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Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: What We Know So Far

Dune zendaya and timothee chalamet as Chani and Paul walk in a cave

spice melange in Dune

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First published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune is regarded as one of the great sci-fi epics of the 20th century. It was a hit that not only spawned five Herbert-written sequels, but 14 more after the author’s death, and a franchise that includes comics, TV shows, and video games.

When it comes to the title’s reputation on the big screen, however, things get a bit dicier. Following a failed attempt by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to get a big screen take off the ground in the mid-1970s, David Lynch famously adapted the complex novel in 1984, and while it’s a feature that certainly has its defenders, it was famously a flop that Lynch in retrospect called “a horrible experience.”

The disappointments of the past have not dissuaded Hollywood from trying to give the franchise another shot, though, and now a brand new adaptation is in the works. The project is coming along quickly, so we’ve put together this guide to help you keep up to date with everything that’s going on. When will we see this new version of Dune? What’s the approach franchise-wise? Who are the stars? All of that and more will be explained, so read on and learn all about this tremendously exciting project!

Dune zendaya and timothee chalamet as Chani and Paul walk in a cave

What Is Dune’s Release Date?

Back in early 2017, between the releases of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve announced that he was pumping the brakes a bit and wasn’t going to immediately jump into his next film, which was already set up to be Dune. As a result, for the longest time we didn’t know exactly when we would actually see the specific vision come to life, but now it's actually almost here.

Dune was originally supposed to be released in December 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic impacted both plans for reshoots and theatrical distribution, so Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures made the decision to bump the film to October 2021. Though it was originally set to arrive at the start of the month, that date has since been pushed back to October 22, 2021. In addition to playing on the big screen, that date will also see the launch of the sci-fi blockbuster on HBO Max – though it will only be made available to subscribers to the streaming service for 31 days.

Sandworm attack in Dune

What Is Dune’s Rating?

While Dune has some thrilling, scary, and violent moments, it's also not exactly a story that is overstuffed with gore, sex, and curse words. That in mind, and also recognizing that the studios behind the movie want it to kick start a franchise, makes it perfectly understandable that when Dune arrives in theaters later this year it will be sporting a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. The certification was given for, "sequences of strong violence, some disturbing images and suggestive material."

Denis Villeneuve talking to Javier Bardem on the Dune set

Dune’s Writers And Director

This latest version of Dune has been in the works since late 2016, when Legendary Entertainment acquired the rights to Frank Herbert’s novel, and it didn’t take the studio long to find the filmmakers they wanted to dive into the sand world of Arrakis. It was less than a month after the trade announcement about the project’s development that Denis Villeneuve signed on to direct.

A French-Canadian filmmaker, Villeneuve broke out with his 2010 drama Incendies, which earned an Academy Award nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Continuing to collaborate with genius actors and filmmakers, he went on a tear between 2013 and 2015 directing hailed features Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario, and since then he has been on a big science-fiction kick. Arrival was his first film to win an Oscar (for Best Sound Editing), and Blade Runner 2049 followed up with its own win in the Best Cinematography category.

Dune will be the first time since Indendies that Denis Villeneuve is credited as a writer/director, though he does have some collaborators working on the script. Eric Roth – who won an Academy Award for Forrest Gump in 1995 and was most recently nominated for writing Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born – is collaborating on the script, as is Jon Spaihts, whose credits include Ridley Scott's Prometheus, Scott Derrick's Doctor Strange, and Morten Tyldum's Passengers.

As for the approach they are taking, production will not be taking on the monumental effort of jamming all of Frank Herbert’s tome into a single two hour-plus feature. Instead, Legendary and Warner Bros. are taking an approach similar to the one taken with Stephen King’s IT, splitting the story into two features (with the making of the second feature dependent on the success of the first). But, it is unknown as of now where exactly Dune will bifurcate its source material.

