Denis Villeneuve on ‘Dune’: “I stayed away from the David Lynch movie”

How do you escape the shadow of sci-fi's biggest ever flop? We asked the man who's trying

Often described as The Lord Of The Rings of sci-fi, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a sprawling 1965 novel stuffed with scary witches, mythical spice and gigantic sandworms. Reading it is akin to spinning round in circles really fast and trying to make sense of a Picasso. It’s certainly too wacky to put on film – just ask David Lynch, whose 1984 movie flopped miserably and has haunted him ever since.

Yet acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, whose new, epic version hits UK cinemas tomorrow, thinks he can do better. We met him to find out why…

Hi Denis, now that Dune‘s been out in the world for a bit is there an update on part two?

“I think that there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the reaction that we’ve got so far, but it’s my understanding that [the producers] want to wait and see the overall reaction before making a decision. I’m pretty optimistic.”

That’s great news! How come you didn’t tease the next film in a post-credits scene?

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“I don’t like post-credits scenes. There is a very specific final emotion that I was looking for with the final frame and I didn’t want to mess with that. So no, I don’t use post-credits scenes. I’ve never done that and I would never.”

Jason Momoa’s been saying he wants the ‘Villeneuve Cut’, which is apparently four to six hours long?

“I love Jason but such a thing doesn’t exist! The Director’s Cut is what people are watching in theatres right now. There will be no other cut. Yes I could have made a much longer, more contemplative movie, but that was not the plan.”

Someone should let Jason know, he thinks they’re holding you hostage…

“It doesn’t exist!”

Dune is set in this world of men but the women are pulling the strings behind the scenes – why did you want to focus on this dynamic in your version?

“When Eric Roth started [writing] the adaptation, he asked me: ‘What is the key to your Dune?’ and I said ‘women’. If we put the emphasis on the female characters, if we bring Lady Jessica and the Bene Gesserit to the front of the story then I thought it would be more interesting. And I was right. I think it is definitely my favourite aspect of the whole film and it creates a nice equilibrium with the masculinity that is prevalent in the book.”

Dune
Rebecca Ferguson plays Paul Atreides’ psychically powerful mother, Lady Jessica. CREDIT: Warner Bros.

What makes a real-world location suitable for sci-fi?

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“One of my favourite parts of the film process is scouting. There is nothing like going by myself to different locations and looking for those magical moments when you find something that is so close to what you had in mind – or sometimes beautiful surprises that are even better than what you had expected. But for space it needs to look otherworldly, like the deserts [around Abu Dhabi] where we shot Arrakis. They looked alien.”

David Lynch’s 1984 version of Dune is super famous – did you get his advice?

“I never had the chance to talk to Mr Lynch. I would love to. I don’t think he’d be interested to talk about Dune though. I don’t think he had a positive experience… He’s a master – one of the best filmmakers of all time and I have massive respect for him, even though I wanted to bring a different sensibility to my version. I tried to stay away from anything that was linked with the Lynch movie.”

So there’s no Sting cameo in your movie, not even a codpiece?

“That never occurred to me, no!”

David Lynch's Dune
Sting as Feyd-Rautha in ‘Dune’. CREDIT: Alamy

You’re a big music fan though, and Radiohead often pop up in your movies – what makes their music so cinematic?

“They have a profound melancholia that deeply touches me. Radiohead are by far my favourite band. I’m not someone that tends to put music that I love in my movies. I hate that, but I made an exception with Radiohead. I wrote Incendies listening to Radiohead non-stop and their songs were embedded in the screenplay itself.”

Johnny Greenwood scores films, could you collaborate?

“He’s a genius. I never had the chance to meet [Radiohead] or to work with any of them, or compose a score, but that would be a crazy exciting thing. I would love to have the chance to work with them.”

Can you tell me anything about the Dune TV series you’re working on?

“It’s a work in progress right now. It’s going to focus on the Bene Gesserit sisters. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think it’s a very promising and exciting project and I can’t wait for it to see the light of day.”

Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ is in UK cinemas from October 21

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