In Dune, part one of acclaimed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s planned two-part sci-fi series, the young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) must not only deal with his emerging ability to envision the future, but also the betrayal and attempted massacre of his family after they move to the planet Arrakis. Paul’s father, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is offered stewardship of the planet, an honour that turns out to be a ruse to stage a coup against the influential family and slaughter them. Arrakis, the only source of the ‘spice’ — a chemical that aids interstellar travel — is inhospitable and deadly, but also home to Fremen natives that shelter Paul and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) after the attempt on their lives. The film, based on the first half of Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name, received 10 nominations at the 94th Academy Awards — Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects. Part 2 covers the second half of the book and is scheduled to be released on October 20, 2023. Now that Part 1 is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, here are 10 things you need to know about it:
Director Denis Villeneuve knew he had cast the right actor for Paul Atreides during the Gom Jabbar scene
In the novel, Paul is subjected to a test in which he is ordered to place his hand inside a box that causes immense physical pain. Should he withdraw his hand too soon, a cyanide-laced needle held to his neck will be used to kill him. The point of the test is to see whether his awareness of the needle overrides the pain of the box. For director Denis Villeneuve, this scene is the moment he knew he cast the right actor as Paul. “When we did the scene—I saw this transformation in Timothée Chalamet,” he told AV Club. “When I saw that power rising into what he brought to the character, I saw with my own eyes Paul Atreides becoming something else. And, when that happened, Timothée didn’t see me, but I was dancing behind the camera. I was like, “Oh, my god, he was so great. He is so powerful. I’m so deeply happy. Thank you, gods of cinema. I didn’t fuck it up; I cast the right Paul Atreides!”
The bagpipes-based score was inspired by Lord Mountbatten’s arrival in India
Director Denis Villeneuve’s reference for the arrival of the Atreides family on Dune was the arrival of Lord Mountbatten in India in 1948. “The only thing that was missing was culture,” he told Time Out Magazine. “I woke up in the middle of the night saying, “I need bagpipes! Where can I get bagpipes?” I deeply loved the idea of a lonely melancholic bagpipe player stepping onto the ground, [sounding a note] and then there’s a whole army of bagpipes answering. When I had this idea I ran to my first AD’s office the next morning and said, “I need bagpipes!” There was a long silence. People thought I was mad but I got (composer) Hans Zimmer’s respect for introducing the bagpipes.’ It was a miracle that he was able to hire 30 or 40 bagpipers in the middle of a pandemic.”
Designers Jacqueline West and Bob Morgan created 2,000 costumes for the film
That’s more than the number of costumes in Star Wars or any other large sci-fi film, Jacqueline West told The Hollywood Reporter last year. One of the Dune novel’s most iconic costumes is the stillsuit, worn in the deserts of Arrakis. The suit functions as a distillation system, converting sweat into potable water through an inbuilt filtration network and helping people survive the harsh climate. West and Morgan created the suit out of five layers of ‘micro-sandwhich’ fabric, “not unlike some of fabric that Under Armour uses to wick water away from the body when football players wear it under their football padding,” West told THR. “We selected a beautiful Japanese fabric that would wick water from the body and then it would kind of cool the body when the moisture hit the air of Jordan, through a mesh system of cotton, nylon and acrylic. When there was a breeze in the desert, there was a cooling effect on the wearer — and the actors said it really worked.”
The Harkonnens’ fighting styles were based on Genghis Khan and the Mongols
Head of fight coordination Roger Yuan told KungFuKingdom.com that the family’s “bestial and sadistic quality” led him to choreograph their fighting style with references to Genghis Khan and the Mongols. “I liken them to the barbarians of old. They’re efficient but they’re not very precise or stylised,” he said. By contrast, the Atreides family is precise and coordinated.
The giant sandworms were based on whales
Aggressive giant sandworms, hundreds of meters in length, tunnel below the sands of Arrakis, attacking anyone that tries to harvest the spice created by their larvae. Harvesting has thus been refined to an art, with the workers having determined methods to predict sandworm attacks and be airlifted to safety in advance. The worms are also worshiped as gods by the local Fremen population. Director Denis Villeneuve wanted the worm to look like a “prehistoric creature, something that had been living and evolving for 1,00,000 years,” he told Vulture.com. “We had the idea that it would be a bit like a whale: It would need some kind of filter system to be able to capture nutrients in the sand — this idea of the baleen…It also allowed me to create this idea that when you look into a worm’s mouth, it looks like an eye. It has this feeling of the presence of a god.”
The sound designers created 3,200 new sounds for the film
Dune’s ornithopters are helicopters designed to look like giant dragonflies. To create the sound of their wings, sound designers Theo Green and Mark Mangini combined the sounds of a cat purring, a tent-strap flapping in high-velocity wind, and the wings of a large beetle fluttering. They told EnGadget that since they decided not to work with pre-existing sounds, they had to record a beetle in a quiet room. The sound of the sandworms swallowing the spice harvesting machines incorporated the sounds of Mangini semi-swallowing a microphone.
The production team used Google Earth to look for locations resembling Arrakis
Production designer Patrice Vermette told the New York Times that they looked at countries such as Iran, Chad, Mauritania, Libya, but ran into logistical difficulties. While Wadi Rum had the rock formations they required, it lacked dunes. Ultimately, his team collected sand samples from Jordan in water bottles so they could match the colour to other locations, which resulted in them finalising the Rub’ Al Khali desert in Abu Dhabi.
Stellan Skarsgård spent eight hours in the makeup chair everyday
To play antagonist Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the scheming head of House Harkonnen who plots Duke Leto’s death, actor Stellan Skarsgard had to spend at least eight hours in the makeup chair everyday. The process involved gluing seven prosthetic pieces — cheeks, jowls, a silicone bald cap, eyebrow covers, hands, feet and ankles — to the actor and then painting them. Makeup artist Donald Mowat described a scene in which The Baron bathes in black oil as a real “white-knuckle moment” to TheCredits.com. “The bathtub posed an issue, because somebody said, ‘We’re going to put him in a black oil’. I’m like, ‘What the hell is the black oil going to be?’ Wasn’t that going to take a lot of the makeup off? A release agent in the oil would take most prosthetic makeup off,” he said. “Also, the suit is buoyant. It’s a foam fat suit. We had to destroy a suit by poking holes in it to make it sink. That was a moment that was not my favorite, but of course, we got through it.” The foam suit weighed 20 pounds.
Composer Hans Zimmer lived in the Utah desert alone for a week to assimilate the sounds into his score
“I actually went into the desert,” the composer told Variety. “There was a moment when I disappeared into Monument Valley and the desert in Utah and Arizona to check the veracity of my ideas. How does the wind howl through the rocks? How does the sand grit in your teeth? It’s just vastness and endlessness.”
The simulations of moving sand were based on rippling water
Evidence of the sandworms tunneling close to the surface of Arrakis is visible in the form of ‘wormsign’ or ripples on the dunes. To achieve that effect, visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert originally thought of placing explosives beneath the sand to convey the massive displacement of material a creature of that size could create, before realising that “in the Middle East it’s probably not the best thing to be doing that.” He told Wired.com that he instead looked at the movements of water to create a software that would simulate rippling sand.
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