The highly-anticipated sequel to the epic Dune: Part One had the challenge of communicating the deeper narrative of the original novels all the while creating a standalone film, reports Adrian Pennington.

Perhaps the standout sequence in Dune: Part Two is Paul Atreides’ triumphant ride of a colossal sandworm. It’s a scene that has been 40 years in the making since director Denis Villeneuve first drew storyboards of it as a teenager and required three months on location and considerable work by editor Joe Walker who compares it and other parts of the sequel to a Bond film.


Director/Writer/Producer Denis Villeneuve and Production Designer Patrice Vermette on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release

Source: Niko Tavernise. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“The very first thing I saw of Dune: Part Two was previz for that scene,” Walker tells IBC365. “It was meticulously worked out and shot by a dedicated unit under the command of producer and second unit director Tanya Lapointe but in the cutting room it was like a jigsaw.”

One shot in the sequence, of Paul (Timothée Chalamet) running along the ridge of a dune and then the centre of the dune collapsing into a sea of sand, appears in storyboards Villeneuve had created with a childhood friend in the early ‘80s. Another shot, at the scene’s start, is a close-up of a thumper pounding the sand which is identical in framing, size and action to his original vision. But previz only gets the filmmaker so far.

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“Denis and I came back to the scene repeatedly. We were tough on it. We removed shots that had taken a lot of effort to get because in some way they were indulgent or repetitive.”

He and Villeneuve have collaborated on previous projects including Arrival and Dune: Part One for which Walker won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing.

Bond theme

“Denis described the effect he wanted as being a kid on the back of a school bus, the axle bumping,” Walker says. “There was to be the sense of there being no purchase on the worm. You can’t just lie there because it will throw you off. Then, Denis said, it was like being on a skyscraper – ‘a skyscraper turning’.


Director/Writer/Producer Denis Villeneuve and Director of Photography Greig Fraser on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release

Source: Niko Tavernise. Copyright: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

“When he used those words Chris (Christos Voutsinas, additional editor) and I dug into our archive of sounds for girders grinding and massive ships moving to match with the huge strength of this worm coursing through the sand.”

The first cut of the sequence was so cacophonous that it dissipated the overall impact. Then they began to deconstruct it. “When everything is noise, the music’s pounding and people are screaming there is no shape,” Walker says. “So, we turned off the music in the first part of the scene. As Paul sees the worm and begins to run towards it, we just play sound FX to build the anticipation and anxiety of this unpredictable unstoppable beast.”

To emphasise the major story point of this scene, we hear Dune’s signature tune. “It’s our Bond theme,” Walker says. “We’ve deliberately starved the film of that particular piece of music until the point that Paul stands up on the worm. There is something religious about that moment.”

The giant worm and rider then bashes through the dune. “We saw an opportunity in the mix to wipe out sound FX and just play the music strong. The whole [Hans] Zimmer effect of organ noises, singing and pounding rhythm.”

Villeneuve himself describes, “a whole structure of sound” that he and Walker work on together with supervising sound editor Richard King and sound mixers Ron Bartlett and Doug Hemphill. “It’s a map that is as important as the images when we finish the director’s cut, to bring the sound of the worm to life.”

Story first

If Dune: Part One was a more meditative film centred on Paul Atreides, in Part Two, the character comes of age, taking control of his own destiny and setting up Dune Messiah, a third film based on Frank Herbert’s 1969 sequel.


Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release

Source: Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Denis always thought of Part One as an appetiser,” Walker says. “If we’re making a film set in Brooklyn in 2024 then we don’t need to explain how a car works but in Part One we had the burden of explaining where humanity is in 25,000 years’ time. Like why are they still fighting with swords, not guns? Then you have to explain shield technology, and Spice and set up all the different factions - the Mentat, the Bene Gesserit, the Harkonnen, the House Atreides.”

He adds, “In Part One the story hasn’t gone far enough to show the turn in events. There’s big scope for Paul to go from reluctant, dreaming teenager to a superpower and to cover all the compromises and sacrifices on the way.”

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Having set the various elements in motion, Part Two was “always story first,” says Walker. “It gives us the possibility to go from a shot of a tiny, vulnerable desert mouse to the gigantism of a state-of-the-art Spice harvester coming down and pounding the ground to suck out the resources of an impoverished world by a fascistic state.”

Warner Bros waited to see if 2021 release Dune: Part One was a hit (it was, making $433m worldwide) before greenlighting Part Two, but the script for Dune: Messiah was begun before last year’s writer’s strike.

“It was very important that Part Two would be a standalone film, so you don’t need to enjoy the first before seeing it,” Walker says. “Continuing the long tradition of epic action-adventure films like James Bond we start with a pre-credit dialogue-light action sequence, before we dig into the story. For us, there is an obvious delight in the beginning of seeing the grotesque image of this insect-like culture [Harkonnen] totally out of place in the desert and surviving on tanks of gas.”

The spine of the story in Part Two is the Freman, a desert people who survive only with complete respect for their environment. This community was important to Herbert, an ecologist and biologist, and Dune’s filmmakers spent a great deal of screen time explaining their rituals and culture.

“In Part One there was limited screen time - just two scenes - with Stilgar (Javier Bardem) to embed the idea of the Fremen. We also did our level best to explain the sand walk and to see Paul’s attempt to learn the language. But in Part Two it was fundamental to all of us to dive deep into the Fremen.

