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The Student Media Site of William Clarke College

We Are

The Student Media Site of William Clarke College

We Are

Dune: The Journey to Arrakis

Denis Villeneuve in the Liwa desert while filming Dune. Photo: Chiabella James
Denis Villeneuve in the Liwa desert while filming ‘Dune’. Photo: Chiabella James

“For me, the process is more important than the outcome. I enjoy the journey of making a film.”


If you’re someone who actually goes outside a lot, you probably won’t know that’s a quote from French-Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve, known for his work on Prisoners (one of my favourite films of all time), Blade Runner 2049 and, oh yeah, a little film called Dune (and part two).


Why am I starting with this quote? Why don’t I just skip right to a review of Dune Part 2? Because I think, like a lot of his filmmaking opinions, Villeneuve is right; because the story of how Dune (and consequently Dune 2) got made is one that needs to be told alongside the story of Dune.


Denis Villeneuve grew up absolutely in love with the book and world of Frank Herbert’s Dune. During the Dune 2 press tour, he reflected on him drawing storyboards with his friends on what a possible Dune film adaptation would look like.


Unfortunately, young Villeneuve did not have to wait too long.


After the critical and commercial disaster that was David Lynch’s 1984 Dune, it was considered for the longest time to be unadaptable. Not only would no company want to risk a similar financial loss, its scale, worldbuilding intertwined with its relevant socio-political themes made it truly difficult for any filmmaker to figure out how to translate it to a cinematic medium.


Fortunately, Villeneuve had most of his directing career to figure this out. Whilst he always had a desire to do Science-fiction films, the first 15 years of his directing career were spent just simply making good films. Whilst most certainly feel his early works are a little rough around the edges, it’s clear that he always had an intuitive creative mind and just needed time to cultivate his craft to perfection. Moreover, he always had Dune on his mind. Whilst making his 2010 film Incendies, Villeneuve was locating scouting in the Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert, “It wasn’t right for Incendies, but I told myself at the time, ‘If I ever get to do Dune, I am coming back here,’”.


Incendies would go onto be nominated for an Academy Award, making it Villeneuve’s informal entry into Hollywood. His first film after Incendies, Prisoners, would go on to be considered one of the best mystery films of the 21st Century. With more than just his finger dipped into the bowl of Hollywood, Villeneuve began to indulge in his love for Sci-fi. Between 2013 and 2017, he directed 3 major science-fiction films: Enemy, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Whilst 2049 was a commercial failure, it’s regarded as one of the best science-fiction films ever made.


Until finally, after nearly 40 years of dreaming of it, Villeneuve set his sights on Dune.


After pitching his vision for the project to Warner Bros, he officially signed on as director and co-writer of the project. Problem was, he signed on for one movie. Villeneuve intended to make the first Dune novel into two films as to remain faithful to the books whilst not making a painfully long film. Warner Bros was understandably hesitant, given the already hefty budget that just one would require along with the proven financial risks of a cinematic Dune adaptation. Regardless, Villeneuve pushed onwards, motivated by the fact that if Dune: Part One was a financial success he would get his sequel.


Hey, you guys remember COVID?


Well, after wrapping filming, COVID swarmed the world and theatrical experiences were shoved behind the convenience of streaming. Warner Bros announced all its films scheduled for a 2021 release (including Dune right at the end of the year) would also stream same-day on HBO MAX. This puzzling move proved to be failure, as subscribers hardly grew and all films involved (WW84, Space Jam 2, Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad) would be box office failures. Not only that, but Villeneuve is also a cinema purist. He’s a firm believer, especially with a movie of this scale, that it should be seen on the largest screen possible to offer maximum immersion. At this point, it was looking like a Dune 2 would not be happening. As a result, in all press tours of the film, Villeneuve and his cast repeatedly pushed the idea of watching the film in theatres, in order to promote its box office potential and critical reception. (If you’re curious, look up some old promotional footage and watch as Timothee Chalamet says: Go watch Dune, IN THEATRES!!!)


This tactic, along with the fact that it’s just a masterclass in worldbuilding and visual storytelling, made Dune a success. Dune ended up grossing 400 million dollars, making back its 165-million-dollar budget whilst also promoting HBO MAX. Only a few (for me, utterly suspenseful and terrifying) days later, Dune: Part Two was officially greenlit. Villeneuve had realised his life-long dream at last.


So…Dune Part Two is out now…does it live up to the hype?

Yes. Every bit. An absolute achievement in visual storytelling and cinematic scale. His love for the property is clear, even taking into consideration Herbert’s own expressed regrets with how he wrote the story of Dune when adapting the narrative in the film. It elevates the first film’s quality, drawing on its visual beats and narrative establishments to enhance each other. It’s impossible to pick a single stand-out performance when the entire star-studded cast is clearly infected with immense passion and drive in their acting. The 2hr 46min runtime feels like it escapes from underneath you, never wasting a moment. If anything, my only complaint is that I wish it were just 15 minutes longer to flesh out some side characters. Is it my favourite of his works? No. But that’s just a testament to how great a filmmaker he is. Already one of the greatest science fiction works of all time and it’s just his batting average. I saw it in IMAX on opening weekend and booked it again in IMAX right after. The experience was electric, using the format to immerse you into the universe like no other film can. If you can book a non-sold-out IMAX screening (We Are does not endorse taking days off school to watch films…but if you happen to be sick…), you absolutely should. It’s not just the director’s intention, it’s downright incredible.


Villeneuve is currently working on a new sci-fi adaptation, Rendezvous With Rama. I, and hopefully you too now, eagerly await his visual exploration into yet another epic universe.

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