"As a filmmaker, I've always been attracted by femininity, and in a lot of my movies the main protagonist is female," he says. "Femininity is there in the book, but I thought it should be up front. I said to Eric and Jon, 'We need to make sure that Lady Jessica is not an expensive extra.' She's such a beautiful and complex character."
As played by Ferguson, Jessica has a fierceness and a fighting prowess, along with her Bene Gesserit mental abilities, not always evident in the novel. And while Chani does not appear in the first half of Herbert's book, Villeneuve shifted her into the film through Paul's visions of the future.
In one of the most significant alterations from Herbert's book, the film changes the gender of the character of Liet Kynes, a planetologist with a deep love for Arrakis and the Fremen, from male to female. While Max Von Sydow portrayed the character in Lynch's film, here Kynes is played by British actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
When Spaihts suggested the change during the film's development, Villeneuve immediately jumped at the idea. "I said, 'That's brilliant,' " he says. "Because it doesn't change the nature of the character. It just makes it closer to the world today and more relevant and frankly more interesting."
Villeneuve also gave the character a far more dramatic and cinematic death than in the novel. In the book, Kynes dies alone in a natural underground eruption of gas, called a "spice blow," after being abandoned in the desert. In the film, Kynes is stabbed by a Sardaukar soldier, then summons a sand worm to swallow up both her and her killer — a moment of big-screen visual-effects razzle dazzle accompanied by Hans Zimmer's swelling score.
It is, after all, a movie.
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