mostly, but it’s always a work in progress,” he said. “It’ll be a work in progress until final cut, but I will say it’s solidified. I have a script in my hands. We are in prep right now. My crew, we are in full prep for the movie.” In the same interview, Villeneuve also promised more IMAX footage in Part Two.
So where does the story go from here?
In Part Two, viewers can expect Villeneuve’s plot to favor the second half of Herbert’s Dune, which tracks Paul’s rise to power among the Fremen and his eventual rebellion against Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Paul’s journey to becoming the fabled “Kwisatz Haderach” will test his character and imperil his life. Meanwhile, the Atreides family expands: Paul and Chani become romantically entwined, as his clairvoyant visions predicted, and Lady Jessica gives birth to a daughter, Alia, with outstanding Bene Gesserit abilities. We won’t spoil all the delicious twists and turns, but rest assured that the outline provided by the back half of the novel lends itself to a thrilling, more plot-driven story. “It’s going to be another beautiful journey in the desert again,” Villeneuve teases. “It’s the journey where Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica, make contact with the Fremen culture and meet with the Fremen. It’s Paul’s journey against the enemy. It’s a movie that will be more cinematic.”
As expected, the cast will have to expand. After a long wait and an awful lot of rumors, Villeneuve has casted a handful of heavy-hitters to round out the story. Christopher Walken joins the cast as Shaddam IV, Emperor of the Known Universe, while Florence Pugh joins as his daughter, Princess Irulan, who later becomes Paul’s wife (making this Pugh and Chalamet’s second time playing on-screen spouses, following 2019’s Little Women). Léa Seydoux rounds out the newbie pool as Lady Margot Fenring, the Bene Gesserit wife of Count Hasimir Fenring. Lady Margot and her husband (who remains uncasted) plot against the Harkonnens and refuse to act against the Atreides family.
The biggest casting decision is arguably Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, Paul’s foil and bitter rival, who becomes the biggest antagonist on Paul’s quest for absolute power. Villeneuve has said that Feyd-Rautha will “definitely be a very, very important character” in Part Two. In fact, all of the Harkonnens are set to take on a bigger role in Part Two, as Paul squares off against both Feyd-Rautha and Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Meanwhile, Alia and the Baron become mystically intertwined, and surprising linkages between House Harkonnen and House Atreides are revealed.
“In the second one, I want to have more flexibility, and it will be possible to go a little bit deeper into some of these details,” Villeneuve said. “It’s like a chess game. Some new characters will be introduced in the second part. A decision I made very early on was that this first part would be more about Paul Atreides and the Bene Gesserit, and his experience of being in contact for the first time with a different culture. Second part, there will be much more Harkonnen stuff.”
Chia Bella James
Part Two will also feature a bigger role for Chani, which will be welcome news for Zendaya fans. After Chani was heavily featured in trailers and Zendaya walked red carpets as Timothée Chalamet’s co-lead, some fans were shocked when she only factored into the film for seven minutes. Part Two won’t have that problem. When asked what she’s most excited about with the sequel, Zendaya joked to Deadline, “Well, I can be there for longer, which is cool.” She went on to tease an expanded role in Part Two, saying, “I want to grow with the characters I play, and with the people that I get to learn from. Anybody who has read the books knows there’s so much more to explore and deal with. What was cool for me, having not been around for much of the first shoot, was getting to see the movie from a completely fresh perspective, because I hadn’t seen the sets and the scenes for most of the movie. Watching it felt like just the beginning of this story.”
Villeneuve backed up Zendaya’s hints about Part Two, telling Variety, “For Zendaya, I will say Part One was a promise. I know that we saw a glimpse of her in Part One, but in Part Two, she’ll have a prominent part. We will follow Timothée [Chalamet] and Zendaya on their adventures in the desert. The thing that excited me most about going back to Arrakis is to spend time with those characters again.”
