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Dune 2: The Biggest Questions About Villeneuve's Sequel

WARNING: Potential Spoilers for Dune 2

After much speculation, Dune: Part Two has finally been officially greenlit by Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. With an official release date of October 20, 2023, the film is expected to pick up directly after the events of Denis Villeneuve's critically acclaimed first installment – which only covered half of the first Dune book. However, while the announcement will be welcome news to audiences that enjoyed the original movie, questions still remain over exactly what to expect from Dune Part Two.

The first film in Villeneuve's series chronicles the arrival of main protagonist Paul Atreides to the desert planet Arrakis. As his father attempts to restart production of the valuable spice melange – a substance that not only grants prescient abilities but is also essential for interstellar travel – it quickly becomes clear that the Atreides family have been betrayed by their bitter rivals, the Harkonnens. After a bloody coup, Paul and his mother Jessica escape into the deep desert, where they are adopted by a group of local tribespeople known as the Fremen. As the film ends, it becomes increasingly clear that colonialist assumptions about the Fremen couldn't be further from the truth, implying that they will be key in Paul's bid for revenge.

Related: How Dune's Messiah Prophecy Subverts Chosen One Narratives

Although the first Dune film ends on something of a cliffhanger, with Zendaya's Chani suggesting that "this is only the beginning", a follow-up was never an absolute certainty. Given both the legacy of the original story and the critical acclaim that met Dune: Part One, it would have been a travesty had the film been left on its own. However, thanks to a number of factors, the fact is that there was no guarantee that Villeneuve would be able to complete his story. Here is why it's taken this long for Dune: Part Two to get the green light, alongside some of the biggest questions about the follow-up.

While Dune is one of the most celebrated science fiction stories of all time, the book's cinematic history meant that Warner Bros. was understandably wary about committing too many resources to the project. Previous attempts to adapt the novel, such as David Lynch's much-derided 1984 effort and Alejandro Jodorowsky's proposed 14-hour adaptation, were notorious financial disasters that led to the film being branded unfilmable. On top of this is Villeneuve's own history of visually sumptuous yet financially disappointing science fiction epics – such as his 2017 effort Blade Runner 2049. This troubling history explains why studios were initially unwilling to back the director's sprawling – and extremely expensive – vision for a two-part Dune saga from the outset.

However, despite these doubts, it's now clear that there is a sizeable appetite for the Dune story from audiences. After a successful opening weekend in the United States, Dune: Part One has, at the time of writing, made over $220 million at the global box office. While not enormous by pre-pandemic standards, the total is still incredibly impressive, especially given the movie's simultaneous home release on HBO Max. As a result, distributors Legendary confirmed via tweet that Dune has already performed well enough to warrant a sequel, writing, "Thank you to those who have experienced @dunemovie so far, and those who are going in the days and weeks ahead. We're excited to continue the journey!" The timing of this message confirms that any plans for a sequel were entirely dependent on financial returns, explaining why any announcement was delayed.

While Dune: Part One was necessarily concerned with world-building and characterization, director Denis Villeneuve has already confirmed that Dune: Part Two will be much more action-packed. As he explained recently to Fandango:

"I laid the base, the basics of the world - it's done now. I don't have to explain most of the world. So now I can just have fun with cinema. [laughs] That's what I will say, is that I think if ever such a thing happens as a Part 2, it's going to be a cinematic party. I mean, it's not the right word. I apologize. I will say it is going to be a cinematic blast for me. I think that I could create something much more built into cinematic action and less talking."

This is in keeping with the content of the novel, which features a resurgent Paul Atreides leading a guerilla campaign against Arrakis' Harkonnen oppressors. Although there's nothing to suggest that Dune: Part Two will lack any of Part One's visual grandeur, Villeneuve's comments coupled with the novel's plot mean that the sequel will indeed have a different tone to the original.

