Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.
In March 2018, Villeneuve stated that his goal was to adapt the novel into a two-part film series. Villeneuve ultimately secured a two-movie deal with Warner Bros. Pictures, in the same style as the two-part adaptation of Stephen King‘s It in 2017 and in 2019. He stated that “I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie” as Dune was “too complex” with “power in details” that a single film would fail to capture. However, all subsequent dealings were to secure the production of the first film, and new production deals will need to be made to start production for the second film.
Eric Roth was hired to co-write the screenplay in April, and Jon Spaihts was later confirmed to be co-writing the script alongside Roth and Villeneuve. Villeneuve said in May 2018 that the first draft of the script had been finished. Brian Herbert confirmed by July 2018 that the latest draft of the screenplay covered “approximately half of the novel Dune.” Legendary CEO Joshua Grode confirmed in April 2019 that they plan to make a sequel, adding that “there’s a logical place to stop the [first] movie before the book is over.” In November 2019, Spaihts stepped down as showrunner on the Dune: The Sisterhood TV prequel series to focus on the second film.
While Villeneuve had seen Lynch’s adaptation of Dune and he respected both Lynch and the film, he does not expect to build upon any elements from that, saying that “I’m going back to the book, and going to the images that came out when I read it” when he was a teenager. Villeneuve said of when he had first seen Lynch’s adaption that “there are parts that I love and other elements that I am less comfortable with. So it’s like, I remember being half-satisfied”, and that there was “still a movie that needs to be made about that book, just a different sensibility.” Further, Villeneuve does not plan to incorporate concepts that Jodorowsky had laid out for his attempt for a Dune film in the mid-1970s, as Villeneuve stated that “Jodorowsky is a very unique visionary. He has a very strong, unique vision. I am a total different human being. It would be very presumptuous and arrogant for me to try”.
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In adapting the book written in the 1960s for the 21st century, Villeneuve wanted to reflect on realities that have happened related to overexploitation of the Earth, and considered his screenplay “a coming-of-age story, but also a call for action for the youth”. Other changes included altering some of the arcs of the female characters in the book. According to Rebecca Ferguson, who was cast as Lady Jessica, “Denis was very respectful of Frank’s work in the book, [but] the quality of the arcs for [many] of the women have been brought up to a new level. There were some shifts he did, and they are beautifully portrayed now.” Lady Jessica was given an expanded role as a soldier as well as being part of the Bene Gesserit, which the studio labeled as a “warrior priestess”, comparing to the joking label of “space nun” that Villeneuve felt the book gave across. Dr. Liet Kynes, the ecologist on Arrakis who is male in the novel, was also given to a female lead Sharon Duncan-Brewster to help expand the cast diversity. Villeneuve also wanted to move the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from being a caricature as he was presented in the novel to a more complex antagonist.
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