Denis Villeneuve first read Frank Herbert's classic 1965 sci-fi novel "Dune" when he was around 13, and for an impressionable future filmmaker growing up in Quebec, Canada, the book was like an oasis in the desert.
"I became obsessed with it," Villeneuve says. "'Dune' merged with the birth of my love of cinema. It became a book that stayed with me through the years and that I kept beside me."
So when he set about to tackle the dense, philosophical and supposedly unadaptable book, Villeneuve was determined to stay as faithful as he could to Herbert's vision. "My goal was really to make sure that the hardcore fans will find the atmosphere and poetry of the book intact," he says of the highly anticipated $165 million production, now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
That's not to say, though, that Villeneuve and his co-writers, Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, didn't make some changes in translating the nearly 60-year-old novel — which chronicles the battle for dominion of the desert planet of Arrakis and the rise of reluctant messianic figure Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) — for a modern moviegoing audience.
Many of the alternations and omissions were fairly minor. (Sorry, "Dune" nerds — Josh Brolin's troubadour-soldier Gurney Halleck doesn't sing any ballads in this movie.) Others were more significant.
Here, Villeneuve discusses five of the film's biggest deviations from Herbert's novel.
(Warning: plot spoilers ahead for both the original book and new film version of "Dune.")
Less intergalactic politics, more emotional drama
One could very easily get lost in the thicket of names of various political and economic entities, religious orders and galactic organizations referred to throughout Herbert's novel: the Spacing Guild, the Landsraad, various noble houses (major and minor), the High Council, the Imperium, the Bene Gesserit, the CHOAM company, the Missionaria Protectiva. And that's before you even get to the numerous sequels and prequels written by Herbert and later by his son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson that further expand the saga.
While Villeneueve wanted to preserve the novel's vast scope and its exploration of the ways power can be used and abused, he knew that a Hollywood production on the scale of "Dune" needed to be comprehensible to newbies without requiring supplementary homework or endless exposition. While still conveying the broad strokes of the various power players and warring clans, he opted to leave out some of the intricacies of the wider intergalactic landscape in favor of a more focused and viscerally emotional story.