A test screening for the Dune movie (2021) took place October 28, 2020 at a Harkins Theatres venue in Tempe, Arizona. All reactions shared have been positive, with the lucky audience allegedly applauding and cheering at the end. Several viewers went on to leave 4 to 4.5 star ratings and/or succinct endorsements on Letterboxd (without sharing details due to NDA), or elsewhere online at more length.
Key takeaway is that members of the general public got the opportunity to watch an advanced, though certainly not the final, cut of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movie and they reacted enthusiastically to what they saw. These are people who did not know in advance which film they were going to be seeing and apparently had varying levels of knowledge about the source material, i.e. not a specially selected group of hardcore Dune fans. This unfinished cut allegedly clocks in at around 2 hours and 10 minutes, excluding credits, however there are a few discrepancies between reports.
I was there too! I’ve never been to one where they wouldn’t tell you what it was beforehand and it did not disappoint.
4.5 star rating on Letterboxd
This movie will be one of the best soundtracks and cinematography of the year.
4 star rating on Letterboxd
i loved it. everything about it is perfect pretty much and acknowledging that i’m not familiar [with the Dune books or previous adaptations] and just a film fan, i think this will absolutely be the definitive Dune adaptation.
9/10 rating from a deleted location
Beyond ratings, one of the viewers divulged their experience of the Dune test screening in greater detail. From their perspective; the entirety of the cast—that boasts Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, and more—delivered outstanding performances, however Stellan Skarsgård and Oscar Isaac surpassed all others with their portrayals of the feuding rulers of House Harkonnen and House Atreides respectively. High praise was also extended to Hans Zimmer’s score, which this person described as “perfect”.
The following information is based on further comments from the aforementioned viewer and there are SPOILERS AHEAD for contents of the Dune movie. Especially if you’re new to Dune, we recommend first checking out the original book (or it’s soon to be released graphic novel adaptation) and following our ongoing coverage of the movie, books, and comics.
An Unfinished Cut of the Dune Movie
Based on the test screening’s opening, which consisted of text, it’s apparent that this isn’t the final version of the movie that we’ll watch in October 2021. The viewer’s account does further verify the legitimacy of a previously leaked version of the script as e.g. Liet Kyne’s last scene in the movie—which differs substantially from how that same event plays out in the book—matched what was outlined in that leak, however a few (key) scenes were either not present in the screened version or had variations.
One possibility is that some visual effects were not complete as of this screening and that the finished cut, including additional footage, will be longer. This idea lines up with Denis Villeneuve’s earlier comments that the pandemic’s impact on shooting schedules and challenges of remote collaboration were leading to “a sprint to finish the movie on time.” In below clip (1 minute) from the same interview, the director also talked about how test screenings are such an important part of his plan during later stages of post-production.
The element that did sound practically finished was the soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s score is described as a unique mix of electronic and orchestral music, with both Middle Eastern influences and an otherworldly feel. There are various alien-like sounds, as well as ethereal chanting from a choir of voices. Another exciting reveal is that the composer is using leitmotifs in Dune, likely serving as themes for different factions, key characters, and/or locations. This may suggest interesting synergies with the visuals considering earlier comments from Tom Brown, supervising art director, on how the film’s sets are designed around characteristics of the Houses, so audiences will immediately recognize where they are.
Secrets of Dune’s video (10 minutes), based on the same source, provides a summary of differences in screening vs. script and their impressions of the score. Note that this contains additional spoilers and speculation on some details.
The Faces of House Harkonnen
The first Dune movie trailer, that focused on the protagonists’ factions, only offered a brief glimpse of the Baron’s frightening countenance. In full view the ruthless leader of House Harkonnen, portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård, is a “physically imposing” presence. Like in the book, the big man is required to utilize portable anti-gravity suspensors in order to get around. The way these allow the Baron to move smoothly—sometimes floating over furniture or other obstacles—despite his bulk, combined with a disconcertingly deep voice, make him especially intimidating.
The screening also confirmed that artwork we’re seeing in cards from Dune: Imperium, the upcoming tabletop game from Dire Wolf Digital, is very faithful to both the characters’ looks and set designs from the movie. While there’s been no footage released with David Dastmalchian’s character, Piter de Vries, the viewer’s description matches his card from the game. The sadistic Harkonnen mentat-assasin has an “incredibly pale” face, with no eyebrows and a distinctive line from the Sapho juice visible on his lips.
“I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie. The world is too complex. It’s a world that takes its power in details.”
Denis Villeneuve in Vanity Fair’s Dune Preview (April 2020)
Denis Villeneuve has made it clear that his plan is to adapt the story of Dune into two movies. Knowing that Frank Herbert’s Dune novel (1965) itself consists of three parts—Dune, Maud’dib, and The Prophet—one valid conclusion for the first movie may be end of the book’s second part, where Paul and Chani form a deep connection following the Water of Life ritual. Especially compelling since there’s subsequently a time skip of several years, this scenario was supported by the leaked script from 2019.
The test screening however, did not include the Water of Life scene and ended roughly two-thirds into the book’s second part, shortly after Paul’s flight with the Fremen warrior Jamis. According to the source, Paul and Lady Jessica walk into the desert together with the Fremen and the film ends with a final line narrated by Zendaya, as Chani.
As with the unfinished opening, it’s plausible that some final scenes rely heavily on visual effects and were simply not ready in time for this screening. Another possibility is that Villeneuve is using these test screenings to gauge audience reactions to different versions of scenes, including the ending. Perhaps more likely at this stage is that based on the script of second Dune movie, written by Jon Spaihts, the director and writers now have a more definite vision of both movies and how the first will end.
The first two parts of Dune novel introduce us to a large number of characters and factions and, by comparison, the final part is shorter (~25% of the story). To balance the movie adaption, some characters will first be featured in the second movie. Given the lack of casting news, it’s not a surprise the test screening confirms that neither Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV nor Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen will make an appearance in Dune (2021). This may likewise be the case for the Water of Life ritual and certain other plot elements.
Dune News Net is continuing to cover further developments on this story as they surface. Make sure to follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss any of the breaking news on the Dune movie, books, comics, and games.
Sources: Dune (2021) page on Letterboxd (October 28), Chat transcripts from deleted location (October 28, verified via multiple sources), @SihayaDunee Twitter account, Screeningsquad Instagram account