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The 2nd part of the sci-fi epic 'Dune' thunders into movie theaters

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The second part of the sci-fi epic "Dune" thunders into movie theaters this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE: PART TWO")

TIMOTHEE CHALAMET: (Paul Atreides) Because all my visions lead to horror.

MARTÍNEZ: The film stars Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya. NPR's Mandalit del Barco says it's both an old-school spectacle and an industry gamble.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Denis Villeneuve's "Dune: Part One" depicted the first half of Frank Herbert's beloved 1965 sci-fi novel and its fictional desert planet, Arrakis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: On the real-life planet Earth, the COVID pandemic delayed Villeneuve's film release. "Dune" premiered in September of 2021 at the Venice Film Festival and on big screens around the world.

DENIS VILLANEUVE: That was something that I worked hard to make sure that the movie will see the light of the day in theaters first.

DEL BARCO: But with audiences still reluctant to return to cinemas at that time, Warner Brothers also released "Dune: Part One" in the U.S. simultaneously on HBO Max.

VILLANEUVE: Which I was really pissed off by.

DEL BARCO: Like his close friend Christopher Nolan, Villeneuve has always been an advocate for the big-screen theatrical experience.

VILLANEUVE: Where you dive into the film and you're not at home and pushing stuff or chatting on your phone as you're watching the movie. You have to fully embrace the film and commit. And I absolutely love that.

DEL BARCO: Despite the bad timing, the first "Dune" did OK at the box office and won six Academy Awards. Villeneuve also got the green light to make "Dune: Part Two," but last year's Hollywood strikes delayed the scheduled November release. It's finally here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: "Dune: Part Two" picks up where the first movie left off and has more action. In one key scene, the main character, Paul Atreides, catches a ride on a giant sandworm through the desert.

VILLANEUVE: The worm ride is a good example of the poetic IQ about a man finding his equilibrium - balance with his relationship with nature and someone that master his fear.

DEL BARCO: Denis Villeneuve says his movies reflect the complicated themes of the novel he devoured as a teenager in Quebec.

VILLANEUVE: I try to be more faithful to Frank Herbert than faithful to the book because when the first book came out, Frank Herbert was disappointed. He felt that most of the readers thought that the movie was a celebration of Paul Atreides and that Paul was perceived as a hero. His initial intention were quite the opposite. He wanted to create a warning toward charismatic figures, so he wanted the book to be a cautionary tale.

DEL BARCO: NPR critic Glen Weldon says Herbert's novel was also considered unfilmable.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: It's a thick book - right? - but a lot of that thickness comes from the fact that there's a glossary in the back and multiple appendices just to kind of build out this universe. So most of us who read the book is kids, you know, our paperback copies are just creased down the middles because we could flip back and forth to the glossary every time we had a word we can't figure out what it means or something's italicized because he's trying to load it up with all of this uncanny, otherworldly stuff. And, of course, you can't do that in a movie. But people have tried.

DEL BARCO: In the 1970s, Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky had a vision for the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "JODOROWSKY'S DUNE")

ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "My ambition with 'Dune' was tremendous," the cult filmmaker says in the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune." He'd hoped to cast Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, even Salvador Dali, with music by Pink Floyd.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JODOROWSKY'S DUNE")

JODOROWSKY: For me, "Dune" will be the coming of a god - artistical, cinematographical god.

DEL BARCO: But Jodorowsky's film stalled in development and was never made.

VILLANEUVE: I would have loved to see Jodorowsky's movie.

DEL BARCO: That's Villeneuve.

VILLANEUVE: I'm sure it would have been a fantastic, genius Jodorowsky movie. I'm not sure if it would have been a good "Dune" adaptation because he's someone that came there with preconceived ideas and has such a strong identity. And I absolutely love Jodorowsky.

DEL BARCO: In 1984, David Lynch made his version of "Dune." It starred Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart and the singer sting.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE")

STING: (As Feyd Rautha) I will kill you.

DEL BARCO: David Lynch loaded his film with images like mutated beasts addicted to spice. Audiences were handed two-page pamphlets explaining who the characters were. The studio made him cut an hour out of his film. Again, Denis Villeneuve.

VILLANEUVE: David Lynch, he's a master. But his adaptation, he went in a direction that I felt was a bit far away from what I had in mind as a kid when I read the book, and I remember saying to myself, OK, somebody else will do it again one day.

DEL BARCO: There were TV miniseries in the 2000s, but Weldon says Villeneuve has figured out how to successfully make the movie version.

WELDON: What he's doing in both "Part One" but especially in "Part Two" is really adding texture to some pretty thin characterizations from the book. So Paul is a more complicated character. And Chani, especially, is a more complicated character.

DEL BARCO: Chani is played by actress Zendaya.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DUNE: PART TWO")

ZENDAYA: (As Chani) I'm fighting for my people.

DEL BARCO: "Dune: Part Two" is coming out in a fragile post-strike time for Hollywood, and theaters are hoping for box office success.

LUCAS SHAW: I think the expectations are that this one will do much better than the first one.

DEL BARCO: Lucas Shaw is managing editor for media and entertainment at Bloomberg News.

SHAW: It's no longer seen as as much of a risk. I mean, look, Denis Villeneuve is really one of the great directors working today, and he's got a pretty good track record with taking material that wouldn't, on its face, seem overtly commercial and making movies that a lot of people want to see.

DEL BARCO: Villeneuve started out as an independent filmmaker who made a sequel to "Blade Runner" before tackling "Dune." If his latest movie does well, he could get the go-ahead for a third, adapting "Dune Messiah."

VILLANEUVE: I just spent six years on Arrakis, and the prospect to go back there, excites me, but I'm not sure if I would want to spend the rest of my life on that planet. But you never know. I will say that I have the energy to make those movies now. There's a lot of toys around me, but what happens around the camera, it's mostly the same as I - when I was doing indie movies.

DEL BARCO: In many ways, "Dune: Part Two" feels like a Hollywood throwback, a sweeping, big-budget epic with glamorous movie stars on red carpets at global premieres. And at theaters, this popcorn movie also comes with special popcorn buckets shaped like sandworms. It's gone viral.

VILLANEUVE: I was, like, a bit destabilized when I saw it, and I laughed a lot, to be honest. I think that the people who designed that bucket (laughter) - I think that is a bit of a marketing genius there, but it was very impressive.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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