“Frankly, my dream was to make a movie without a single line, no words,” reveals Denis Villeneuve. His latest film, an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is a dream he has maintained since he first read the science-fiction classic as a teenager. Though a word-less movie was not in the cards, the writer/director packs his epic space opera with intense visual storytelling. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“There’s something about the way I read the book when I was 13 years old,” remembers Villeneuve. He describes a “visceral reading” of the tale of two great families warring over a planet and its coveted material: spice. He identified closely with Paul Atreides, the central figure of the story, played by Timothee Chalamet in the film.
The opportunity to finally carry out a dream project can also yield trepidation, however. “Right at the beginning, the big question was: is it a good idea?” says Villeneuve. “Will I fail the part of myself that read the book in my youth?” Though adapting this dense of a novel is a difficult task in almost every sense, Villeneuve’s own internal expectations were the biggest source of pressure. Ultimately, he believes he succeeded in translating his vision to the screen, even if time has changed certain elements. Many moments “feel very close to what I had envisioned,” he reveals, “overall I’m very happy.”
It’s unlikely that Villenueve would have come to this happy result had he not made his own great sci-fi epics prior to “Dune.” He earned Oscar and BAFTA nominations for “Arrival” before tackling “Blade Runner 2049,” a follow up to Ridley Scott’s seminal film, and snatched another BAFTA nomination. Those films taught him that “the most important thing is the intimacy that lives between the protagonist and the camera.” No matter how grand the story or action is, he reveals that “you have to focus on the human adventure.” For this reason, Villeneuve incorporates some existential issue for the main character which viewers can connect with on a subconscious level.
Villeneuve draws audiences into this complex alien world politics, mysticism, and giant sandworms with surprisingly sparse monologuing. “I hate exposition,” he quips. “I like characters that are telling stories on screen.” Those stories frequently are told with more than just the spoken lines, such as a scene between Paul and his father Leto (Oscar Isaac) which does not appear in the book. The conversation circles around the topic of heritage, but the graveyard filled with massive monuments which serve as the setting for this scene, tell a grander tale. The family must leave behind their homeworld where they are revered as legends and head for a new planet where their name and history will mean nothing. Villenueve explains his goal was to express the story “in the very DNA of the environment. So that a fan of the book could recognize the world. And those who knew nothing about this world, would feel it.”
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