In an exclusive interview, Secrets of Dune speaks with a lucky viewer who already watched Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune movie! This person emphasized that the screening was, what appeared to be, a completed cut of the film. They were in “complete awe” and left with desire to see it again.
Several burning questions on fans’ minds are addressed here—including expected runtime, extent of Arabic influences, connection between Liet Kynes and Chani, and where the movie ends. Note that this interview does CONTAIN SPOILERS for contents of the Dune movie.
Watch Secret of Dune’s video (15 minutes) and scroll down for our full thoughts, together with the transcript.
Unlike an earlier viewer—who was not familiar with the source material—sharing their experiences of the Dune movie test screening in October 2020, the person being interviewed for above video confirmed that they’ve read the original book, in addition to having seen both 1984’s film and 2000’s TV miniseries adaptations.
Q (Secrets of Dune): Are you familiar with the Frank Herbert novels?
A (screening viewer): Yes, I’m familiar with the David Lynch film and the Sci-Fi channel miniseries.
Encouraging then, hearing enthusiastic reactions from differing perspectives—a moviegoer experiencing Dune‘s story for the first time and now someone who would be considered a long-time fan:
Q: What were your takeaways and lasting impressions from the film?
A: Make no mistake. Dune was DONE when I saw it. I can’t see anything needing to be changed and if they do, I assure you it would be a bad call to do so. I hope the studio took the feedback to heart. I was in complete awe, and more than a little sadness, mostly because now I’ve seen Dune and had no one to talk about it with. Worse than that the release date hadn’t been finalized, and not only was I ready to see it again, immediately (and still am), but I’m primed to see the sequel and there MUST be a sequel.
Ending and Runtime
Corroborating with reports we verified from the test screening last October (incomplete cut), this version ended following Paul’s duel with Jamis and had an estimated runtime of 2.5 hours. As written about previously, this is different from the earlier leaked script which continued further to the Water of Life ritual. While concluding right before a time jump seems ideal, plans may have changed based on vision for the sequel. An interview with Roger Yuan confirmed Feyd’s arena scene—which takes place prior to that point in the book—is designated for the continuation.
Conversely there have been rumors from another test screening (late 2020), that allegedly did include the Water of Life scene. Additionally, on April 12, Kevin Smith mentioned (on his YouTube channel) that he knows someone who saw Dune and claimed it’s “over three hours”. We’ve been hearing there are indeed multiple cuts of the movie circulating and the filmmakers were testing reactions. For now, the final theatrical version’s end point remains an open question.
Q: Where did the film end for you?
A: Right after the Jamis fight.
Q: What is your estimation for the runtime of the DUNE movie?
A: I have to say that the film is roughly 2.5 hours. It’s hard to gauge, they took everyone’s cell phones before we entered, and I don’t wear a watch. And we sat there for some time before they even started the movie. As you can imagine, that time goes VERY slow. It is a long movie, but it doesn’t feel shorter than BR 2049 did lengthwise.
Presence of Arabic Themes
Viewers of test screenings called out, what they felt were, Middle Eastern elements in Han Zimmer’s musical score and, based on this person’s account, the story’s Arabic influences are visually apparent in the Fremen.
Q: How well did any Arabic themes translate to the screen? Were they noticeable?
A: As a Caucasian American, I’d be lying if I said recognizing Arabic themes is something that I am particularly in-tune with. That being said, the imagery in this film definitely echoes the common perception of what an American may construe as reflections of an Arabic culture via the Fremen. This film though, is slowly paced (not a bad thing at all) and spends a great deal of time before we get to Arrakis, and we see very little of the Fremen. So I imagine that should (hopefully) a sequel be made—which I imagine is almost assured for reasons I can get into later or in a follow up email—Arabic themes may be more prevalent in that film than this one.
The comment about the slower pacing of the movie is noteworthy, confirming there will be sufficient time to explore the universe outside of Arrakis itself—or in any case, Caladan and Giedi Prime.
While the original novel used both the terms “crusade” and “jihad” interchangeably, some took the presence of the former word in the first trailer to mean that they were toning down these themes for the movie. That is certainly not the case:
Q: Is the word jihad mentioned?
A: Yes, “jihad” was used on several occasions.
Liet Kynes and Chani’s Parentage
The interviewee felt that Sharon Duncan-Brewster gave a good performance as Liet Kynes, though didn’t remember any references to her being related to Chani (Zendaya’s character). In the book we learn that the young warrior is the daughter of Kynes, when Paul Atreides and Lady Jessica first encounter the Fremen in the desert. This is before the fight with Jamis, which will be in the film.
