Dune 2? I'll Be Dune 2 Viewings

Denis Villeneuve Refuses to Let Hollywood Shrink Him Down to Size
As the follow-up to ‘Dune’ approaches, the filmmaker on his return to the desert, Timothée Chalamet, and how many more Dune movies he has in him.

So many great, poignant, and heady quotes from director – one of our few true auteurs – Denis Villeneuve:

“When you adapt, you kill. You destroy in the process of transformation. Going from the words to the image, this adaptation is my adaptation, with my sensibility.”

It's hard for me to describe how much I love Villeneuve's Dune. Perhaps part of it is tied to when it was released: the fall of 2021. It was the first movie I saw in a movie theater in a loooong time due to COVID restrictions. And I saw it on an IMAX screen, no less. From the opening monologue onward, it was like falling in love with cinema all over again.

The second, Dune: Part Two, arriving on March 1, marks the end of a kind of Arthurian quest for Villeneuve, now 56, who has loved the novel since he first read it at age 14. And even though he has interpreted Herbert’s work in his own fashion—which is where the treason comes in—preserving the book’s spirit was paramount. “I was trying to be, as a filmmaker, as invisible as possible. I tried my best to keep the poetry of the book, the atmosphere, the colors, the smell, everything that I felt when I read the book. I tried.”

Everyone knew the story of Dune. And many had seen David Lynch's deeply weird (in ways good and bad) 1984 adaptation.1 But Villeneuve's Dune was something different. A complete visual and audible world on to itself. It lingers and burrows in your brain, like a sandworm in the desert.

But both Dune and Dune: Part Two are elegant in a way that defies laughter. Part Two is, like its predecessor, mostly a quiet symphony of beige and cream, though the movie’s textures are so varied they almost constitute a color palette of their own. It’s this attention to detail that makes the Dune movies feel more lived-in than far out.

That's a good way to frame it – and great to hear that the second film carries this type of  je ne sais quoi over the chasm of two films.2 I'm reminded of Peter Jackson's now iconic Lord of the Rings trilogy – another book series long considered unadaptable to the screen, of course – but Jackson had the benefit (if you want to call it that, as it was truly insane at the time) of filming all the movies at the same time (aside from reshoots, of course).3

“It’s always a lot of extremes. Landscapes and human faces. The human face is a landscape itself. A landscape changes according to the light. Every day it’s different. And it’s the same with the human face.”

There he goes again. Love it.

The success of the first Dune gives Part Two a sturdy launchpad, though that success was never assured. Dune arrived in U.S. theaters on Oct. 22, 2021, when even hardcore movie lovers were still wary, mid-pandemic, of theaters. The film was available to stream, on HBO Max, the same day, the sort of executive decision that makes no ambitious filmmaker happy, and Villeneuve himself expressed his disappointment in a column in Variety. Even so, Dune made roughly $400 million on a $165 million budget and earned largely positive reviews.

COVID aside, it is wild (in hindsight) that the film did as well as it did given the simultaneous HBO Max release (which I agreed with at the time, FWIW). It again speaks to Villeneuve's power in drawing people back to the theater to see something that just commanded to be seen on as large of a screen as possible (a trait he shares with fellow auteur Christopher Nolan).

Aside: I'm very curious what these two think about Apple's Vision Pro, given the absolutely rave reviews of it as a cinematic content consumption device. I'm guessing they like it more than say, watching their films on an iPhone, but will also tout the benefits of seeing a film in a theater with other human beings.

Still, how many Dune movies might be too many? Herbert wrote six Dune books, with increasingly gonzo plots. Villeneuve’s two films, plus that sequel, Dune Messiah, which has not been officially greenlighted, might constitute a just-right mini-franchise. (“Dune Messiah should be the last Dune movie for me,” he confirms.) Going beyond that, even if other directors take over, could be IP overkill.

I'm honestly surprised they didn't greenlight Messiah alongside Dune 2 and let Villeneuve film them back-to-back, per above. Of course, perhaps he didn't want to do that, given what an undertaking it is. Either way, I'm guessing his third film is greenlit on opening weekend of Dune 2.

But right now, there are other types of movies Villeneuve wants to make, including an adaptation of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra, currently being written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917), and a version of Arthur C. Clarke’s futuristic classic Rendezvous With Rama. 

I sadly know little about the former,4 but the latter excites me greatly. Almost as much as Dune 2. I suspect Villeneuve won't butcher it the way Hollywood did with Sphere...

Though it isn’t emphasized in Villeneuve’s movies, in Herbert’s Dune, computers and artificial intelligence have been banished. Humans try to develop the potential of the human brain, “which is actually the opposite of what we’re trying to do right now,” Villeneuve says. Yet he worries less about AI “than the fact that we behave like algorithms, as filmmakers. We’re in a very conservative time; creativity is restricted. Everything’s about Wall Street. What will save cinema is freedom and taking risks. And you feel the audience is excited when they see something they haven’t seen before.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Villeneuve's vision for Dune is the above. It's just such low-hanging fruit in today's environment of computer proliferation and now the rise of AI in particular. Any other filmmaker probably makes this some statement on the current state of technology and the world, but with Villeneuve, we get less Mentats and more Bene Gesserit.

“Cinema, since its beginning, has had multiple crises. There’s always an adjustment, but the river still keeps flowing. The theatrical experience is here for good. It will prevail, it will transform.”

I cannot wait. And I will not apologize for my title.

1 Or perhaps has read about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted effort to adapt the book in the 1970s. "The cast would have included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí and Alejandro’s 12-year-old son, Brontis, in the lead role. The soundtrack would have been composed and recorded by Pink Floyd." 🤯

2 Please enjoy my French Canadian homage.

3 I'm less reminded of his far too drawn out Hobbit trilogy -- it's one (rather short) book, for Chrissake!

4 Though I am generally a fan of 1963's Cleopatra -- all four hours of it. Well, maybe not all four hours. Released two years before Herbert's first Dune book, it was the most expensive film ever made at that point.