We can expect most of the supporting cast of Part One—that is, those who survived the midnight massacre of House Atreides—to return for Part Two, such as Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck who, as fans of the book know, escapes and joins a band of spice smugglers, later reuniting with Paul. Brolin confirmed as much, telling Collider, “I am a part of Dune: Part Two, to the ridiculous extent of when somebody mentioned to me that it wasn’t on IMDb, I actually went out of my way to call Liz [Brolin’s publicist] and say, ‘Can you please put that on IMDb?’ Because it’s a proud moment for me, man.” Anyone who hasn’t read the book might have been surprised by Gurney’s abrupt disappearance from the film; when we last see him, he’s charging into battle against the Harkonnens. “When I watched it, I was like, ‘Where did I go?’” Brolin joked in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. He went on to tease what’s next for his character, saying, “The book suggests a lot of things. The book suggests his singing, and even though that was something that we actually did, we didn’t use it. And that’s a major, major thing with Gurney. So having just read the second one about two weeks ago, I now know why that sendoff was the way it was. But it’s hard for me to answer that because when Denis is making these choices and having these dreams, talk about immersion, man. The guy gets lost in what he’s doing, completely.”
Speaking of the book—what are devoted readers going to make of how Villeneuve adapts the back half? Javier Bardem, who plays Fremen leader Stilgar, teased some surprises in a speech at the Cannes Film Festival. “I’ve read the new draft,” he said, “and I think they’ve done an amazing job of putting together the pieces in a way that is going to surprise people. They won’t be surprised [by what happens], obviously, because they’ve read the book, but they’ll be surprised by the way they put it together. I was very moved by it. It’s a movie that is full, and you can feel the weight of it, and at the same time, [you can enjoy] the spectacularity of it. [I can’t wait] to go back to the desert with those people, and I’m so happy to go back with Denis, who is one of the greatest directors ever.”
What could “they’ll be surprised by the way they put it together” mean? A time-jumping narrative structure? Flashback encounters with characters who are dead and gone? This is just a hunch, but we suspect the Dune-iverse isn’t ready to say goodbye to Space Daddy Oscar Isaac just yet. Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides is dead and gone, but it’s possible he could return in flashbacks, or in Paul’s prophetic visions. Isaac teased as much in a recent interview, saying, “Dad’s dead, baby, dad’s dead. It’s a bummer. Maybe in some flashbacks or some force ghosts, but that’s not that one. They don’t do force ghosts.”As for Jason Momoa, whose Duncan Idaho died valiantly while defending Paul and Lady Jessica, it’s possible he’ll return, though not exactly as you remember him. Spiceheads know that in Dune: Messiah, Duncan Idaho is returned to life as a ghola, or a resurrected clone, with no memories of his former life. Duncan’s ghola is gifted to Paul, only to later die again, and subsequently be rebirthed multiple times. It’s a never-ending cycle and a long-running literary in-joke, so if Villeneuve’s Dune franchise leads to multiple sequels, Momoa could be sticking around for a long time.
Dune editor Joe Walker teased as much, saying in an interview, “What’s really interesting about Frank Herbert’s book is that some characters do come back, but not necessarily in the same form that they took originally. Those who know the book know that Duncan Idaho, for example, reappears, so it’s not over until the last lady sings.” Sure, Duncan doesn’t return until Dune: Messiah, but what’s to stop Villeneuve from speeding up the timeline? After all, Part Two could probably use some of Momoa’s levity and charisma to balance out all the holy wars.
By the same token, what’s to stop Villeneuve from reaching back even further in his casting, all the way to David Lynch’s ill-fated Dune? In an interview, cinema’s first Paul Atreides, Kyle MacLachlan, commented on the possibility of making a cameo in Dune: Part Two. “I think it’s totally up to Denis and whatever he wants to do,” MacLachlan told ComicBook.com. “I watched his film, it was great, I enjoyed it. Had a tremendous sense of nostalgia, to be honest, watching some of the sequences and remembering stuff that I did with our cast in 1983. So it was a trip down memory lane for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and who knows? Who knows what he’s got up his sleeve?” Perhaps MacLachlan could sneak in as a Fremen local or a member of the Emperor’s court. Could we dream even bigger and get a multiverse of multiple Paul Atreides, à la the three Spider-Mans in Spider-Man: No Way Home? Only time will tell.
Also returning for Part Two is Hans Zimmer, the legendary composer who brought such a distinctive sound to Part One. Though Part Two has yet to enter production, Zimmer is already hard at work. “I know the structure of the score over Part One and Part Two because I see it as one,” Zimmer told Inverse. “And, in my head, I’ve sort of written the shape of Part Two already. I just sent Denis a text yesterday saying I have all these crazy ideas for the next one. There is a solid way of breaching out in the story musically that nobody has really thought about. But I should tell the crazy ideas to Denis first.”