He continues, “The truth about Paul is that he would happily stay as a Fedaykin [Fremen warrior] were it not for the machinations of Stilgar and Jessica [Rebecca Fergusson) making up the gospel as they go along. Without them, and the ancient code of the ‘Kanly’ (feudal duels), Paul would have been proud to stay an equal to Chani (Zendaya). It is necessary to feel Paul’s honesty and for his relationship with Chani to breathe in order to feel the full weight of events later in the story.”

Scenes depict Paul and Chani on the dunes shot at magic hour in Jordan’s Wadi Rum. “First of all, she is no shoe-in. She is not a prize. She’s an equal and he wants to be equal to her. Only with caution does she give him credence when he proves himself as a warrior.”

Walker describes Villeneuve and Cinematographer Grieg Fraser as “like snipers” in that “they don’t scatter their coverage”. Intimate scenes of the main character’s love story and enchanting sand walk tended to have precise footage. In contrast, the film’s climactic battle was shot with multiple angles and culled in the edit from 15 hours of material.

“Denis and Grieg conjured a series of ‘brain stem’ images which were intended to sear the retina,” Walker says. “The picture is meant to dazzle. It is invested with a joy in the way things move in this world but always it comes back to the story. You could be in the gladiatorial arena and be wowed by the spectacle of the huge crowd but the story is front and centre.”

Kuleshov effect

Dune Part 2 has to convey the complex religious fervour of a cult being born as well as Paul’s hallucinatory visions as his Spice-infused mind gains the power to see into the past and future. Both ideas were developed in the edit.


Austin Butler as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “Dune: Part Two,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release

Source: Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Whilst the idea was scripted, we had to provide a sound and visual identity to the idea of Paul’s fear and his anxiety,” Walker says. “Denis had shot ‘dream’ material following a woman into the desert surrounded by starving people but we found we had to be very selective in what we showed.

“One of the things I learned on Arrival (a story designed in a time loop to question the nature of fate) was to use the Kuleshov effect. Meaning, if you cut from somebody thinking about something to something, it looks like they are thinking about what you are showing. It’s a simple and powerful concept.”

With that in mind, Walker selected shots more personal to Paul – the vision of Chani with a burned face, for example. “It’s such a harrowing image and reflects his sense of what the cost is going to be.”

The biggest storytelling development in the cut was the concept of the south of Arrakis, the planet also known as Dune. “It’s a physical place where Jessica journeys to but it’s also about faith. It’s about the Bene Gesserit, the Harkonnen and a cautionary tale of consequences.

“We flash to Paul’s anxieties and he articulates his fears in words. We also have diary entries from Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) which talk of the south and specifically that ‘nobody can live there without faith.’ We have aerial shots filmed by Dylan Goss of a volcanic landscape. Going south means Muad’Dib is going to trigger a holy war.”

Walker says the overall challenge was to marry the “fractal narrative” of Herbert’s books (where for example, he provides multiple names for Paul “like the number of names for God in the bible”) with a “hyper narrative” to maintain the story arc.

“What was pleasing was that after the 19th fine cut, we found something that maintains a level of anxiety that drives you forward. In the edit we are moving pieces around, finessing and eliminating anything in the path of that story. We’re trying to economise without lopping off an arm and a leg to complete the path.

“As someone once said, we are not just about just bums on seats. We want eyes on stalks.”

Shooting infrared Harkonnen

The film opens in the middle of an eclipse, a phenomena not seen in Part One and affording cinematographer Grieg Fraser the chance to expand the film’s colour palette.

“We used an infrared filter, which actually takes away visible light from the camera and takes away a lot of the visible tones that the camera sees, so it doesn’t feel quite of this world,” he says.

He shot with IMAX compatible Alexa 65 and Alexa LF Mini saying that the power of the format for sequences in Part One, “and what happens to the audience when they sit in a cinema on a scale like that made Denis and I keen to shoot the entire film for IMAX in an IMAX ratio.”

At Villeneuve’s suggestion, Fraser also shot daylight scenes on the Harkonnen planet Giedi Prime in complete contrast to the saturated sun of Arrakis. Sets for Giedi Prime were built on a converted exhibition hall called Hungexpo in Budapest which at 103,000ft2 and 45ft-high had the requisite scale.

“One thing we discussed was this idea of anti-light,” Fraser says. “Not a black hole of light, but something where light doesn’t exist the way we know it. So, we used a technique that I’ve used for VFX, which is using infrared on the sensor of the Alexa LF. Effectively, we put a visible light cut filter in front of the lens, which means the camera can’t see any visible light, and we take out the infrared cut filter from the camera, so all the camera sees is infrared. This became the exterior light for Giedi Prime.”

Sandworm dissection

The sandworm riding sequence involved rebuilding part of the top of the sand dune in another location, where VFX and stunt teams could have control and use cranes. This included fitting three tubes inside the dune, which would be pulled by industrial tractors.

As VFX Supervisor Paul Lambert explains: “We’d have Timothée’s stunt double [Lorenz Hideyoshi] attached to a safety wire and he would run. The tubes would pull out. The sand would collapse, and Lorenz would fall down the top of the dune into the swirling dust below, kicking up sand. We had to get the timing right, the camera had to follow, and so on. It took some practice runs over a few days because the reset was quite long. Then my team [at DNEG] extended it out in CG using plates and aerial photography, making you feel like Paul is a lot higher up, and then of course adding the CG worm.

“For the actual ride, we have him on a gimble, so we can change the angle of the platform, surrounded by a huge sand-coloured enclosure that would get lit by the sun and bounce strong sand-coloured light onto Paul. We shot aerial photography that would be the surrounding landscape, while always blasting a lot of sand onto Paul. All combined, it feels like Paul is riding on a worm in the desert.”

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