Dune: Part Two was directly inspired by Abu Dhabi desert, says director Denis Villeneuve

Landscape not only informed film’s aesthetic but was at its very foundation, director tells The National

Dune: Part Two director tells of Abu Dhabi desert’s influence

Dune: Part Two director tells of Abu Dhabi desert’s influence
Powered by automated translation

The Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi was more than just a backdrop for Dune: Part Two. After director Denis Villeneuve finalised the script, he travelled to Abu Dhabi to develop the film’s visual composition. Rolling sandy expanse and dunes towering up to 300 metres high, the landscape not only informed the film’s aesthetic, but was at its foundation.

“Did it influence the way we shot the movie? Tremendously. The main reason I came here was to be inspired directly by the desert,” Villeneuve told The National. “You cannot create those shots that we’ve made on a soundstage in a back lot. I designed all the shots according to the landscape.”

When asked whether he plans to return to the emirate for the film’s third instalment, Villeneuve said he certainly hopes so. “It's a very unique desert. It's not only fantastically beautiful, but you feel the power of nature. There's a presence to this landscape that I didn't find anywhere else.”

Villeneuve visited Abu Dhabi as part of the Middle East premiere of Dune: Part Two. The director, along with actors Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista, appeared on the red carpet event at Vox Cinemas in Abu Dhabi’s Galleria Mall on February 18.

Brolin and Bautista play characters that are in many ways antithetical to one another. Brolin plays Gurney Halleck, who is a mentor figure to the film’s protagonist Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet). Many have been waiting to see how Halleck survived the Harkonnen onslaught of Arrakis, which left much of House Atreides dead.

“Gurney has become more of [who he really] is. It's just a deeper sense of who he is. But you find him heart-broken,” Brolin said. “I don't think that you've experienced that. In the first movie, it was a kind of an introduction. It was an introduction to everybody really. He was trying to get Paul into maturity and self-reliance. Now Paul has not only become that, but he's far surpassing that. So, Gurney becomes more of a witness or a support than anything.”

Halleck is now morphed by the tragedy that killed many of his closest friends, but Brolin said there was always a darker side to the character, but “now he’s grappling with something that he didn’t even know existed.”

Bautista’s character, Rabban, stands as a polar opposite to Halleck, and in many ways, fans are expecting a showdown between the two figures in Dune: Part Two. While Rabban is renowned for his ruthlessness, he is also governed by fear. Perhaps in many ways, he is the personification of the film’s recurring line: fear is the mind-killer.

Bautista was not so sure.

“All of Rabban’s anger is rage,” he said. “It all stems from his fear. He’s afraid and he’s insecure. I don’t know if it’s a mind-killer for him, because he’s not very smart to begin with, which I think also just adds to his insecurity.”

While Brolin and Villeneuve had visited Abu Dhabi during the filming process, Bautista shot his parts in other locations, which included Italy, Hungary and Jordan’s Petra region.

During the red carpet event, he said he was looking forward to finally seeing the Abu Dhabi desert for himself.

“Everyone keeps saying its hot, but I love the heat,” he said. “In the US, I love to go to places like the Arizona desert or Albuquerque in New Mexico. They constantly try to run and cover me with an umbrella, [but] I’m a sun devil, I love the heat.”

Meanwhile, Brolin hinted that he was looking forward to returning. He had visited the emirate with his family during the production for Dune: Part Two and was existentially awestruck by the desert.

“I think when you show up to the desert for the first time, you feel very insignificant,” he told The National on the red carpet. “I love that feeling. I love that feeling of humility. Then, by the time you leave, you’re crying. You don’t want to leave because there’s something about that kind of spiritual insignificance that you start to feed off of. It’s very nourishing. I saw my kids go through it. I saw my wife go through it. I fed off this place massively. We had a great experience.”

Dune: Part Two is released in the UAE and Lebanon on Thursday, and is scheduled for a wider regional release on April 11

Updated: February 27, 2024, 5:23 AM