Denis Villeneuve Didn't Want Outside Interpretations To Interfere With Dune's Design

From its opening narration, it is clear that Denis Villeneuve's "Dune" is not going to be like the previous adaptations. From dialogue choices to strong visuals and a change in focus from the political to the more intimately emotional, this is a film that is both meticulously faithful and also unafraid to reinterpret what's on the page.

It is perhaps the visuals that truly make this movie stand out among the other adaptations of Frank Herbert's "Dune" — and also the many, many sci-fi movies inspired by it. Villeneuve's film is one of exquisitely lavish production design that is intricate in detail and vibrant in imagination. From the massive sets to the look of the sandworm and the many ships, which don't look like anything we've seen before. This last bit was particularly tricky since we've already seen countless adaptation attempts, from Lynch's movie to the Sci-Fi Channel version and even the many designs inspired by Herbert's work that it's hard to stand out. 

Villeneuve's solution, then, was to simply look at the source material. Speaking with Rolling Stone, the filmmaker explained his one rule for his collaborations, never to reference anything. "When in doubt, go back to the book," he'd say instead. His concept artists, storyboard artists, and others were not allowed to pull from any other interpretation of the novel, be it from other movies or even fan art, they had to go straight to Herbert's original and reinterpret things anew. 

Go back to the source

The iconography and ideas from "Dune" can be found in lots of other sci-fi films and shows, particularly "Star Wars," with many concepts from Lucas' saga resembling Herbert's book. And it's not like the book is too vague or too specific in its descriptions that reinterpreting images would be impossible. According to production designer Patrice Vermette (via GamesRadar), "The book gives a lot of clues or cues that will help you navigate it to design things, but it's quite nonspecific." 

Things like Arrakis, a planet full of sand, "where there's no moisture, there's no humidity, there's winds that go at 880 kilometers an hour, there's sandworms, there's heat," those cues give you an idea, but it might not be the same idea as another writer, allowing for reinterpretations.

Take the ornithopter, one of the most famous aircraft in "Dune," a bird-like vehicle used all around Arrakis. In Villeneuve's version, they look like a dragonfly, whereas the 1984 movie interpreted them as blocky helicopters that floated through the air, while the Sci-Fi channel version resembled a fruitfly. The book only described them as having wings like birds, so any of these are valid. 

As Villeneuve himself told IGN, the problem with coming up with a new look for "Dune" is the huge influence Herbert's book has had on pop culture for decades. "'Dune' did inspire a lot of other movies in the past. The challenge was to try to bring something fresh to the screen," he said. "To do so, we entirely focused on the novel and the description that Frank Herbert did. I tried to go back to the image that I had in my mind when I was a teen when I read the novel the first time."