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Dune Director Wanted To Improve Female Characters From Herbert’s Story

Dune director Denis Villeneuve wanted to improve the female characters from Frank Herbert's story. The new science-fiction epic film is an adaptation of Herbert's 1965 novel of the same name, which is considered a classic of the genre. Villeneuve's Dune has already released in some international markets, and is scheduled to play simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max in the US from October 22.

In both book and film, the central story revolves around Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), ducal heir to one of the great houses of the Galactic Empire, as his family is given stewardship over the dangerous but valuable desert planet of Arrakis. Herbert's novel is known for its detailed world and sprawling cast of characters, both of which have made it difficult to make into a feature film. Villeneuve is the third major director to try, after Alejandro Jodorowsky's project was never finished and David Lynch disowned his poorly received adaptation after he was denied final cut privilege.

Related: Why Dune 2021 Faces Sci-Fi’s Location Problem

One goal that was crucial to Villeneuve's approach, he tells Empire, was to expand on Dune's female characters. In narrowing the scope of his film's version of the story, the director told screenwriter Eric Roth to home in on Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Paul's mother, as almost a co-lead. Villeneuve believes her to be one of the novel's most interesting characters:

For me, it was important to bring more femininity to the story. I am fascinated by the relationship of femininity and power, the place of women in society. [Screenwriter] Eric Roth said, 'If you had one aspect of the novel you would like me to focus on, what would it be?' I said, 'The women.' The entire story unfolds because of Lady Jessica, because of a decision she made to give birth to Paul instead of a girl. She's a fascinating character, one of the most influential and most interesting in the novel.

The decision that Villeneuve refers to stems from Lady Jessica being a member of the Bene Gesserit, an order of women who learn supernatural abilities and steer the politics of the Empire from the shadows. As part of centuries spent selectively breeding among the highborn with the intention of eventually producing their messianic figure, the Kwisatz Haderach, Jessica is ordered to give birth to only daughters with Paul's father, Duke Leto Atreides. She disobeys, however, believing that she can produce this super-being herself.

While many fans have yet to see Villeneuve's take on the beloved novel, early Dune reviews suggest his emphasis on female characters has paid off. Ferguson's performance has been singled out for praise, with Lady Jessica lending a much-needed emotional core to the film's grand story. If Villeneuve gets to make his Dune: Part Two, adapting the second half of Herbert's book, it's likely that Zendaya's Chani will receive similar attention.

Next: Why Villeneuve's Dune Is Already Beating Blade Runner 2049's Box Office

Source: Empire

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