House Atredies in Denis Villeneuve's Dune

The Characters And Cast Of Dune

Part of what makes Dune so special as a story is how remarkable its scope is – not only in terms of the universe that it builds, but also its diverse cast of characters. Denis Villeneuve's production faced an early challenge trying to find all of the right actors to play these parts, but what the casting department has accomplished is remarkable. On paper, the upcoming blockbuster features one of the best casts we've seen from a movie of scale.

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) in Dune

Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet)

As you’ll understand as you keep reading this feature, Dune is a story with a big cast of key players, but Paul Atreides is the true protagonist – which is why it makes a lot of sense that it was the first role cast for Denis Villeneuve’s new film. What’s more, the project roped in a true “get,” as it will be Timothée Chalamet playing the key role in the blockbuster. The young actor notably does have some sci-fi experience on his resume - specifically Christopher Nolan's Interstellar - but in recent years it has been his performances in films like Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, and Beautiful Boy that have led critics to hail him as one of the best of his generation.

Dune is very much about the maturation of young Paul Atreides, who grows from being an intelligent, strong-willed young man to a commanding messiah between the first and last pages of the book. He is the son of the noble Duke Leto Atreides, who at the beginning of the story accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis, despite knowing that it’s part of a trap set up by the all-powerful Emperor. Prior to his arrival on the desert world, Paul is trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit (an influential religious order) by his mother, Lady Jessica, and there is hope and suggestion that he may be the Kwisatz Haderach – a super-being with the ability to view all time simultaneously.

Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) in Dune

Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson)

Like her son, Lady Jessica also has a very important role to play within the universe of Dune, though saying too much would spoil surprises not likely to arrive before the second movie. She is able to train Paul in the ways of the Bene Gesserit because she is a member of the group herself – giving her abilities such as extreme mindfulness and “the Voice,” which she can use to manipulate the actions of others.

Rebecca Ferguson has been tapped to play this legendary science-fiction heroine, signing on to the film just a couple of months after Timothee Chalamet. It could be an excellent new franchise for the actress, though it’s worth noting that it will join a list that already includes Mission: Impossible and Men In Black. She most recently starred as the villainous Rose The Hat in Doctor Sleep, the Mike Flanagan-directed adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining.

Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) in Dune

Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac)

Oscar Isaac has firmly established himself as a star who makes everything he’s a part of better – and now he’s ready to add another massive sci-fi franchise to his resume. Apparently being Poe Dameron in the Star Wars universe just wasn’t enough for him, as he’s set up with what should be a crucial role in Dune.

Duke Leto Atreides is a well-regarded and respected leader when we meet him in the story, though the goodness that he represents is also seen as a threat – hence the aforementioned trap set by the Emperor. Even though he knows he is being set up, Leto sees huge things for the future of Arrakis, which is most notably the only source of the most powerful substance in the universe: a drug called Melange a.k.a. “The Spice.” While the world has long been known simply as a mining planet, he wants to change things, particularly by forging a better relationship with the indigenous people known as the Fremen - recognized by their “blue within blue” eyes.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) in Dune

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard)

Legendary sci-fi heroes are nothing without legendary sci-fi villains against whom they can square off, and for Dune that role is filled (and I mean filled) by the evil Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Described as being so humongously fat that he requires anti-gravity suspensors in order to move, he has spent years ruling Arrakis with an iron fist at the start of the story, exploiting the exclusive resources on the planet to become one of the most powerful figures in the universe (while still being subservient to the Emperor). In addition to being ruthless, he is also a master strategist, which is part of why he is able to maintain his position.

Played by one of four Marvel Cinematic Universe stars who now populate this movie, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen will be played by the great Stellan Skarsgard in Denis Villeneuve’s film. We can assume that it’s a role that will require a lot of both special and visual effects (the full extent remains an unknown), but the production did a fantastic job landing a talent who will be able to shine through any amount of prosthetics that are added to his body.

