French director Denis Villeneuve directed several award-winning feature films with renowned and talented actors. Among them, First Contact with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renners, Prisoners with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, not to mention Blade Runner 2049 with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford which scored no less than 1,226,167 tickets in France when it was released in 2017. This year, the highly anticipated Dune brings the director back to the spotlight: the film is a remake of the classic 1984 one by the same name, and features a dream cast and breathtaking locations in the heart of Arab countries.
The challenge of Dune
Often compared to the Star Wars saga, which impact and pioneering role in the world of cinema no longer needs to be explained, Dune includes several key elements of a sci-fiction book: in fact, we find certain “classic” themes such as interstellar travel, space conquest, war between several clans or peoples, mostly opposing humans with robots or imaginary creatures.
Dune is no exception and treats the conquest of hostile planet Arrakis, the succession and power issues of the Atreides family, as well as the relentless quest for a substance making whoever drinks it immortal and invincible, called Spice.
Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune won the Hugo award the following year, one of the most important honors for science-fiction and fantasy works.
Although its almost indisputable success, and its “sci-fiction classic” status quickly earned, the second adaptation by David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Elephant Man, Twin Peaks…) was a failure, and “a heartbreak” according to its director.
This is one of the reasons why the third adaptation, by Villeneuve, is so anticipated, so highly anticipated but also the potential target of demanding critics. This reason, and the cast too. We see indeed familiar and very popular faces, such as Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, DC Universe…), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Vicky Cristina Barcelona…), and fresher faces, and that we do not get tired of watching on our screens: Zendaya (Malcom & Marie, Euphoria, Spider-Man. ..) and Timothée Chalamet (Call me by your name, The King, Lady Bird…) have repeatedly proven their talent and ensured their place in the film industry.
Shooting in the heart of the Middle East deserts
However, Villeneuve does not wish to rely only on a successful story and an impressive cast. He has expressed his desire to portray human, poignant and authentic characters, and in order to do this, nature must be at the heart of the production. This explains the importance given to sets and locations, which were intended to be natural environments.
“The initial suggestion was to shoot in the desert. It was non-negotiable so that the locations would have an impact on the actors. The idea of putting humans back in their place in the ecosystem was fundamental,” he explains. The director’s vision is special and very useful to understand the whole art of cinema, and how much each element counts.
To do so, Villeneuve reportedly stipulated shooting in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan in particular, as well as in the United Arab Emirates. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, this Jordanian region is made up of canyons, caves with ancient inscriptions that are still visible, natural arches, and is a very popular touristic site. It is also a well-known and popular filming location for its vast, desert-like landscape, which is ideal for sci-fiction and fantasy scenes, as illustrated by Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015) and Prometheus (2012), or J.J.Abrams’ Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
All the elements are thus gathered for a successful production and a beautiful tribute to a milestone of the genre.