In 1965 Frank Herbert published Dune, a science-fiction epic that would do more than just about any other novel to define the genre.
Across the book's 412 pages, Paul Atreides struggles against the villainous Baron Harkonnen for control of Arrakis, a desert planet with the galaxy's most valuable export—melange. Set in this far future on a completely different world, Herbert's Dune became a seminal text in the history of science fiction. You'll see its influence in every medium—in books, on the screen (the Bene Gesserit are basically Star Wars Jedi by another name), and as the inspiration for some of the greatest sci-fi comics ever written.
But despite this wellspring of creativity that inspired a still-young sci-fi genre in the 1960s, Dune itself has had a tough time getting off the printed page. Hollywood has struggled with adapting Herbert's magical work during the 50-plus years since its publication.
Denis Villeneuve, architect behind such recent sci-fi greats as Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, will be the fourth director who will be handed the key to Arrakis. But with a growing cast of impressive talent, he might just deliver something fans have wanted for decades when his version of Dune arrives in 2020.
A Long History of Adaptations (and Failures)
In 1975, filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky—you may or may not recall his interplanetary religious epic The Holy Mountain—attempted a cinematic adaptation of the novel with a script that stretched some 14 hours long, a cast that included Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Orson Welles, and set designs by H.R. Giger (who would go on to create the xenomorph in Alien). Despite Jodorowsky's gargantuan ambitions for the film, a lack of funding doomed the project before it could even begin shooting. The failed film would become a legendary Hollywood "what if."
When the film's rights became available again in 1982, David Lynch made the second attempt. His 1984 Dune starred Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, as well as, memorably, Sting—The Police was one of the biggest bands in the world then—and Patrick Stewart. Although visually inventive, most people were unsure of what to make of the film, and it is generally considered a low point in Lynch's career.
Sixteen years later Dune returned, this time as a six-part miniseries for SyFy. It won Emmy awards for cinematography and special effects, but didn't amount to a definitive realization. Now, nearly two decades after that (and more than 40 years since Jodorowsky's efforts), another attempt at a big-screen Dune looms.
While a steadily growing list of A-list actors have been connected with the film, one of the most intriguing is Timothée Chalamet, who will play Paul Atreides. Chalamet received an Oscar nomination for Call Me By Your Name, was surly and captivating in Lady Bird (a best picture nominee), and seems generally ready for something huge.
Rebecca Ferguson will play Lady Jessica, Atreides’ mother and Bene Gesserit who plays a central role in the Atreides' struggle against the Harkonnens. Ferguson was Ilsa Faust in Mission Impossible—Fallout and Rogue Nation, and she’s signed on for the forthcoming Men in Black: International and Stephen King’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep.
But the biggest name attached to the film is Stellan Skarsgård, who will play Baron Harkonnen, Atreides’ main adversary and one of the most evil characters ever put to paper (including Darth Vader). Skarsgård has a lengthy list of acting credits, including Good Will Hunting, The Hunt for Red October, among many others.
More casting news says Dave Bautista (Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy) will play Glossu “Beast” Rabban, the ruthless-yet-dim nephew of Baron Harkonnen. Also joining as Reverend Mother Mohiam is Charlotte Rampling, known for Assassin's Creed and TV's Broadchurch. Mohiam belongs to an archaic order called the Bene Gesserit, and all-female group focusing on acquiring more power and influence to direct humanity on an enlightened path.
Three other actors are currently in talks to join the reboot: Oscar Isaac and Zendaya. Isaac, from Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis, Show Me a Hero, and the new Star Wars trilogy, will possibly star as Duke Leto Atreides, father to protagonist Paul Atreides (who will be played by Chalamet). The Greatest Showman and Spiderman: Homecoming actress Zendaya is in early negotiations to play Chani, Chalamet's love interest.
In recent weeks, Javier Bardem is in talks to play Stilgar, the leader of Sietch Tabr, a Fremen community on Arrakis. Bardem won an Oscar for his role in the 2007 film No Country for Old Men, and his fellow castmate from that film Josh Brolin is rumored to be joining the Dune cast , the fiercely loyal weapons teacher for House Atreides.
Finally, Jason Momoa, an actor more versed in plunging the oceans' depths as Aquaman that traversing unforgiving deserts, as Duncan Idaho, the ultimate fighter in service to the Atreides.
What to Expect
Fans are expecting a lot of Villeneuve, who is writing the screenplay with Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange). Editor Joe Walker, who worked with Villeneuve on Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, and Sicario, , “for me, there’s great synaptic pleasure working within [Villeneuve’s] worlds.”
According to Walker, the director has been drawn to the story since childhood, telling him: “It’s not necessarily a super-polished piece of fiction, but it taps into two things that are fascinating: oil and religion.”
Brad Riker will be joining the production as the supervising art director, having recently worked on Vice, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Suicide Squad. Also revealed to be crew members are: Greig Fraser as director of photography (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Vice); Patrice Vermette as production designer (Sicario, Arrival); Richard R. Hoover and Paul Lambert as visual effects supervisors (Blade Runner 2049); Gerd Hefzer as special effects supervisor (Blade Runner 2049); and Thomas Struthers as stunt coordinator (The Dark Knight, Dunkirk).
One of the major questions surrounding the film, aside from casting, is whether the movie will be one or two movies (or ). Brain Herbert, Frank’s son and the curator of the Dune estate, recently took to Twitter and said the script he received from Villeneuve “is for the first movie” and “will cover approximately half of the novel.”
He also : “The screenplay has improved each time we’ve seen it, and my father’s classic novel deserves this sort of attention to detail.”
In an , Denis Villeneuve called his Dune adaptation "the project of his life:"
Since I was 12 years old, there was a book I read, which is 'Dune,' which is my favorite book...the producer of Alcon asked me what I would like to do next. I said, 'Dune,' spontaneously...For me it was just a dream, and I guess I'm lucky that Mary Parent from Legendary got the rights and offered it to me. I can't say no to that. I have images that I am haunted by for 35 years. I will not say no to that. That's going to be the project of my life."
Principal photography is rumored to begin in , which means that we won't see this Dune remake until sometime in 2020. At that point, after 50 years of Dune not getting the adaptation it deserves, we'll find out if it's been worth the wait.