‘Dune’ first look: Denis Villeneuve ditches alien monsters for epic steampunk look

Written by Staff Writer by Nic Brown, CNN This story first appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of CNN. Luli Krall’s iconic “Vidi Va Va Docile” symphony is sweeping over arctic landscapes, blowing the…

'Dune' first look: Denis Villeneuve ditches alien monsters for epic steampunk look

Written by Staff Writer by Nic Brown, CNN

This story first appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of CNN.

Luli Krall’s iconic “Vidi Va Va Docile” symphony is sweeping over arctic landscapes, blowing the coiffure of a steampunk-inspired Nicola Tesla (Colin Morgan) free to shed the bandage bandages that kept him afloat as he awaited an impending hypothermia.

On the twin beaches of the planet Arrakis, fearsome warlords (Game of Thrones alum Wil Hempstead Wright) struggle to control the precious substance methanol, and Caladrius Linus (Michael Fassbender) in final preparations to fight in the epic sojourn’s crowded jousting arena.

Set 70 years before Paul Atreides’ (Hugh Laurie) initial starship exodus, “Dune” is one of science fiction’s seminal sagas. In 2000, visionary director Frank Herbert’s classic novel was presented to the screen in David Lynch’s robust, otherworldly interpretation, with many longtime fans rejoicing in his cinematic touches to the material. It remains one of the directors most beloved movies.

What is new — beyond the hyper-authentic couture fashions — is the lack of alien monsters, laser pistols, and space marines. The director of the new production, Denis Villeneuve, has chosen to modernize the story with a sci-fi-tinged retelling.

A new cast, set pieces, characterizations, and references to today exist, but the lasting effect will be the filmmaker’s ability to make it feel as if they have taken listeners on a voyage through the stars, without abandoning the book’s signature obsidian palette or complex backstory.

The new film “Dune” has sweeping arctic visuals. Credit: Cohen Media Group/Rex/Shutterstock

The film’s multi-cultural cast includes an extraterrestrial bounty hunter, a bodybuilder women’s champion, and a young Mexican-American couple grappling with marital issues, all filmed at Pinewood Studios in Britain, and flanked by striking, multi-million-dollar sets of the expansive steppes.

The vision this film brings to Dune is the same as Herbert’s original 1951 screenplay — and any new film versions that have been made since then — a vision that recognizes the strength of the multi-layered, philosophical exploration of its cast of characters, and embraces some of the story’s many ambiguities.

In its incarnation as an epic text, Herbert has always left room for updating with cinema’s innovative visual language — something that goes beyond its stark futuristic aesthetic, but would have been impossible without it.

“Film is the first thing we can do with it,” Herbert once said. “Everything else will look more or less like art, but the experience of the screen will be much different than any other. In a sense it will be as new as it is challenging.”

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