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Denis Villeneuve Breaks Down His Biggest, Most Intense Scenes From Dune And More

by : Cameron Frew on : 26 Oct 2021 15:51

Spoiler warning for Dune

Denis Villeneuve Breaks Down His Biggest, Most Intense Scenes From Dune And MoreWarner Bros.

Denis Villeneuve is a modern-day movie master. To mark Dune‘s release, these are some of his best scenes, broken down by the man himself. 

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I’ll always remember my first Villeneuve joint: 2013’s Prisoners. Hugh Jackman’s blistering fury in the trailer hooked me before I’d even seen the movie. Blade Runner 2049 was a comparable experience; I don’t think I’ve felt anything close to that big-screen euphoria since. It’s a memory that’ll never be lost in time.

Dune, the filmmaker’s latest monster, is the most epic spectacle to grace cinemas since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes, the MCU has more than a decade of storytelling and galaxy-wide scale to boot – but in terms of robust, physical storytelling and lore dying to be explored, Dune is ‘just the beginning’ of a grander obsession.

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As well as sitting down with the entire cast to chat about starring in the year’s biggest blockbuster, Villeneuve took some time to discuss two of Dune‘s best scenes, as well as others – aka, my favourites – from his filmography.

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Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson being chased by the Sand Worm in Dune

Dune. (Warner Bros.)Warner Bros.

Denis: I wanted the encounter with the Sand Worm not to be like a monster movie moment. It was very important that this moment would go from horror to spiritual, when Paul Atreides (Chalamet) is in front of the worm, there will be a feeling of two beings that can’t understand each other but there’ll be some meeting between them, and there’s some kind of spiritual quality to it.

The worm wasn’t to be a raging monster, but more like a living animal that’s not necessarily a predator but also a beast that is there to protect his territory. The worms don’t like that you’re messing with the spice.

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The Sand Worm in Dune. (Warner Bros.)Warner Bros.

I worked hard on this idea and how to present this form and how to bring a feeling of a god-like presence. I was thinking about the fact that as Paul faces the worm, we’ll know later that the Fremen were looking at him; this idea of having the boy and this gigantic beast having this face-to-face moment, it’ll be remembered later as an iconic moment which could be seen as a miracle.

I worked hard on that as I was storyboarding to try to recreate that moment. I knew also that doing this scene, it’s a key moment in the movie, and I knew that visually it’d be one of the most challenging scenes to do in VFX, but I knew that if we were doing it right, it’ll be one of the best ones and it’ll be remembered, so I was very excited to do it.

Hugh Jackman’s ‘Where’s my daughter?’ interrogation in Prisoners 

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Denis: I would say that it’s a scene that’s very moving for me because when I did it with Hugh Jackman, he trusted me. The relationship I was able to build with him, and Jake, and how Hugh was generously ego-less with me.

We had three scenes; we did a first take, and I was feeling very happy with that take. He came to me and asked, ‘How was it?’ I said, ‘It was good… but that was not it.’ And he said, ‘Oh.’ He went back to do it, and it didn’t work out again – he wasn’t going in that zone of rage I was looking for; where something was awakening inside him and you lose control of what to do and where you are. You’re so engulfed in the emotions that you could do something dangerous, or hurt someone you love.

Prisoners. (Summit Entertainment)Summit Entertainment
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The third time, the last time, he went there. I remember hugging him at the end of that day, I was so deeply moved and proud of what he’d done because he gave everything. He went in the zone as he was acting, and he trusted me. Still today, it gives me shivers.

I love that actor and I’m here because of him; him and Jake made the movie being greenlit. I’m here because he gave me my first chance. It opens the door to something unknown, it’s very vulnerable. I remember the one who had to trust Hugh was Paul Dano, because when that hammer goes into the wall… [laughs].

The climactic sea wall fight between Ryan Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks in Blade Runner 2049

Denis: The way we did it was slightly different to how it was written at first. There’s something very important in the prep in my process… I storyboard because for me, it’s a way to bring the words into images and to transform the screenplay to a cinematic moment. That process, when I storyboard, I love total freedom and it allows me to sometimes find new ideas.

This scene was re-designed as I was storyboarding, Roger Deakins and I. We had this idea of them landing on the sea wall and water, and then we designed and storyboarded, and we were very excited about that scene. When we finished… I remember, we looked at the boards and said, ‘Oh my god, what have we done?’ It was so complex to do. We looked at each other and started to laugh, like, ‘Oosh. How do we do that?’

Blade Runner 2049. (Warner Bros.)Warner Bros.

The production was absolutely amazing because we technically built a gigantic swimming pool, like a basin of water, a small lake almost with that big part of the sea wall we shot at night over the course of a week to get that scene. Roger did one of his best lighting works there; working with the shadows and the reflections on the water.

It was really exhausting but a very exciting moment to shoot that scene. I will remember all my life, swimming because I was in the water with the actors all the time, swimming back to the shore of the sea wall with Harrison Ford, and him looking at me, laughing and saying, ‘That’s crazy. You’re crazy.’

It was a giant set, probably the biggest I’d ever worked on. We were having cranes which were using massive tanks that were big arms pumping the water to create waves. We created our own wave machines, it was a crazy, crazy set.

Jason Momoa fighting all the Sardaukar soldiers in Dune

Jason Momoa in Dune. (Warner Bros.)Warner Bros.

Denis: First of all, the Liet Kynes’ laboratory set is one of my favourites. There’s an elegance and something feels ancient and the design of it is absolutely beautiful.

When designing the corridor, I insisted 19 Sardaukars to be killed, as in the book. It’s a very iconic moment in the book, where people will learn later that before dying, Duncan Idaho (Momoa) would have killed an astronomical amount of those insanely strong soldiers.

To kill 19 Sardaukars and not having him swarmed, I had to create the idea of a door not opening and the guys coming in one-by-one, and creating an environment where he was able to face not all of them in the same time, but so he was able to kill them one after the other.

Dune Jason Momoa (Warner Bros.)Warner Bros.

It’s a bit like that story of the night in the Middle Ages of this French night that was able to hold a bridge from the Spanish army with one sword; because they were coming one-by-one or two-by-two, he was able to retain the defence of this on the tiny bridge. I was inspired by this hero of my childhood.

The way we approached the Holtzman shields, it’s something that came very early in the VFX process. My VFX supervisor Paul Lambert brought an idea that I loved which was to use an old cinema technique where we’d technically just use the image of someone and use time as having that variation… it creates the kind of feeling of vibration around them that’s very organic and feels analogue-like.

I brought the idea of two colours, to make it narratively clear that when you go inside a Holtzman shield, it shifts colours and that was a way for me to express violence without showing blood so it’d stay PG-13.

Dune is in cinemas now. 

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Cameron Frew

Entertainment Editor at UNILAD. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the best film ever made, and Warrior is better than Rocky. That's all you need to know.

Topics: Featured, Denis Villeneuve, Dune, Film and TV