Villeneuve is already cooking up some crazy ideas of his own. Remember how, at the end of Part One, we saw a sandrider in the distance, riding a giant sandworm through the desert? That was just a preview of coming attractions. The director promises that he intends to film one of the book’s most iconic scenes, when Paul has to master the art of wormriding in order to become the leader of the Fremen. “It’s going to be one of the most exciting and challenging scenes that I will have to do as a director,” Villeneuve told GamesRadar.
He continued: “I know exactly how to do it. The way we approach [sandworm riding] in the first part, it’s just like an evocation. We see them riding in the distance. But the potential of worm-riding is huge. Already, with Timothée, we have done a test for him, as we were [shooting] the first movie. There are shots that I didn’t put in the movie. But it’s so exciting.” A lot rides on this scene, but if Villeneuve can get it right, the payoff is bound to be immense. “That’s going to be one of the beautiful challenges of my life,” he told Variety. “And I know if I do it right, that will be the scene.”
Chalamet isn’t the only person gunning to ride a sandworm—after all, Paul will need a teacher. Bardem is eager to sink his maker hooks into one of Dune‘s most iconic creations. “[Denis Villeneuve] told me he’s going to try to make that happen,” Bardem told IGN. “That does happen in the book, by the way. Stilgar teaches Paul how to take the desert power, which is to domesticate those huge animals in order to use their force, their strength, and their huge size against the Harkonnens. Hopefully, that will happen.”
Bardem, like all of his castmates, is ready to go back to Arrakis. “I hear there are scripts but I haven’t read anything,” he revealed. “I cannot wait to put myself into the hands of Denis Villeneuve again. I love the guy.” But before Bardem can go back to Arrakis, he has some training to do. Brolin joked that he and Bardem are no longer in desert shape, telling Collider, “Javier [Bardem] and I had a similar thing that we both admitted to each other at the Oscars, because we both have a little bit of paunch right now. And we talked to Denis. We hadn’t read anything, and we talked to Denis the week before. He was like, ‘You guys are fighting the whole time. And you’ve been in the desert with the Fremen and all that.’ And we fucking panicked. We looked down and saw this little friend that we’ve been holding on our abdomen. So we were both on full diet mode at the Oscars, even though you absolutely couldn’t tell. We were already in diet mode, in panic diet mode.”
Villeneuve seems excited to get back to work when production begins in July 2022. “The challenge is to go back to this universe with new strategies, in order to excite our creativity,” Villeneuve said. “I think the movie needs to be in total continuity with Part One but to have, also, a different vibe. I can’t talk about that too specifically, but that’s what is exciting me right now. One thing for sure is that there will be no compromises. We’re going to spend a lot of time in the deep desert.”
Villeneuve has his work cut out for him—and in a perfect world, he won’t be stopped at just one more movie. “I always envisioned three movies,” Villeneuve told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s not that I want to do a franchise, but this is Dune, and Dune is a huge story. In order to honor it, I think you would need at least three movies. That would be the dream. To follow Paul Atreides and his full arc would be nice. Herbert wrote six books, and the more he was writing, the more it was getting psychedelic. So I don’t know how some of them could be adapted. One thing at a time. If I ever have the chance to do Dune: Part Two and Dune Messiah, I’m blessed.”
Chia Bella James
In Dune: Messiah, Herbert’s second book in the series, Paul’s story comes to a close, while Herbert’s thorny thematic questions about power, destiny, and messiahs come into sharper focus. While Dune traces Paul’s rise to power, Dune: Messiah traces his fall. But don’t expect to see Dune: Messiah in theaters anytime soon. “I want to make Part Two as fast as possible, then I will wait a few years—until Timothée Chalamet gets a bit older—to do the final installment,” Villeneuve revealed to Vanity Fair. “I’ve lived with Dune for most of my life. Being patient is part of the journey.”
Villeneuve has a long road ahead of him (as spiceheads might say, his road leads into the desert), but as he tells Vanity Fair, he’s spent plenty of time preparing for the hefty task. On multiple occasions, Villeneuve has spoken about how he discovered Dune at age thirteen, and dreamed of adapting it ever since. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Villeneuve shared meticulous storyboards of Paul Atreides’ adventures on Arrakis that he and a childhood friend, Nicholas Kadima, created as young teens. “Nicolas was a very good artist, so he did the drawing, and I would tell the stories, and we just created worlds together like that as two kids,” Villeneuve said.
With only Dune: Part Two on lock, we’ll refrain from getting too excited about the possibility of seeing Dune: Messiah on screen. Watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.
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