Denis Villeneuve joked that wrangling Timothée Chalamet’s infamous hairdo, which he claimed was “alive”, was the biggest challenge he faced delivering Frank Herbert’s Dune to the screen. The movie premieres Friday night at the Venice Film Festival, and Villeneuve and his cast assembled earlier in the day for the film’s official press conference. “I had to direct Timothée and I had to direct his haircut,” the director laughed.
More seriously, the director also reiterated his desire that audiences see his adaptation of Dune on the biggest screen possible, continuing his stance against the movie’s streaming release on HBO Max. Warner Bros. will release the movie simultaneously in theaters and on streaming in October.
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“I encourage people to see it on the big screen,” Villeneuve said, without a specific question prompting it. “It has been dreamed, designed, and shot thinking about IMAX. When you watch this movie on the big screen, it’s almost a physical experience. We designed the movie to be as immersive as possible, and for me, the big screen is part of the language.”
Chalamet told Deadline earlier this week that he set up a Google alert when he heard Villeneuve was making the movie and campaigned strongly to play Paul Atreides. At today’s press conference he was asked how much he had considered Kyle MacLachlan’s performance in the part in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the book. “I have huge respect for Kyle’s performance and I love that version,” Chalamet said. “I watched it two months before we started shooting. [But] when Denis asks you to do a movie and do his version of a movie, you forget all about it and make yourself as humble as the source material asks you to be.”
Villeneuve and Javier Bardem both spoke about the book’s environmental themes, with Bardem noting that Frank Herbert was “ahead of his time” when he tackled the notion of an unlivable planet in 1965. “It’s happening as we speak, which is kind of scary. It’s on governments and big corporations to find the solution to make a big step ahead and change our minds about how we behave in this world.”
Added Villeneuve of Dune‘s other themes: “The book is far more relevant today about the danger of the cross mix between religion and politics. The danger of messianic figures. The impact of colonialism. The problems with the environment. This book stayed with me through the years but it just felt more and more relevant through time. I think it’s time to push and make changes. I still have hope and I think it’s time to get into action.”
Chalamet called taking on the role “the honor of a lifetime” and it was a sentiment expressed too by co-star Zendaya. “I was extremely intimidated because there are so many people here I admire,” she said of her fellow panelists, which also included Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson. “Denis is an extraordinary filmmaker, so stepping into that I was like, ‘I don’t have much time, and there are so many people I have to be able to stand next to.’ I was only there for a few days but I felt I had become very quickly a part of a family.”
Brolin was asked whether he was the ‘class clown’ on set, as Chalamet and others have intimated. “Josh is not allowed to speak,” joked Villeneuve. “I think I was on set as Denis’s friend and I was somehow worked into the movie,” Brolin opined anyway. “I haven’t read the book so I don’t know if the character’s even in the book, but I’m paid to make people laugh, apparently, even in dramas.”
Echoing his co-stars’ reverence for Villeneuve’s deft adaptation, Brolin said he wondered whether Frank Herbert would be proud of the movie. “I think he intended something very powerful, and when I saw the movie, that’s what I saw,” he said.
This evening’s premiere at the Sala Grande will be subject to the usual red carpet blockage, with a large wall erected to keep fans away. But this afternoon’s press activity for the movie suggested one eternal truth: stans always find a way. Throngs of onlookers occupied every possible vantage point in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Dune cast, outside both the Excelsior hotel and casino ports where stars arrive on the Lido. They waited patiently for their quarry as, nearby, the movie played at the second of its morning press screenings at the Sala Darsena. The sound of the throbbing bass and of Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score could be heard (and felt) clearly from streets away.
In a break from the norm, press and industry attending those screenings were asked to deposit their phones into sealable plastic bags on entry, and not remove them during the performances. It was an added security measure requested by Warner Bros., though it led to some bemused delegates, who had opted to rely on the festival’s mobile ticketing, struggling to locate their seats.