We know that Zendaya played a small part in Dune, so it’s possible that Chani’s parentage was considered too much to fit, story-wise, within the first movie. Based on events that follow, we can expect to see more development for her in the sequel and this familial connection may be explored further.
Q: What was your impression of the portrayal of Liet Kynes?
A: As you’re no doubt aware, the character has been gender swapped into a female actress, Sharon Duncan-Brewster. I think that she did fine in the role, but she’s no Max von Sydow. She’s quite striking.
Q: Was there any indication that Liet Kynes was related to Chani?
A: I don’t recall that there is much in the way of indication of that relation, however, it should be noted that Chani is not in much of the film. She appears as visions to Paul, and then shows up towards the end of the film. It’s quite clear her role will be developed more in the sequel. You wouldn’t cast someone like Zendaya to do so little in the film.
Sandworms of Arrakis
Last year we learned from Dune‘s supervising art director, Tom Brown, that they’ve actually built pieces of a sandworm, but that physical models will only make their appearance in the sequel. The ancient creatures that we’ll see in the first movie are created with visual affects and it sounds like the end results are impressive.
Q: What were your impressions of the sandworms and how much of the sandworms do we get to see?
A: Ah, the most iconic of all Dune‘s imagery. The sandworms in this version almost make the Lynch film’s look like playthings in scale and comparison. That said, they are CGI, but incredibly convincing CGI. You don’t get to see much of them until towards the final third of the film, but they leave an incredible impression.
Standout Acting Performances
Considering Duncan Idaho’s close relationship with Paul and importance of the character throughout the saga, it’s great to hear a shout-out for Jason Momoa’s portrayal of the swordmaster:
Q: Who stole the show?
A: In all honesty, [Jason Momoa]. I had zero expectations of him as Duncan and he’s now my favorite rendition of the character. Same goes for [Stellan Skarsgård] as the Baron.
Q: How was the baron portrayed in comparison to previous versions?
A: How familiar are you with Apocalypse Now and Brando’s Colonel Kurtz character. That’s the vibe that I’m getting from this version of the Baron. While still large, he isn’t as grotesque as Baron in Lynch’s film, but he’s VERY imposing, VERY menacing and as calculating and merciless as you’d expect.
Several viewers have praised Stellan Skarsgård’s exceptional performance as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Although the actor himself said the villain “doesn’t show up for too much”, he clearly left a strong impression.
Visuals of Dune: Imperium
Consistent with previous reports, the artwork of Dune: Imperium matches with designs from the movie, although there are some differences. Of course the tabletop game also includes characters and elements beyond what this first part will cover.
Q: Do the designs from the Dune: Imperium game match the designs in the film?
A: I looked up this game to answer the question as I don’t have a copy of it. I’d say for the most part the art on the cards is definitely based on the character designs, costumes, actors and ships in the films—although a little more “cartoony”, like they came less from the film, but from an animated adaptation or spin-off of the film. I’m sure that’s just a stylistic choice. Some of the pieces are a little more questionable. There is a piece that I saw a picture of that I presume is to represent the Baron, but he looks more in-line with the Lynch version than the new version, interestingly.
Following are the remaining questions that were covered during the interview:
Q: Were there any famous actors that you recognized in other roles?
A: Yes, there are a lot of big-named stars in Dune. I didn’t recognize any cameos or surprises in casting. Pretty much everyone has already been publicly announced.
Q: What’s one thing that surprised you the most?
A: There are quite a few things here that surprised me. The Baron is very different, but no less imposing than he was in Lynch’s film. Timothée Chalamet as Paul was very concerning to me. I knew very little of his work, but I was quite blown away by his screen presence. I was surprised by how abruptly the film ends too. Absolutely NO ONE rides a sandworm, although it is teased. Feyd isn’t present as a character at all.
Q: What is their hologram technology like?
A: Standard holograms you would expect from this genre of film. Star Wars style holograms aren’t entirely a bad comparison. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I guess.
Q: Do Paul and Jamis fight half naked like the sci-fi miniseries or in stillsuits?
A: I recall them being clothed, but they may have been shirtless for a time as well.
Q: What was the appearance of Alia like? Did she make an appearance? If so what did she look like? Was she CGI or played by a real actor?
A: Unless Alia was shown in some sort of uncredited character role (like how a background character who might be important in the sequel) she does not appear in the film.
The Dune movie will begin showing in theaters from September 15 in international territories, with the United States’ release following on October 1.