Timothée Chalamet remembers the darkness. It was the summer of 2019, and the cast and crew of Dune had ventured deep into the sandstone and granite canyons of southern Jordan, leaving in the middle of the night so they could catch the dawn on camera. The light spilling over the chasms gave the landscape an otherworldly feel. It was what they had come for.
They were on a deadly, dust-dry battleground planet called Arrakis. In Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 sci-fi novel, Arrakis is the only known location of the galaxy’s most vital resource, the mind-altering, time-and-space-warping “spice.” In the new film adaptation, directed by Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 filmmaker Denis Villeneuve,
Chalamet stars as the young royal Paul Atreides, the proverbial stranger in a very strange land, who’s fighting to protect this hostile new home even as it threatens to destroy him. Humans are the aliens on Arrakis. The dominant species on that world are immense, voracious sandworms that burrow through the barren drifts like subterranean dragons.
It wouldn’t be Dune if it were easy. Herbert’s novel became a sci-fi touchstone in the 1960s, heralded for its world-building and ecological subtext, as well as its intricate (some say impenetrable) plot focusing on two families struggling for supremacy over Arrakis. The book created ripples that many see in everything from Star Wars to Alien to Game of Thrones.
Still, for decades, the novel itself has defied adaptation. In the ’70s, the wild man experimental filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky mounted a quest to film it, but Hollywood considered the project too risky. David Lynch brought Dune to the big screen in a 1984 feature, but it was derided as an incomprehensible mess and a blight on his filmography. In 2000, a Dune miniseries on what’s now the SyFy channel became a hit for the cable network, but it is now only dimly remembered.