Editor’s note:Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series debuts and pays tribute to the screenplays for films that will be factors in this year’s film awards race.
For filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049), the opportunity to bring the famous sci-fi novelist Frank Herbert’s 1965 literary-franchise launch masterpiece Dune that life on the big screen was not only the realization of a long-lasting dream; it was a chance to tell a wealth of film genre stories folded into one.
“To me, Dune is a psychological thriller, a fairy tale, a war movie, a coming-of-age movie. It’s even a love story, ”says Villeneuve. “There’s a reason the book has been on my shelf next to my bed for all those years.”
In fact, Villeneuve became a fan of Herbert’s allegorical, wildly influential opus during a period of formation while growing up in Quebec. “I discovered the book in my teens, and I remember being completely fascinated by its poetry, by what it said about nature – the true protagonist of Dune“, he remembers.” At the time I was studying science, I thought I could become either a filmmaker or a biologist, so the way Frank Herbert approached ecology in the book for me was so fresh, so rich, so poetic , so powerful. His views on nature were absolutely fascinating – all the beautiful ecosystems he created. “
The filmmaker also appreciated the way Herbert used both astute comments from the real world and a classic hero’s journey into the narrative. “His exploration of the impact and chaos caused by colonialism was a portrait of the 20th century that is still relevant today,” he says. “And through all of this was a young man struggling with his identity, trying to find his way in the world, as I did. The way Paul discovers his identity through a different culture was amazing to me.”
Given the freedom to tell the film’s epic story across multiple films, Villeneuve teamed up with screenwriter Jon Spaihts (Dr. Strange, passengers) and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, A Star Is Born), who both shared the director’s long-standing passion for the source material.
“It was one of those books I knew particularly well as a teenager,” Roth says. “I thought the world structure was pretty incredible, and also the glossary – the language – that came from Herbert’s imagination. And an essential element for me was the societal aspect and his view of environmental change. It has all the ingredients that come together to create a wonderful alchemy of storytelling: What happens to the planet Arrakis, father-son and mother-son story lines, the fact that women are very powerful. … It seems modern and suddenly very urgent, and he wrote it in the 60s. “
“This was a chance of a lifetime for me,” Spaihts declares. “I read first Dune for probably 12 or 13 years, and at that age I was struck by it almost like scripture; it felt like one of the most profound things I had read and became one of my annual readings, e.g. Lord of the Rings and a few other central pieces of fiction. I got to know it shockingly well, and a striking experience for me when I was working on the script was that all I really needed to do was start a scene and my brain would just lay out the dialogue. I knew exactly where it went line by line. ”
See the trio’s script below for the film, which stars Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin. Warner Bros. came out this fall and has earned $ 397 million at the global box office.
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