Denis Villeneuve will no longer direct the Dune prequel series

Not even the Kwisatz Haderach could have seen this coming.

by Jenna Mahale, George Griffiths, and Tom George
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28 April 2022, 9:15am

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is built on the assumption that we’ll get to see more of it. From the briefest glimpses we get of intriguing characters from the likes of Zendaya and Charlotte Rampling, to the rumblings of gigantic plot threads - including intergalactic political intrigue, murder and the emergence of a long-prophecised messiah - left hanging… we mean, the film literally opens with the title card Dune: Part One.

Dune: Part Two was officially greenlit in October 2021 for a 2023 release and will continue where the last film left off. There’s also a prequel series in the works over on HBO Max. The first part of Denis Villeneuve’s expansive, contemplative sci-fi epic spends most of its 155-minute run time building bigger and bigger and bigger until it slightly subverts itself. Ending not with an epic battle on the planet Arrakis between Duke Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and the villainous House Harkonnen (lead by an increasingly slug-like Stellan Skårsgard), but instead focusing on Paul’s decision to join the native Fremen tribe (lead by Javier Bardem and featuring Zendaya as the mysterious Chani) and disappear (literally) beneath the dunes.

Since, Denis V himself has said that a third Dune movie is likely to be green-lit. In an interview with Screen Daily, the filmmaker expressed confidence in another sequel based on Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah. “I think Dune Messiah would be a beautiful film,” he told writer Dan Jolin. “And it would complete Paul Atreides’ journey. But I’m going one movie at a time. It’s so difficult, and I’m a bit lazy! But I think three movies is a possibility.”

We think so too, Denis. As such, here is everything we know so far about both Dune: Part Two, the (admittedly more hypothetical) Dune: Part Three and Dune: The Sisterhood TV series.

What would Dune: Part Two cover?

Roughly, it would cover the second half of Frank Herbert’s Dune novel - where Paul joins the Fremen and plots both the downfall of House Harkonnen, but also reckoning with his own identity as the Kwisatz Haderach, a messiah-like figure who will be tasked with leading the future of humanity.

“It’s the journey where Paul Atreides and his mother, Lady Jessica, make contact with the Fremen culture and meet with the Fremen,” the filmmaker teased to Deadline at the PAG Awards. “It’s Paul’s journey against the enemy… It’s a movie that will be more cinematic.”

Would we finally get to see more of Zendaya?

In a nutshell; yes. Zendaya’s screentime in the first film itself is a little misleading given her dominance in its marketing, but if anything, her character Chani only makes sense given the (very large) role she’ll play in the sequel, and in Paul’s life in general.

We know this for certain, because director Denis himself promised that if we did get a sequel, Zendaya will be a major part of it.

When is Dune: Part Two released?

We’ll have to wait two years for Dune: Part Two when it is released 20 October 2023. According to Denis, a working script has now been written. “The screenplay is finished mostly, but it's always a work in progress. It'll be a work in progress until final cut, but I will say it's solidified. I have a script in my hands. We are in prep right now," he told Collider. Hans Zimmer has also been crafting a whole new soundtrack for the sequel. As Timmy currently finishes up work on his Hot Willy Wonka prequel, filming is planned to go ahead in the fall, with the cast and crew returning to Jordan. “It’s going to be another beautiful journey in the desert again,” Denis confirmed.

Needless to say, a few years break between films would serve the story incredibly well, given there’s a time jump about halfway through the original novel (it’s as if they’d planned it all along!).

Who joins the cast of Dune: Part Two?

No official cast announcements for the sequel have been made as of yet, but it has been reported that Timmy’s Little Women co-star Florence Pugh is currently in negotiations to play Princess Irulan, the Emperor’s daughter. Although the role has a seemingly minor role, only appearing towards the end of the Dune novel, she plays a much larger role in Dune Messiah and thus the third film, should it be greenlit.

At the same time, Elvis-lead Austin Butler has been in talks to play the villainous, sadistic nephew of Baron Harkonnen: Feyd-Rautho (memorably played by Sting and his codpiece in David Lynch’s Dune). Additionally a casting call has been put out for Princess Irulan’s father, the mysterious Emperor of Dune’s Imperial Empire Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. His political machinations were hinted at many times in the first film. (Fun fact: in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated attempt to make the first Dune film in the 70s, he wanted Salvidor Dalí to play the Emperor).

There could be a whole host of other characters introduced thanks to the novel’s time jump too…but those would spoil the plot too much to reveal just yet.

Will there be a Dune cinematic universe? What about that spin-off prequel series?

There’s definitely room for further sequels. Frank Herbert’s original Dune series comprises of six whole novels, and countless other prequels, spin-offs and continuations have spawned following the author’s death in 1986.

Denis V has said previously that he had always envisioned a two-part Dune duology based on the first book, and then a sequel based on the book’s own sequel, Dune Messiah. After his comments to Screen Daily: that Dune Messiah would make for “a beautiful film” that would “complete Paul Atreides’ journey”, we’re even more confident in this eventuality.

There’s also a standalone Dune prequel TV series coming to HBO Max entitled Dune: The Sisterhood although Denis V has sadly stepped down from the production, due to scheduling conflicts with Dune: Part 2. Chernobyl director Johan Renck is set to replace him, and Diane Ademu-John (The Haunting of Bly Manor) will act as showrunner.

The series will explore the Bene Gesserit, a secret religious order of female witches, introduced in the first movie. “The TV series is a work in progress, it’s moving forward,” Denis also added. So far no casting, plot or release dates have been announced as of yet.

What would Dune: Part Three cover?

A third Dune film would ostensibly be based on Frank Herbert’s second novel in the original series, Dune Messiah. The story takes place twelve years after the events of the original Dune novel, following Paul as he struggles against the threat of an unstoppable religious juggernaut. I mean, we’re here for it!

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Tagged:
zendaya
Dune
Denis Villeneuve
Timothée Chalamet