When Legendary Entertainment acquired Dune's rights from Frank Herbert's estate in 2016, nobody could have predicted the number of stars that would orbit around this fictional desert planet. Director Denis Villeneuve, who signed to take the helm of the production, has said that Dune is "Star Wars for adults."
“I think it’s extraordinary," said actor Javier Bardem, who will play a key character in the adaptation. "It talks about current issues even though it was written in the '60's. It takes place in a world that has revolted, and killed, machines as we know them today. And it talks about what happens when we don’t take care of the Earth, and when we ignore the terrible social differences that we have created ourselves, and how, in a future not so far away, we will pay the consequences."
WHAT IS DUNE ABOUT?
Dune takes place in a far future when humanity has mastered interstellar space travel despite banning all intelligent machines. The calculations necessary to travel through space are performed by humans enhanced with the "spice melange," a powerful drug that gifts prescience, clairvoyance and that can also double the human lifespan, but which can only be harvested in Arrakis, an inhospitable desert planet infested with gigantic sand worms.
Arrakis falls under the reluctant protectorate of the almost-disgraced Atreides family (Letho, Lady Jessica and their son Paul), but when Baron Harkonnen, an industrialist noble from another planet, stages a coup and kills Letho, a pregnant Lady Jessica and Paul are forced to escape into the desert and learn to survive in the hostile environment. The fact that Paul seems to have godlike powers that make people believe in him as a Messiah might help them... Or become the biggest danger for humanity.
Dune is basically Star Wars in a desert planet populated by survivalist Dothrakis and Sarlaccs, where the Force works like heroin and the Emperor Palpatine is considered a wonderful role model for elementary school's career day. Incidentally, both George Lucas and George R.R. Martin drank heavily from Dune's fountain to write Star Wars and Game of Thrones, so these commonalities are not a coincidence.
WHAT ABOUT THE PREVIOUS ADAPTATIONS?
The first attempt to adapt Dune was in 1974 with would-be director, Alejandro Jodorowski, and to his credit he managed to assemble an amazing artistic team. But the film was ultimately cancelled when Jodorowsky failed to raise the $9.5 million budget. Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights in 1976, and started working on an adaptation with Ridley Scott, but the latter dropped out of the project in 1981.
By this time, space adventure features were riding high on George Lucas' Star Wars wave, and De Laurentiis managed to convince up-and-coming director, David Lynch, who had been tapped to direct Return of the Jedi, to direct Dune instead.
Sadly, despite receiving positive feedback about its stunning visuals and sound production, the 1984 adaptation bombed critically and commercially.
The next attempt didn't come until 2000, when the Sci-Fi Channel produced the three-part adaptation Frank Herbert's Dune. It was followed in 2003 by the miniseries Children of Dune, based on the author's novels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, starring James McAvoy, Alec Newman and Susan Sarandon. Children of Dune was nominated for four Emmys and won one for Outstanding Special Visual Effects.
In 2007, Paramount acquired the rights to Dune, but they moved too slowly when faced with the $100 million budget. The options expired in 2011, and it wasn't until 2016 that Legendary Entertainment managed to scoop them up.
Villeneuve has said that he won't be remaking Lynch's Dune, or even getting inspiration from Jodorowski's concept art, but that he will be making the Dune movie of his dreams and drawing directly from Frank Herbert's novel.
HOW MANY FILMS WILL THERE BE?
Denis Villeneuve has already confirmed that 2020’s Dune will only cover the half of the first book, and that he would love to direct at least two movies as long as he had enough time to hone every detail properly. Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert’s son, seems to be very satisfied with this approach.
I have just received Draft #4 of the DUNE screenplay from Legendary Pictures. This is for the first movie, covering approximately half of the novel DUNE. I'm very excited and pleased about this, and I'm beginning to burn the midnight oil. pic.twitter.com/nIfgb2zJ2J
— Brian Herbert (@DuneAuthor) July 23, 2018
However, Frank Herbert’s unfinished saga contains six books, so it’s definitely possible that there might be more than two movies.
Additionally, Denis Villeneuve is developing The Sisterhood, a TV series starring the Bene Gesserit, about secretive sisterhood that use the spice melange to acquire prescient powers and clairvoyance that let them manipulate the events in Dune's universe. If the pilot is picked up, the series will arrive on the small screen in mid to late 2020.
WHO ARE THE STARS?
Paul Atreides will be played by Interstellar and Call Me By Your Name actor, Timothée Chalamet. "I’m just so excited to work on something of that scale," he said in an interview with MTV. "Mr. Herbert’s book is not only regarded as an incredible piece of sci-fi, but it’s American literature, and you have all these incredible sci-fi auteurs, when you think like Star Wars or whatever, that openly say that Dune was their source material."
And speaking of Star Wars, Oscar Isaac, fresh from The Rise of Skywalker, will be playing Leto Atreides. Rounding out the Atreides family, Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother and member of the Bene Gesserit, will be played by Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman).
The Fremen (the native people of Arrakis, who survive brutal conditions due to their ancestry) will be played by Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men, Mother!) as Stilgar, the leader of the native people of Arrakis, and by Zendaya (Spider-Man, Euphoria, The Greatest Showman), as Chani.
The Harkonnen family is in the best villainous hands, with Stellan Skarsgard playing Baron Harkonnen, and fellow MCU actor, Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) channeling his sadistic nephew, "Beast" Rabban.
Rounding up this star-studded roll call are Josh Brolin, who will play Gurney Halleck, Charlotte Rampling as Reverend Mother Mohaim, a powerful Bene Gesserit, and David Dastmalchian as Piter de Vries. Finally, The Atreides friend and ally Duncan Idaho will be played by Game of Thrones and Aquaman's Jason Momoa, who, in a hilarious videocast from one of Dune's filming locations, dramatically shaved his legendary beard -- truly a sign of portents to come.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve from a script he co-wrote with Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, Dune stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Stellan Skarsgård, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Stephen Henderson and Josh Brolin. The first film has a scheduled release date of Nov. 20, 2020.