Gloussu ‘Beast’ Rabban (Dave Bautista) in Dune

Gloussu ‘Beast’ Rabban (Dave Bautista)

Though it took multiple auditions and a fair amount of begging, Dave Bautista first had the opportunity to work with Denis Villeneuve on Blade Runner 2049, and given what we now know it seems that the two men had a great time working together. The actor and director are all set to collaborate together on Dune, with the new film being yet another venture into the science-fiction genre for the Guardians of the Galaxy star.

In Dune, Dave Bautista will be playing the role of Gloussu ‘Beast’ Rabban, who is the nephew of Baron Harkonnen and a sadistic horror show. Though Rabban isn’t much of a thinker, the Baron allows him to take control of the governance on Arrakis during his rule, and the work of the Fremen mining the spice… and as you might guess, things don’t exactly go smoothly.

Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) in Dune

Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling)

While not exactly the biggest character in Dune, Reverend Mother Mohiam makes a very quick and meaningful impact at the start of the story, and has a larger role to play from a macro perspective. Being a Reverend Mother means that she is an extremely advanced member of the Bene Gesserit, and Mohaim specifically trained Lady Jessica in the order’s ways. Because of this connection, she is also the one to put Paul through an extreme and painful test known as the Gom Jabbar.

To play this role Denis Villeneuve got a real legend, casting the great Charlotte Rampling in the role. The actress just got her first Oscar nomination a few years ago, starring as Kate Mercer in the drama 45 Years, and has recently appeared in movies such as Assassin's Creed with Michael Fassbender, and Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence.

Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) in Dune

Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin)

Like Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin is another Dune castmember with Denis Villeneuve history, having worked with the director in the making of the hit film Sicario (which wound up launching a 2018 sequel that Villeneuve didn’t direct). In that movie, his character CIA Agent Matt Graver exists in a kind of moral gray area, but the good news is that Brolin’s adventure to Arrakis will see him definitely teaming up with the heroes.

Gurney Halleck is one of the most loyal individuals within House Atreides, serving under Duke Leto as the resident Swordmaster along with Duncan Idaho (we'll get to him in a minute). His most important role is that he is responsible for teaching Paul how to fight, but he's also notably a skilled musician who is known for playing a stringed instrument called a baliset. Without going into too much detail, he does become a victim of misinformation in the middle of the story, making him a serious threat even when his heart is in the right place, but he ultimately serves as an important presence in the narrative.

Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) in Dune

Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa)

Like Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho is another trustworthy, noble individual working within House Atreides, and is introduced to the story as one of the closest confidants of Duke Leto. After arriving on Arrakis, Idaho is given an extremely important role, as he is named as the ambassador to the Fremen – a group that the Atreides clan hopes to live peacefully alongside during their time on the planet.

Bringing Duncan Idaho to life will be Jason Momoa, who began working on Dune as his first movie following the massively successful Aquaman arrived in theaters in December 2018. There was a time period when it wasn’t clear what the actor’s future on the big screen would look like, between disappointments like Conan The Barbarian, and Bullet To The Head, but now he’s cemented as one of the biggest film stars in the world – and he’s bringing all of that heat to Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic.

Stilgar (Javier Bardem) in Dune

Stilgar (Javier Bardem)

Given that his role is primarily in the second half of Frank Herbert’s novel, Stilgar’s part in Denis Villeneuve’s first Dune movie is a bit of a mystery at this point – but that shouldn’t undercut the importance of his character in the story. Stilgar is one of the most significant leaders of the Fremen on Arrakis, and his relationship with the members of House Atreides is absolutely vital to the progression of the story.

The perfect reflection of Stilgar’s stature is the fact that Dune has hired Javier Bardem to play him. It will be the first time that Bardem has had the opportunity to work with Denis Villeneuve, but given the performances he has delivered with other elite directors, one can only assume that his work in this new film is going to be absolutely stellar. It’s all the more reason why we are rooting for this movie’s success.

Chani (Zendaya) in Dune

Chani (Zendaya)

Chani represents yet another strange presence in the new Dune, as while at least Stilgar does show up briefly in the first half of the book, the same cannot be said for her. Another member of the Fremen, she winds up becoming an important figure in the life of Paul Atreides, and is literally the girl of his dreams. They first meet when Paul and Lady Jessica are looking for shelter in the desert and negotiate a partnership with Stilgar.

