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Analyzing the new “Dune” photos from Empire Magazine

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(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Last month Vanity Fair gave the world a long-awaited first look at Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” which gave me enough of an excuse to go full fanboy and break it all down for you.

While the anticipation for footage is now at an all-time high, Warner Bros. most recent sneak peek has come in the form of a spread in Empire Magazine. So, I’m back again to give a quick analysis of the two new set photographs, as well as a deep dive into the loaded interview with Villeneuve.

First up, a brand new look at both Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), who are both sporting their stillsuits. This outerwear is the customary outfit of the Fremen, the native dwellers of Arrakis. Let me just say, I’m still really loving the designs here. They look very functional with lots of different pockets for water, plus there’s protective padding on the knees, groin, shoulders and hands. Both men also have their masks dangling from their neck, exposing their faces to the camera. 

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Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck and Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in “Dune.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

For the more seasoned “Dune” fans, the vehicle they’re boarding and the scene taking place here is pretty obvious. This is the ramp of an ornithopter, the most popular vehicle for air travel in this universe. We can see large, never-ending sand dunes in the background, which suggests this is the deep desert of Arrakis. This is sure to be one of the film’s most intense and action-packed scenes, and there are already clear changes from how it plays out in the novel, which seem to allow Gurney and Paul to have more involvement. Personally, I think that’s a wise choice, considering it will allow audiences to be more engaged with the characters and story. 

Set photographer Chiabella James posted the image on Instagram with the caption: “I knew how special this image was when I made it. The kind of photo that puts me in a good mood for the whole week! Loved watching @joshbrolin and @tchalamet (and @greigfraser_dp) taking off in this shot. I don’t know if the photo even does justice to how epic it looked!!”

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Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in “Dune.” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Next, we have Paul crouched in a defensive position and holding what appears to be two blades – one in each hand. The interior is fairly dark and seems to be made entirely of wood, with ornate carvings adorning the walls and boards making up the floor. A wooden table sits in the background with a few items on top. Paul is wearing a white shirt and dark green Atreides trousers. After inspection, all signs point to this taking place on Caladan. 

Again, book readers can pretty easily figure out which scene this is. It appears to be one of the film’s earliest scenes, in which Paul fits in one last training session with Gurney before the family’s move to Arrakis. Again, I love the costuming for this film, particularly how the dark green is still being implemented here as one of the Atreides colors, which is faithful to the novel. The shirt Paul is wearing has an unbuttoned collar folded down, which appears to be the same style of shirt Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) can be seen wearing in his solo image released last month. The wall carvings are done in a Greek style and might depict previous Atreides family members. Once again, this is very true to the book, as the Atreides are described to be direct descendants of King Atreus of Ancient Greece. 

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Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in “Dune.” (Chiabella James/Vanity Fair)

That’s all good and well, but the one detail in this image that has stirred up the most buzz is the small device on the back of Paul’s left hand – a metallic covering featuring a glowing light. This is most likely a shield generator, a key defensive mechanism in the world of “Dune.” This same device can be seen on the back of Paul’s hand in the previous image, as well on the hands of Gurney and Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) in the Vanity Fair images. The shields were previously depicted in the 1984 adaptation, although the effects were poorly designed and have not aged well. It will be very interesting to see how Villeneuve and his team tackled this challenge for their iteration of this world.

Beyond the photos, the magazine’s article provides some great insight to Villeneuve’s creative process when making the film. It’s widely known that Villeneuve first read “Dune” as a child, and that it remains his favorite novel. In the Empire spread, the director talks a little more about how the story and the character of Paul connected with him.

“…most of all he connected to its young hero, not much older than Villeneuve himself at the time, and that connection lingered. So when he was asked what he would adapt for the screen if money were no object, ‘My answer was definitely DUNE.’”

More details have surfaced about the film’s production process, including the lengths they went to in order to film on location and truly immerse the cast and crew in the story. The Caladan scenes were filmed in Norway to replicate the lush, oceanic world, but the desert was a whole new level of difficulty. 

“To make his dream project a reality, Villeneuve had one condition: he wanted to shoot in real deserts on real locations, no studios. ‘I said to them, they didn’t make Jaws in the swimming pool.’ That meant scouring the planet for the huge, sandy dunes of Arrakis’ deep desert (found in Abu Dhabi) and the dry, rocky wastes closer to that planet’s human settlements (found in Jordan).” 

Villeneuve said that filming on location sometimes felt “like a microwave” and the crew “often had trouble standing up in the fierce winds.” Ironically enough, some of the most recent “Star Wars” films also used these locations. “The Force Awakens” created Jakku in Abu Dhabi, while “Rogue One” and “The Rise of Skywalker” both shot in Jordan’s Wadi Rum.

Finally, and maybe most exciting, Villeneuve went into detail about his thought process for creating his take on Arrakis’ iconic and deadly sandworms. According to Empire, the worms can grow bigger than the Empire State Building, and Villeneuve and production designer Patrice Vermette (“Sicario,” “Arrival”) “took their cues from Frank Herbert, who created a whole ecosystem around them. ‘We talked about every little detail that would make such a beast possible, from the texture of the skin to the way the mouth opens to the system to eat its food in the sand. It was a year of work to design and to find the perfect shape that looked prehistoric enough.’” 

If that doesn’t get your spice flowing, I don’t know what will.

For more “Dune” updates, follow Johnny on Twitter @JohnnySobczak.

Johnny Sobczak View All

Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."

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