Edmonton Journal


Director Villeneuve was giddy at the prospect of creating `pure cinematic joy' with sequel to box-office smash

- Mdaniell@postmedia.com

The first Dune was a box-office sensation that realized the dream of filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. But it told only half the story of Frank Herbert's celebrated 1965 book.

Villeneuve, who also directed Prisoners, Blade Runner 2049, Sicario and Arrival, after making his breakthrou­gh with 2010's Incendies, read Herbert's novel as a teenager and long dreamt of bringing its sweeping futuristic story to the big screen.

But a sequel wasn't guaranteed and was dependent on the first Dune striking a chord with cinemagoer­s. When Postmedia spoke with Villeneuve, 56, after the première of Part One in 2021, he was giddy at the thought of what he might do in Part Two.

“In this first one, the truth is, I had to build the foundation of the world,” he said at the time. “There are so many elements that you need to understand. But those elements are there now. That means the second one can be pure cinematic joy. It will be much more dynamic. I'll say that this will look like an appetizer and the main meal will be Part Two.”

The first Dune was a hit, earning $400 million at the global box office and six Academy Awards, with a sequel quickly greenlit. On a recent Wednesday night in Montreal, the writer-director was on hand to unveil the anticipate­d sequel during a special fan event to celebrate the Canadian première of Dune: Part Two.

“It was the first chance I had to go back to a universe like that,” he told Postmedia in an interview the following afternoon. “It's a great opportunit­y for a filmmaker to go back and revisit a world and try to evolve and honour Frank Herbert's work.”

The followup to 2021's first instalment centres on Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides, who unites with Zendaya's Chani and the planet Arrakis's' native Fremen warriors in a bid to avenge his father's death at the hands of the evil Harkonnen clan. As the story continues right where Part One left off, Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), start a life among the desert dwellers in a land overflowin­g with a plentiful “spice” drug after the assassinat­ion of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac).

Building on his passion for Herbert's original work, Villeneuve faithfully re-creates a narrative that has captivated science-fiction lovers for generation­s. With Alejandro Jodorowsky's shuttered 1970s adaptation one of cinema's great what-ifs and David Lynch's 1984 version an ambitious misfire, Villeneuve's Dune stands as a towering testimony to his love of fantasy and cinema.

A sprawling ensemble cast helps fill in the story, including Florence Pugh and Christophe­r Walken (playing newcomers Princess Irulan and her father, the Emperor Shaddam IV), Austin Butler (the terrifying Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen), Josh Brolin (as Paul's ally Gurney Halleck), Dave Bautista ( back as the evil Harkonnen thug Beast Rabban), Stellan Skarsgǻrd (the monstrous Baron Vladimir Harkonnen), Javier Bardem (Fremen leader Stilgar), Charlotte Rampling (the matriarch of the Bene Gesserit) and a surprise A-list actress in a brief cameo.

As Paul plots revenge against the Harkonnens for his father's murder, his mother encourages the Fremen to believe he is their long-awaited saviour.

Big in its ambition and dazzling visuals, with Villeneuve shooting the film in Imax and Hans Zimmer's booming score providing the soundtrack, Dune: Part Two is still a grounded story threaded with biblical themes of prophecy, sacrifice and redemption, and fighting to hold onto who you are and what you believe.

Even though the film dwarfs Part One in terms of its size and scope, Villeneuve didn't want to lose sight of one of the central tenants of the story: the romance between Paul and Chani.

“Despite all the special effects, I didn't want to get distracted by my ambitions. All my focus and attention was on the fragility of that relationsh­ip,” he said.

Having started storyboard­ing some of his ideas for a Dune film while he was still a teenager growing up in Quebec, Villeneuve has fulfilled a childhood ambition — one that stands apart from his other work because it has been something he crafted from his own imaginatio­n as he thumbed through the pages of Herbert's book.

“There's something quite magical for a film director to go back to a world knowing the mistakes he made the first time and trying to correct those mistakes,” he said. “It was a blessing to have that chance.”