Much like Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya is another immensely talented young actor, and she has spent her time between making Spider-Man movies to work on Denis Villeneuve's Dune. It’s worth noting that this will be the second time that she’s had the opportunity to collaborate with Rebecca Ferguson, as the two women previously had the chance to work together in The Greatest Showman.

David Dastmalchian in Ant-Man and the Wasp

Piter De Vries (David Dastmalchian)

Like members of the Bene Gesserit, Mentats are individuals in the universe of Dune that have great abilities - essentially serving as living computers in a time that is fearful of advanced technology. They are embodiments of logic and reason, and as a result frequently serve at the side of great leaders. Piter De Vries, for example, is the Mentat for House Harkonnen, and a rather cruel and sadistic one at that.

David Dastmalchian will be portraying Piter De Vries in Denis Villeneuve's Dune, adding to his impressive filmmography of geek credits. He first got recognition as a psychotic follower of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and has since appeared in both Ant-Man and Ant-Man And The Wasp, and episodes of the television series Gotham. As cool as those titles are, however, what probably gave him an edge getting a role in this new film is his past with the director. Dastmalchian has had the opportunity to work with Villeneuve twice already, first on Prisoners, and then again most recently on Blade Runner 2049.

Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) inDune

Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson)

Piter De Vries has a Mentat counterpart in House Atredies, and that is Thufir Hawat – but rather than being sadistic and cruel, he is smart and honorable. He serves the Atredies family by providing security for the family, and even trains young Paul in the ways of war and strategy. In the back half of Frank Herbert's book the character winds up being put in a compromised situation – but we'll refrain from getting too far into spoilers.

Thufir Hawat will be portrayed in the film by Stephen McKinley Henderson, who is an absolutely wonderful character actor. He recently had a supporting role on the FX series Devs, but has an impressive big screen filmmography that includes Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, Denzel Washington's Fences, and Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird.

Dr. Wellington Yeuh (Chen Chang) in Dune

Dr. Wellington Yeuh (Chen Chang)

It's hard to get into details about the role played by Dr. Wellington Yeuh without getting into some big spoilers (his situation is... complicated), so we'll just provide the basics here. He too works in service of House Atredies, namely as the family doctor and personal physician of Duke Leto.

The role was played by Dean Stockwell in the David Lynch version, but this time around it will be Taiwanese actor Chen Chang in the role. The blockbuster will be the first time he has starred in a live-action English-language film, though his resume does include doing voice dubs for American animated movies Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas and The Secret Life of Pets.

Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) in Dune

Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster)

We've highlighted the fact that Denis Villeneuve's Dune features multiple stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it also has a few familiar faces from Star Wars as well. In addition to Oscar Isaac, the new adaptation will also star Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who previously played Senator Pamlo in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. That's not her only big sci-fi cred either, as she also did an episode of Doctor Who in 2009.

The British actor will be playing Liet-Kynes in Dune, a character who was written as a man in the original novel. Neither belonging to House Atredies or House Harkonnen, she is a prominent planetologist/ecologist of Arrakis who helps the members of the Atredies family settle into their new home on the desert planet. He has a strong relationship with the Fremon, and is the one who establishes communication between the native people and Duke Leto.

Kyle MacLachlan in Dune 1984

How To Watch Dune (1984) Streaming

As noted earlier, director David Lynch was not incredibly happy with how the first ever big screen adaptation of Dune turned out – but it's a movie that definitely has its fans, and if you're interested in watching it before the new version hits theaters the good news is that's a very easy task to accomplish. 1984's Dune is currently available to stream on HBO Max (opens in new tab), and it's rather hard to imagine the streaming service getting rid of it before Denis Villeneuve's film lands later this year.

We'll continue to update this feature as we get ever closer to the big screen release of Dune, so stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for all of the latest news, updates, movie release dates and opinion!