Producing a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel “Dune” is a hill more than one auteur has died on. Alejandro Jodorowsky tried it. His cast included Orson Welles and Salvador Dali, a soundtrack by Pink Floyd, and production design by the artist H.R. Geiger.
But that movie never got made.
David Lynch managed to actually make his “Dune” adaptation. It had Sting, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, and full studio backing. Upon release, it as panned by critics and was a commercial flop. The film was so truncated and confusing that Lynch demanded his name be taken off the extended release.
Then the Sci-Fi channel put together a solidly written and acted TV miniseries but was hamstrung by the medium, and the budget made the final product feel closer to a community theater production that a grand space opera.
But now it’s director Denis Villeneuve’s turn. After his success with big-budget science fiction like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, and his incredible smaller budget films like Sicario, Enemy and Prisoners, he’s taking a stab at the tricky property. And we have to admit, given his repertoire and skill…we’re pretty hyped about this go at what is frequently cited as an “unfilmable” book.
While he’s been somewhat tight-lipped about his pre-production process, we’re looking at an absolute dream of a cast for this Dune movie.
The level of talent is unparalleled for a science fiction picture
Up until the last few months, the biggest piece of casting news was that indie wunderkind Timothée Chalamet had been tapped to play the lead character, Paul Atreides. The 23-year-old has an Oscar nomination under his belt and an impressive list of credits in well-regarded art-house movies, but relatively little leading man experience. This is an excellent chance for him to show his remarkable talents on a much bigger stage.
Opposite Chalamet will be prolific character-actor Stellan Skarsgård as the nefarious Baron Harkonnen. Unlike Chalamet, Skarsgård has plenty of experience in huge epics. He has almost 150 screen credits (!) and has played supporting roles in Marvel movies, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and the blockbuster Mama Mia! musicals. Despite his blockbuster screen cred, he’s still not exactly a household name. Many of his credits are supporting roles in independent and Swedish pictures. His presence adds a highly-respected veteran gravitas to the film
Villeneuve has grabbed Oscar bait-y performers for the supporting roles as well. Rebecca Ferguson, Javier Bardem, and Charlotte Rampling are all attached to roles in this adaption. The list of awards that trio has won would be longer than this article. What’s interesting about these performers is that they are cast in relatively minor roles, the kind of roles that are often filled with less well-known or less capable actors. Villeneuve is clearly not leaving anything to chance.
The blockbuster names are also being brought to the table
The cast isn’t all awards-season perennial contenders. Big blockbuster names like Oscar Issac and Zendaya have added some mass-market appeal by accepting parts. Most recently, Guardian of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista was cast as—get this—a physically intimidating but less-than-smart villain. Bautista had an affecting but thankless minor role in Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 that demonstrated his capabilities as an actor under strong direction.
Two major names also signed to the production this week. Josh Brolin, the man behind Thanos, Cable, and dozens of other fantastic characters, is now on board. Much of Brolin’s background is in more prestige pictures and he’s one of the best actors working today, but recently his credits are drifting towards the blockbuster end of the spectrum. He’s shifted from Milk to Men in Black.
This final name could mean a Dune cinematic universe
Finally, Jason Momoa inked a deal for a role late last week. This is especially notable because the role he signed for is very small in the first Dune novel. The character, Duncan Idaho, is a bodyguard for the main characters. In the later novels, however, Idaho becomes an crucial central character. In fact, he is one of the only characters to appear in all of the Dune books, as he keeps getting cloned far into the future. A big name like Jason Momoa sets the stage for a potential franchise. He could be the anchor in a larger Dune universe if the first movie is successful.
The hype is building and new casting announcements are being made weekly, so fast we almost can’t keep up. Villeneuve is working against historically long odds, but he has a few prominent supporters.
That’s “Dune” author Frank Herbert’s son approving of the latest screenplay draft. And that is a very good first sign.