Postmedia spoke to Villeneuve over Zoom about the challenges he faced on his sequel, the career arcs of his stars, casting Part Two's famous baddie and his plans for a threequel.

Q We want our heroes to be perfect and unblemishe­d. Paul takes a darker turn, though, in Dune Two. Was that something you were eager to lean into?

A It was essential. The first decision I made was to respect Frank Herbert's initial idea that Paul is an anti-hero. The book is a cautionary tale against messianic figures. It's something that is centre to my adaptation. I tried to be as faithful as possible to that.

Q Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, played by Austin Butler, was a character that you didn't include in Part One. Why did you decide to hold him back? A The book is very dense and complex and in order to extract something cinematic out of the book, I focused on Paul's perspectiv­e in Part One. I wanted to keep Feyd out of sight also because I needed to keep some firepower for the second part.

Q Firepower, there's no better word to describe Austin as Feyd. I assumed you cast him after seeing him in Elvis, but I read he landed the part before that film came out. What was it about him that captivated you? A I saw him in (Quentin Tarantino's) Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and I was mesmerized by what he brought to the screen and the quality of his acting. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I asked (director) Baz Luhrmann to show me some clips of Elvis to help me see his range. I met Austin and after that meeting I knew I had found my Feyd-Rautha.

Q What was it like to be able to tell this story in such a complete way and not be constraine­d by having to adhere to a two-hour runtime?

A When I write and direct a film, I'm not looking at the time, but more what is the right amount of time to tell that story. I want to make something that is compelling for an audience to sit through. So it's more about the perception of time than time itself.

Q “Fear is the mind killer” is a phrase we hear throughout Dune. How have you applied that in your own artistic life?

A There's one area where I feel that fear doesn't operate and that has to do with ambition and my ability to focus when I'm on a movie set. When I'm shooting a film, I commit 100 per cent but I don't feel fear or wonder about the consequenc­es. I'm more about trying to put everything in front of the camera in order to succeed. When I'm making a movie that's the moment in my life where I don't experience fear.

Q Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya were in their early

20s when you cast them in the first Dune movie five years ago. What's it been like for you to watch their careers blossom outside of this franchise?

A It's beautiful to see people growing up in front of the camera. It's a responsibi­lity for me but also a privilege to watch them get more assured and more mature. They are incredibly talented actors and they both started at a very young age, but I've had a chance to see a glimpse of their evolution and it's been beautiful.

It's a great opportunit­y for a filmmaker to go back and revisit a world and try to evolve and honour Frank Herbert's work.

Q What was it about both of them that made you think they'd be perfect to play Paul and Chani?

A For Chani, I was looking for an actress who could make me believe she was born out of the raw desert. Someone with a rough, charismati­c quality who display a range of emotions in a very quiet way. Zendaya was perfect for that. For Paul, I was looking for someone with deep intelligen­ce in their eyes, with an aristocrat­ic charisma. I wanted someone who would look like an old soul.

Q Dune: Part Two ends and leaves the door open for you to continue the story with

Dune Messiah. Have you already started thinking about returning to the desert planet Arrakis?

A I have started to think about, but I just finished Part Two and I haven't had time to write it. I will find the time this spring. I don't want to rush it. When I return to Arrakis with my camera I want to have a strong script. But I will love to do it.

 ?? PIERRE OBENDRAUF ?? Denis Villeneuve, director of the film Dune: Part Two, looks pensive on the red carpet for the Montreal première. The Canadian filmmaker was captivated by the Frank Herbert novel as a teenager, and always dreamed of having the opportunit­y to commit the story to the big screen.
PIERRE OBENDRAUF Denis Villeneuve, director of the film Dune: Part Two, looks pensive on the red carpet for the Montreal première. The Canadian filmmaker was captivated by the Frank Herbert novel as a teenager, and always dreamed of having the opportunit­y to commit the story to the big screen.

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