Denis Villeneuve Says 'Challenge' of 'Dune' Was Making It Understandable for Non-Book Fans

When Denis Villeneuve was tapped to direct an adaptation of Dune it was no secret that it would be a huge undertaking.

Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel, which has also spawned several sequels, is set on numerous planets, features a huge cast of characters, and has a rather convoluted storyline.

So it's no wonder the director himself felt it was a "challenge" to make sure he condensed the story enough that it would not only please fans of the books, but also be understandable to those who weren't.

Speaking at a screen talk at the BFI London on Tuesday, Villeneuve described how he wanted viewers who hadn't read Herbert's book feel "welcome."

"Frankly, the biggest challenge was to make sure that people who had not read the book would be welcome and would be able to understand that story," the Arrival director explained at the event.

"Because, of course, the reputation of the book is that it is dense and complex, and I wanted to make sure that, let's say, my mother could understand without having to read the book, which is unfair for my mother because she is an intelligent woman.

"At the same time I wanted to make sure that the hardcore fans would find the qualities, the poetry, the beauty and the complexity from the books; I had to find that equilibrium."

Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve attends the UK Special Screening of "Dune" at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on October 18, 2021 in London, England. Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Warner Bros

Villeneuve went on to express the joy he felt when he learned there were those who had seen early previews of the film who felt he had succeeded: "People who haven't read the book have come to me and said that they understood and enjoyed the story, that was a relief."

The filmmaker went on to detail the thought process that went into his take on Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the villain of the film played by Stellan Skarsgård.

Looking back at the character in the novel, he said: "The book aged very well, what it says about its themes and about the world of the 21st century.

"Frank Herbert, I think did a portrait of the 20th century and it's like a prediction of what was to come in the 21st century, and the book is suddenly more relevant so the book aged very well but some elements of it didn't.

"Like the Baron in the book is very 'twisty mustache,' he's very talkative... and I wanted to bring the necessary fear and threat to him, that's why I cast Stellan Skarsgård."

Villeneuve added: "But also, we did a tremendous amount of work on the shape of this character so he doesn't look like a fat baby, he's more muscular.

"I wanted to make him more taciturn, a man of few words, there's a deep intelligence in the eyes. I'm pretty proud of what Stellan did."

Dune is out in theaters and on HBO Max now.