LOS ANGELES: Denis Villeneuve doesn't feel like he's returned to Arrakis in "Dune: Part Two." In his mind, he never left.
Part 2, which opens in theaters on March 1, is the culmination of a six-year cinematic journey, preceded by 40 years of dreaming it up. It is a film that Christopher Nolan has already compared to The Empire Strikes Back.
The achievement of adapting Frank Herbert's book for the big screen has amazed and perplexed several of the greatest directors, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and David Lean, who is the only one who has succeeded in making a picture. However, two segments of his 1984 movie were promptly discarded due to its overwhelming failure.
Villeneuve finally got his chance in one of the most turbulent times in Hollywood history, facing two delayed releases (one due to the pandemic, one due to Hollywood strikes), a historic shift to streaming, and no guarantees a "Part 2" would ever get made.
“The circumstances could not have been worse for the premiere,” Villeneuve said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “However, the film did well at the box office.”
Even in that moment of limbo, he never stopped working on the script for “Part 2” and knew that if they got the green light, he wanted to be ready to go.
When director of photography Greg Fraser received the Academy Award for Best Photography for "Dune," they were already deep into pre-production for the second film. Soon everyone was back in Budapest as the cameras rolled in July. But even though they conquered the desert in Part 1, new challenges awaited them.
"We all felt confident when we started this project," Villeneuve remarked. "This trust was rapidly betrayed."
"Dune: Part Two" was more technically challenging, containing at least seven major action scenes compared to the two in the first film. The film follows Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides after a devastating and calculated attack from a rival house on his family and followers who have just taken control of the mineral-rich desert planet of Arrakis.
With his father dead, Paul and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) retreat to the desert where they forge a tenuous alliance with the indigenous people of Arrakis known as the Fremen including Zendaya. Paul trains to fight alongside them against Harkonnen invaders.
Among the challenges: portraying Chalamet's surfing on a sandworm in a way that was exciting, poignant, and not at all ridiculous, something Villeneuve had to figure out how to translate what he imagined into words that everyone could understand. Craftsmen work to transform it into reality under the blazing sun.
But it seems that none of these tensions have spread to the atmosphere in Wadi Rum, Budapest, and Abu Dhabi. The reality was quite the opposite, Chalamet said, “Villeneuve seemed to be having fun while doing it”
“Denis is very funny. For me, this is the biggest test of self-confidence,” Chalamet said. “At the end of the day, directing any film is a fun and creative exercise and A man who takes himself too seriously focuses more on the people around him, on the audience, than on the product itself, reeks of a pretentious film.”
It takes a unique personality to be a great director, but Villeneuve is up to the task, said Josh Brolin, who has worked with Villeneuve on three films, including Sicario and Dunes in which he plays Atreides warrior Gurney Halleck.
“The great filmmakers I've had the gift of working with are misfits. They're real misfits. They're not great people. They're socially inept at all,” Brolin said.
Villeneuve has become almost accustomed to delaying film releases, and on both occasions, his films have benefited from that cushion. The first edition was held almost a year ago due to the pandemic, which allowed it to be modified and perfected.
This time, he had to do something different: make a transfer of the film so he could show it in IMAX and 70mm, even though it was shot digitally. Villeneuve declared, "It's the best format and the best viewing experience."
"Dune: Part Two" cost approximately USD 122 million to produce, and is scheduled to hit theaters very soon. The market is a bit emptier than usual due to the lingering effects of last year's labor standoff in Hollywood, and it's also a landscape where superheroes are no longer the reliable "pillars of support" they once were.
But “Dune” is a different kind of franchise. The first "Dune" raised a little more than USD400 million despite debuting the same day of its release on Max (then HBOMax). Villeneuve has more hope this time. After all, the audience's appetite for theater is stronger than it was at the end of 2021. He also believes that "Part Two" is more significant
It's widely entertaining and can be enjoyed without seeing the first one.
"The first part was more meditative," he stated. We were tracking a child as he embraced a new culture. We now follow the child as he falls in love and exacts revenge on his father. The film leans more toward action."
He knows that "Part 2" also "has soul," but he's not quite ready to step back and enjoy it like the 13-year-old who started him on this path in the first place. It's one of those paradoxes of adapting something you love, to do that you have to sacrifice some or all of it, and it no longer means what it once meant to you.
Before starting the first part, composer Hans Zimmer, also a lifelong "Dune" fan, asked him a question along these lines.
"He said to me, “Is it any good to try to achieve the dream we had when we were children? “Is it doomed to fail?” Villeneuve replied, “There is a part of the film that when I watch it closes the dream. Other parts are new because it is an adaptation and I have to make decisions and distort the reality of the book to make it fit the format of the film. It's mixed feelings," he said. “It is joy and pain.”
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