How ‘Dune’ director Denis Villeneuve took the risk of making a sci-fi movie – Orange County Register

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By Lindsey Bahr

It was the eyes that attracted Denis Villeneuve to “Dune”.

Long before he decided to become a filmmaker, he was just a teenager browsing a bookstore when he spotted the cover of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel. But it wasn’t a hard sell for the obsessed 14-year-old. by biology who had already learned that science fiction was a means of dreaming on a large scale.

Then he read it and was fascinated by the poetic and atmospheric story of a young man’s heroic journey which dealt with religion, politics, fate, heritage, environment, colonialism and giant space worms.

“It became an obsession,” said Villeneuve, 54.

And that was just the start of a decade-long dream finally coming true as its own version of “Dune” hits North American theaters on Friday.

Villeneuve isn’t the first filmmaker to have dared to fantasize about “Dune,” but he is the first to see his vision come true in a way that could satisfy both fans and newbies alike. For a book that has so inspired science fiction over the past 50 years, from “Star Wars” to “Alien,” film adaptations have proven difficult. First there was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s near-legendary 14-hour slash movie event that reportedly starred Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Salvador Dalí (chronicled in the 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune ”). Next, David Lynch’s swing was a critical and commercial flop when it was released in 1984.

“Dune” seemed cursed until producers Mary Parent and Cale Boyter acquired the rights via Legendary and found out that Villeneuve, who had established himself as a filmmaker with that rare ability to make large-scale films that are cerebral and commercially viable, was a longtime fan. . Plans were in place to try to remake “Dune” – with a production budget of $ 165 million.

“My film is not an act of arrogance,” Villeneuve said. “It’s an act of humility. My dream was that a die-hard ‘Dune’ fan felt that I put a camera in their mind.

The book was his bible and his compass throughout the process. He kept it near the set so the spirit of it was always close by and encouraged his crew and cast to read it up close as well. And he wasn’t put off by the outrageous expectations. He’s the one who did a sequel to “Blade Runner” after all (although that’s a whole different story and he still thinks it was a bad idea even if he would do it again in a heartbeat).

“I won’t say ‘Dune’ is an impossible task. I think it’s difficult, ”Villeneuve said. “Creativity is linked to risk. I like to jump in without a safety net. It’s part of my nature.

Part of that difficulty was focusing on a movie that would appeal to diehards and newcomers. The first step was to convince the studio that it would need two films to complete the story. Although they agreed, the second has yet to get the official “go”.

He and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth simplified the structure to focus on Paul Atreides, the young aristocrat whose family takes control of the dangerous desert planet Arrakis, home to the universe’s most precious resource, as ‘an intergalactic power struggling between ruling families is heating up. . He had only one name in mind for the role: Timothée Chalamet.

“There aren’t many actors like Timothy in the world,” he says. “Timothy has an old soul. For a young person of his age, he has a really impressive maturity. At the same time, Timothy looks really young in front of the camera.

And there is this “rock star” charisma that would lend credence to his evolution into a messianic figure who “will lead a world to chaos”.

The film is packed with acclaimed actors, including Rebecca Ferguson as Paul’s mother and Oscar Isaac as father. The film also has Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Stellan SkarsgÃ¥rd, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Zendaya, whom he led on a trip around the world to Hungary, Jordan, Abu Dhabi and Norway.

“I’ve been in those adventure movies that really try to add a lot of emotion. But there is something so poetic about the way Denis approaches this massive film and its scale, ”said Isaac. “Even if there are explosions, even if there are giant worms, he still looks at them through his poetic lens, which to me is totally, totally unique.”

It was especially important to be in the desert to film the Arrakis scenes, which meant rough conditions and sand coming in, well, everywhere. But it was vital to do it on the spot.

“It would have been impossible to do on stage or on a backlot,” Villeneuve said. “Maybe I’m too old-fashioned, but it’s my way of working. “

“Dune” was originally slated for release last year before the pandemic disrupted most theatrical releases. Villeneuve used this time to the advantage of his film.

“It was very nice for me to have the chance to let the film sleep a bit, come back to it, make it sizzle,” he said. “If people don’t like the movie, I have no excuse because I had the time and the resources to do it.”

But as welcome as the extra time was, the pandemic also led to the decision to release all lists from Warner Bros. 2021 simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Villeneuve responded at the time with a strongly worded open letter that was published in the trade publication Variety, which did not only concern his film but the implications for the future of cinema.

Ten months later, the pandemic continues and the exit strategy has held its course, even as theater attendance increases.

“We’re in a pandemic and that reality is twisted right now, and I totally understand if people can’t go to the theater or if people are afraid of the theater. I respect that and it is the priority. Health is the priority, ”said Villeneuve. “But the film was made, conceived, dreamed to be seen on the big screen.”

The film has grossed $ 129 million so far on its international rollout. Now comes the test of the North American audience, who will have the opportunity to go to the theater or watch it on HBO Max. The sequel – or, more precisely, the conclusion of the first film hangs on the line.

“I don’t know when it’s going to be decided, but it will be a question of whether the film generates enough enthusiasm, if there is enough passion about it. We’ll see. I’m at peace with it. I hope there will be a part 2, ”he said.

Villeneuve is grateful to be able to show the world at least some of what he has dreamed of for almost 40 years.

“I’ve had the time of my life doing ‘Dune’,” Villeneuve said.

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Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr



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