‘Dune’ editor Joe Walker on cutting the sci-fi epic: ‘It was all about rhythm’

“The whole project for me was all about rhythm,” explains Oscar-nominated editor Joe Walker of the new film “Dune.” It’s Walker’s fourth collaboration with director Denis Villeneuve, and arguably their most epic film to date. Though there is a massive and dense story at the heart of “Dune,” Walker says the creative team operated “like a well rehearsed band” in order to make it sing. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

Walker reveals that he sees editors as “the still point of a turning world.” He is orchestrating the rhythm and flow of the story, performances, score, sound, and the cuts themselves. All these elements must come together in harmony in the cutting room.

SEE Christopher Nolan raves about Best Director contender Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’

Many filmgoers would associate the art of editing with fast-paced action sequences. Like any sci-fi epic worthy of the big screen, “Dune” has plenty of those. But this story, and Walker’s work, is about more than just action. “‘Dune’ in editorial terms, feels very much like picking up where we left off with ‘Arrival,’” notes Walker. Like that film, a central element of “Dune” is the movie’s ability to get inside the mind of its characters.

A prime example of this nuanced editing occurs when Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) attempts to use “The Voice” (a powerful telepathic command). The room goes quiet as the thumping sound cue for The Voice is heard. But Walker cuts away from Chalamet, the camera conveying serenity in the room as it lands on windchimes and paintings, and the voice is heard later. “It sort of suggests that Paul isn’t in command of it in the beginning,” explains Walker. Compare that to Charlotte Rampling’s expert psychic command as the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother: “It’s fast. It’s aggressive.”

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More complex sequences are often storyboarded in a production this large, but Walker says “those previz don’t necessarily have time quite correct.” It’s his job to take the needed shots and tease them out when the rhythm of the storytelling needs it. He gives an example of extending a shot through a binocular lens looking out over the sand of the planet Arrakis. The audience can’t see beyond the binocular lens and tension builds the longer the view is confined, before a sandworm ultimately crashes through the sand. “The editor’s job is to inject time,” states Walker.

Joe Walker is a two-time Oscar nominee for “12 Years a Slave” and “Arrival.” Those two films also scored him BAFTA nominations, with that British awards body also nominating him for “Blade Runner 2049.”

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