Warner Bros. recently released an extended version of ‘The Royal Houses’, a special feature that’s included with the Blu-ray and DVD releases of Dune: Part One. This extra reveals more behind-the-scenes footage from the production of the movie, as well as previously unreleased concept art. Director Denis Villeneuve and the film’s stars—including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Javier Bardem—offer insights regarding key characters and the roles they play within their respective factions.
In addition to insights into filming this adaptation, the video serves as a great introduction for those new to the story, establishing context of its main conflict—the ancient rivalry between the Atreides and Harkonnens. It’s truly a bitter feud, that began over 10 thousand years ago at the end of the Butlerian Jihad, a galactic conflict that shaped the Imperium into what it is today.
In the first act of the movie, as they walk past the tombstones of their ancestors, Duke Leto Atreides explained, to his son Paul, why they’re being mandated to emigrate from their homeworld Caladan and take over Spice production on Arrakis: “The great houses look to us for leadership and this threatens the Emperor.”
The dimwitted Glossu ‘Beast’ Rabban, former governor of Arrakis, is furious that he’s been removed from power over the coveted desert planet, “How can the emperor take everything we’ve built and give it to that filth!” From the perspective of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, however, this is all according to plan. “Whereas a gift, not a gift,” the scheming ruler knows that his hated rivals are walking into a trap.
“And the Fremen?” Rabban asks regarding the natives of Arrakis that he’s already oppressed for decades. “Kill them all,” the Baron commands. The indigenous peoples are more numerous than either realize however, and they will play a key role in the ensuing battle for control of the desert planet, also known as Dune.
Here’s the full transcript of the commentary from the director, producer and actors:
Timothée Chalamet: Denis Villeneuve has a grasp on character-driven narratives, small in scope or larger in scope. Thanks to the genius of Frank Herbert here’s a story that’s on that scale but with characters, and relationships, and stories that are dense and felt. These were the things that made me want to act.
Mary Parent (producer): Part of what makes Dune so great; it’s an incredible cast of characters, an incredible cast of actors…
Denis Villeneuve (director, producer, writer): It’s very easy to get lost into the concepts, into the scale, but at the end of the day it’s a very powerful and complex story.
Villeneuve:Dune is the story of the Atreides family, that falls into the trap set by the Emperor, who is getting more and more jealous of their growing popularity.
Oscar Isaac: House Atreides stands as a beacon, where every other house in that galaxy is in reference to that, either as enemies or as friends. What intrigued me about Leto Atreides is the tragic nature of the character. He want’s to not only make sure that his people survive, but that his son is the kind of leader that he thinks he should be.
Chalamet: Paul Atreides is the son of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica, and he’s the future of House Atreides. He’s a young man that’s facing extraordinary circumstance—trying to navigate it with integrity, in the tradition of House Atreides.
Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) were close allies of Duke Leto. They feel like big brothers [to Paul] and they’re with him, especially Jason.
Jason Momoa: [Duncan Idaho] is the protector of the Atreides. I mean he’s definitely the head knight who watches over the family. That’s a sworn duty, I mean it’s what any honorable knight soldier does. I mean that’s his family, that’s who he bleeds for.
Villeneuve: Gurney Halleck is a combat trainer, he’s a warrior, he’s a poet warrior.
Josh Brolin: And he is distrustful of all of them, because he’s by nature distrustful. Like every security guy you ever see, who’s looking at things that aren’t there.
He’s a very strict, but fun, visceral, paternal, maternal—he’s all of those things to Paul.
Stephen Mckinley-Henderson: Paul has all these teachers and everyone has poured all that they know into this young man.
Villeneuve: Thufir Hawat (Stephen Mckinley-Henderson) is a human computer and I wanted to go away from the cliche of the very cold human being.
Mckinley-Henderson: He had lived and worked with this family for so long, that he had really come to have a dear affection for them.
Chang Chen: Dr. Yueh is a trusted member of the family. He has served the Atreides family for long time. It’s a complex and heart-breaking role for an actor to play.
Chalamet: Lady Jessica is part of the order of the Bene Gesserit. This order that she’s a part of, we can say make her perhaps the non-traditional partner to Duke Leto.
Villeneuve: The congregation that influences politics from the shadows, that have access to all the leaders, that are counselors and spies for all the leaders in the world.
Rebecca Ferguson: This group of women who carries enormous strength and power: They are bodyguards they are fighters, they can read people. One of the strengths that Jessica has is that she’s been thought by the Reverend Mother.
Chalamet: The Reverend Mother is interested in Paul, because there’s a prophecy that a member of the order of Bene Gesserit will one day give birth to “The One”, for lack of a better description, and Paul could perhaps be that person.
Ferguson: Jessica is having to deal with being a mother, a lover, and this Bene Gesserit. And she always has to question which priority comes first.
Villeneuve: She has her own ambition. It’s a very complex, powerful character.
Villeneuve: Every movie needs is it’s a bad guys and the Harkonnens are the old, old ancestral enemies of the Atreides.
David Dastmalchian: The Harkonnens are a family that have controlled the spice for many generations.
Villeneuve: Frank Herbert created a very powerful character in Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Stellan Skarsgård: He just shows up and then his shadow looms throughout the film. He’s the cause of many people’s deaths.
Dave Bautista: Rabban is a nephew of the Baron and he is very sadistic and mean. Not the smartest guy.
Rabban really wants to please his uncle and the Baron looks at him as a pawn—he doesn’t really feel much for him.
Dastmalchian: Piter de Vries is the mentat of the Harkonnen family. He’s been twisted by the Baron Harkonnen, he’s kind of strung Piter out. And Piter is so devoted to this cause of retaining the Harkonnen control of the spice.
Villeneuve: The Fremen are native tribes, people living in a deep desert. They have the capacity to adapt to the toughest environment: Deep heat, massive sand storms, dangerous predators all around.
Javier Bardem: Stilgar is is the leader of the Fremen. He is a powerful character as a warrior, but also he’s a worrier… He worries about the future.
Sharon Duncan-Brewster: Dr. Liet Kynes on the surface was seemingly just somebody who’s an ecologist, someone who cares about the Fremen, but then you start to understand how much pressure she is actually under to keep everything contained and controlled.
Villeneuve: Paul is dreaming about this strange young woman, that keeps talking to him in his dream. She feels like an old friend again and someone that wants to guide him.
Zendaya: Chani is native to Arrakis. She’s used to this hostility between her people and the people that are trying to take from her land. She’s a fighter at the end of the day.
When she does meet Paul, her guard is up. She looks at this person as if this is a child, but there’s really something else. There’s a glimmer of something between them
Chalamet: It’s indescribable what that feeling would be of proximity of physical attraction in dream form, that comes with a terrible purpose. That comes with very intense actualization. So I think Chani represents all those things to him.
Zendaya: It seems that he truly cares about the people and there’s a deeper humanity within him.
A Conflict of Houses
Chalamet: They’re on a path of conflict and it’s the moral catalyst to Paul’s arc, towards something greater.
Update (December 28): This is an updated version of our article from September 6, 2021, reporting on the shorter ‘The Royal Houses Featurette’, and has been revised to reflect additional contents from the newer, extended video (above). Below is the earlier clip (4.5 minutes):