Inside the epic world of Dune

Denis Villeneuve’s adaption of cult sci-fi novel Dune is a masterclass in world-building. We speak to the film’s production designer Patrice Vermette about helping the director bring his intergalactic vision to life

First published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s seminal novel Dune is considered by many to be the greatest novel in the science fiction canon, having sold millions of copies around the world over the last five decades. Some even claim that one of the highest grossing film franchises in existence, Star Wars, couldn’t exist without it. Dune’s crossover into the realm of film and television has been less fruitful, however. Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tried and failed to bring the book to the silver screen in the 70s, David Lynch’s 1984 version was widely dismissed as a dud by critics and fans alike, while a TV miniseries that aired in 2000 appears to have since turned to dust.

Denis Villeneuve, the French-Canadian director behind Blade Runner 2049, is hoping to break the so-called ‘curse of Dune’ with his new adaption of the book. Costing a mammoth $165 million and taking three a half years to make, the film comes with a star-studded cast, including Timothée Chalamet playing Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani, along with otherworldly cinematography by Greig Fraser and a thrumming score by none other than Hans Zimmer.

Top and above: Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides and Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. Photo by Chiabella James. All images © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Focusing on the first half of the novel (the second instalment of the film has just been confirmed), the story opens with the emperor of a feuding intergalactic empire granting the House of Atreides stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. The planet is the source of a magical substance called spice, which is relied on for extending life and fueling space travel across the rest of the empire. But it is also home to vast deadly worms that can rise up from the sand dunes at any moment, and an oppressed people – the Fremen – who see the spice harvesters as exploiters.