Related: Why The Dune Books Could Kill The Film Franchise

One of the major issues with the 1984 version of Dune is the key narrative elements that are either glossed over or erased entirely. This means that, as a representation of the novel's original scope, it is severely limited. However, even with the heavy editing that compromised the production, the movie still reveals some crucial elements about Dune's story. For starters, Lynch's version cover's Paul's rise to messianic leader of the Fremen, as well as his mastery of the art of riding the giant sandworms that inhabit Arrakis. The previous film also documents Paul's confirmation as the Kwisatz Haderach, and the birth of his sister Alia – dubbed "abomination" by the Bene Gesserit cult. As all of these key moments feature in the original novel, it is also likely that they will play a part in Villeneuve's Dune: Part Two story.

However, while the film does reveal crucial details of the new saga's overarching narrative, Lynch's version is only useful to a point. For instance, the 1984 adaptation tells the story of the Fremen uprising in an extremely limited montage, overlaid with the story of Paul and Chani's love affair. Similarly, the nature of Paul's status as a pseudo-messiah is dramatically changed as during the film's climax he is seemingly able to literally summon rain to Arrakis – completely changing his role within the story and his character. Therefore, although Dune 1984 is a useful guide to a point, it seems likely that Villeneuve's Dune: Part Two will take a very different narrative approach.

Although Zendaya is central to the first Dune movie – dominating Paul's dreams and visions of the future of Arrakis – it's likely that she will become even more important in Dune: Part Two. In the original novel, her character – Chani – becomes Paul's lover, providing a clear link between him and the Fremen and eventually becoming the mother of his children. Following the climax of Part One, it seems likely that the follow-up will focus primarily on Fremen society, putting Chani front and center in the narrative. Furthermore, the fact that she features in Paul's prophetic visions of conquest suggests that she will remain a crucial figure for the story's protagonist, indicating that her role will only grow as the story develops.

Despite doubts over whether he would even be able to complete his vision for the saga, Villeneuve has always been bullish about the idea of Dune: Part Two. For instance, in an interview with IGN in September 2021 – a month before the movie's US release – the director confirmed:

"I would be very ready to go quite quickly. To go quickly in a movie of that size, you still need to make sets, costumes, so we are talking about months. But if ever there's enthusiasm and the movie is greenlit sooner than later, I will say that I will be ready to shoot in 2022 for sure.

"I am ready to go, and I will say that I would love to bring it to the screen as soon as possible. The first film, I really had time to make sure that it was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I would love to have the same feeling when I make the second part. That would be the priority. Quality will be the priority."

Related: Dune 2: Why Zendaya’s Chani Becomes A Main Character (Despite The Book)

This suggests that, not only is Villeneuve extremely enthusiastic about the idea of a follow-up, but that it will appear in cinemas relatively quickly, given the scale of the project. Already, the Dune sequel has a confirmed release date of October 20, 2023, meaning that production will need to start very soon. The director has also suggested that the follow-up will take the striking alien landscapes established in the first film and elevate them to new heights – explaining to Nerdist ahead of the world premiere, "It will allow me to go berserk and really create… I should not say that, but I will say that, for me, Dune: Part One is like an appetizer and Dune: Part Two is the main meal." For those who enjoyed the spectacle of Dune: Part One, it seems that Dune: Part Two promises to build on the film's thrilling premise while delivering even more of what makes the first movie such a success.

Interestingly, given the overall uncertainty about the viability of Dune: Part One, Villeneuve has also hinted that he would like to create an all-encompassing Dune trilogy, based on the first two books of Herbert's seminal series. In an interview with Screen Rant's own Ash Crossan, Villeneuve revealed:

“The thing I envision, the adaptation of two books, Dune and Dune Messiah. We decided to split the first novel in two, so now we are at three movies. Those movies are very long to make. For my mental sanity, I decided to just dream about three movies.”

As is clear from Legendary and Warner Bros. previous hesitancy, it seems likely that any threequel will be dependant on the success of the now-confirmed follow-up. However, it's equally clear that Villeneuve himself wants to continue the Dune saga. While it remains to be seen whether Dune: Part Two can build on the success of the first installment, the prospect of a Dune trilogy is certainly exciting.

More: Dune Movie's Biggest Unanswered Questions Explained

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