Denis Villeneuve Explains Why 'Dune' Is More Relevant Than Ever
"It is a portrait of where we are as human beings in the 21st century"
Published Oct 18, 2021Another Dune adaptation was coming one way or another, and Denis Villeneuve, the writer-director responsible for the latest film iteration of Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic, is surprised he was the one who got the opportunity. "I was waiting for someone to do it, frankly," he tells Exclaim! over Zoom. "I never thought I'd be the one doing it. I was really thinking someone would bring Dune to the screen — it's a beloved book. There's so many massive Dune fans in the cinematic community."
Despite the large following and appreciation for the 1965 novel, there has yet to be a version brought to the screen that satisfies hardcore fans' expectations. (David Lynch's 1984 cult classic is divisive to say the least.) However, Villeneuve is no stranger to taking on projects with lofty expectations, having taken on the daunting task of directing a Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, no less than four years ago.
Who better than Villeneuve, a fan of the novel since reading it as a teenager, to do right by the source material. The Quebec director had to show patience and restraint in order to turn his passion project into a reality.
"I think I'm the one bringing it to the screen because I was in the right place at the right time," he says. "We're at a moment in film history where the visual effects are powerful enough to bring Dune to the screen. This movie would not be possible 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. We are at the level of perfection with the visual effects that makes Dune possible."
Happenstance may be one factor, but Villeneuve has put himself in the position to take on these opportunities thanks to his growing catalogue of well-received films. More recently, he has established himself as a celebrator contributor to the sci-fi genre: in addition to the previously mentioned Blade Runner 2049, his 2016 film Arrival earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
But why now? The appreciation for Dune that has existed since its release in the '60s stems from how prescient the novel remains. The source material is so thematically rich, Villeneuve has a lot to explore within the universe. And the themes that engaged him upon first experiencing Dune are the same ones he's interested in exploring in his film.
"The danger of blending politics and religion together, the impact of colonialism on society, the danger of overexploitation of natural resources and the impact of this exploitation on the environment. That's what makes Dune so unique. In a way, it is a portrait of where we are as human beings in the 21st century," he reflects.
Villeneuve has always had a propensity for mixing political critiques with narratives. Films like Sicario, Arrival and Prisoners reflect on the states of politics within North America and the world at large. Driving many of his films are strong female characters who make the realization of those complex ideas possible.
In Dune, Villeneuve feels the mother-son dynamic between Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (played by Rebecca Ferguson) was of utmost importance to the success of the film. "I wanted to embrace the movie from Paul's perspective and stay with him as much as possible," he explains. "I wanted the movie to be focused on Paul and his mother's relationship."
Though the focus stays on Paul, Villeneuve is cognizant of the role Lady Jessica plays in his growth and maturity. As Paul tries to make sense of the world as it changes around him, Lady Jessica is there to help navigate those trials and tribulations. For Villeneuve, Lady Jessica brings out a quality of the story that no other characters or themes can.
"[Their relationship] was at the heart of the project and bringing up front the feminist quality of the novel. To bring up front that beautiful female character, Lady Jessica, who is at the epicentre of the story, and the reason the story unfolds," he says.
Villeneuve has already started developing the script for part two of Dune, though the sequel has not officially been given the go-ahead. But should the film be green-lit, fans of Villeneuve and Dune can likely expect more prevalent female characters, with Chani (played by Zendaya) taking on a larger role in the story's back half. For the time being, Villeneuve will have to wait and see if he will get the opportunity to complete his passion project.