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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!
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 that has changed.
Warner Bros. and Legendary have announced that the plan is to have Dune in theaters on November 20, 2020. Currently it's the only film scheduled for that particular weekend, but at the same time it is typically a dangerously crowded time of year. Other notable November 2020 releases include a new film from Marvel Studios, an untitled Universal Pictures event film, and whatever winds up being Walt Disney Animation's follow-up to Frozen 2.
What Is Dune’s Rating?
Movies aren’t actually given an official rating until just a couple months before their release, as the films actually need to be screened in their entirety by the Motion Picture Association of America in order to be graded. At the same time, however, there are many films that go into production declaring what the intended rating is going to be. Unfortunately, the new Dune is not one of these films.
Nobody from the production has said what the plan is when it comes to Dune’s rating, and it really could be either PG-13 or R – it simply depends on the vision bringing it to life. Most of Denis Villeneuve’s filmography consists of R-rated movies, but he has dabbled in PG-13. For what it’s worth, the David Lynch version from 1984 was PG-13, and one can imagine the new take ultimately leaning that way.
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, it’s been said on the record that the 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.
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.
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 (as she stars in the upcoming Men In Black: International). She also recently completed work on Doctor Sleep, which is the Mike Flanagan-directed adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining.
Duke Leto Atreides
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 will be filming Dune as his first movie since 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 set.
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 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, given that she is his future wife and the mother of his child. 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 it looks like she will be spending time between making Spider-Man movies working on 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.
There are still many notable parts left to cast in Dune - including Thufir Hawat, Dr. Yeuh, Feyd Rautha, and Dr. Kynes – but it’s only a matter of time before we learn about who will be playing those roles. For all the latest updates, keep checking this page!
Piter De Vries
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.