Denis Villeneuve on Dune’s Current Status in the Editing Room

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is still scheduled to hit theaters later this year on December 18th—provided theaters are open at that point in time. The director recently appeared at 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival and in a series of videos (thanks to DuneInfo), he provided a wide range of updates about the film’s cast, shooting, and editing.

Amidst the biggest updates that he provided was an insight into the current status of the film. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, theaters around the world have been closed, which has prompted studios to delay releasing films in to theaters. Warner Bros., the studio behind Dune, has already shifted some of its heavy-hitting blockbusters several times this summer, including Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, The Matrix 4, and others. But Dune has remained steadfast in its release slot, presumably with the hope that it’ll be safe to reenter theaters this winter.

In one video—interviewed by his wife, Tanya Lapointe—Villeneuve outlined his attraction to the first novel, and how he came to direct it. “I read Dune when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old,” he explained. “I came in contact with the book by coincidence. I remember the first time I saw the cover in the library at the time, I was a teenager that deeply loved reading books. I was reading a lot and was always looking for new material, and at the time I was very good in science, and I was starting to be more and more curious and more and more amazed by science fiction.”

The book made him think deeper about politics, natural resources, and the environment, and it became his “favorite book at the time. I fell in love and it stayed with me through the years.”

As he became a filmmaker, he knew that he wanted to adapt the book someday as a film. Early in his career, science fiction was “out of reach” but once his star began to rise in Hollywood, the budgets grew and “people kept asking me ‘what will be your top dream project?'” He told them that he wanted to break into science fiction and ultimately, to film Dune. As soon as Legendary got the rights, they called him to ask if he wanted to direct.

“It was probably the shortest meeting I’ve had in my life, and we just said ‘should we make Dune together?’ And the answer was ‘yes, let’s do it.'”

Villeneuve said that the project has been one of the most challenging of his career, and that above all, he wanted to shoot the movie in real locations, rather than a green screen. He outlined that his take was that computers are excellent tools for filmmakers, and that it makes complicated technical tasks very easy.

“Now the danger of it is that personally, I feel that at the end of the day, the soul of the movie is the words and the actors, and that in order to get the best out of it, you need the actors to be inspired, and to be inspired, a certain amount of reality is needed.”

He pointed to the inspiration that comes from working on physical sets—like the way light hits off of a table or the position of items on the set—as a powerful thing for filmmakers to remain creative. “On Dune, we created those insane sets — they were huge — but we needed to think about it, we created a whole planet, and we need some food to be able to create that and I think that these environments were helpful… [at] the core, the elements around the actors needs to be real.”

In another video, Villeneuve notes that he’s been able to work on the film remotely, supervising the film’s special effects work and editing the footage.

But, he notes, it has been a challenge.

“I thought that it would be possible to edit at [a] distance, my editors sharing with computers, being far from one to the other, but I realize how much editing is like playing music with someone and you need to be in the same room.”

Villeneuve also went on to talk about casting and a number of the actors in the film: Timothée Chalamet was his first and only choice to play Paul Atreides; that Rebecca Ferguson was an actress who could portray complex, layered characters; that Oscar Isaac totally fits the description of Duke Leto; he chose Jason Momoa for his “bohemian relationship with adventure and his elegance on screen”; Chen Chang is an actor that he’s followed for decades, and is one of his favorites; that he wanted to work with Josh Brolin—who he worked with in Sicario—again, describing him as a “fighter, and grouchy poet”; and that with Stephen McKinley Henderson, “I wanted an actor with a lot of intelligence in the eyes, but who was also a teddy bear.”

You can watch the entire, hour-long interview here.

Dune is still slated for its December 18th release. Hopefully, it’ll remain on track.

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