By Travis Johnson

It is gonna be strange when the lexicon and mythology of Frank Herbert’s Dune starts cropping up everywhere once the marketing campaign for Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming big screen adaptation really spins up to speed. Right now Herbert’s mammoth series is beloved by its fans – it is The Lord of the Rings of science fiction, only more dense and less readable as it goes along – but outside of that rarefied group, largely invisible to everyone except David Lynch completists.

All that has now changed irrevocably with the news that this year’s Hot Young Thing Timothée Chalamet is in talks to take on the lead role in Villeneuve’s next SF epic. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Chalamet, who earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Call Me By Your Name, will be up for the role of Paul Atreides, noble heir turned messianic rebel leader in the film’s far-flung future universe of warring dynasties and galaxy-spanning intrigue.

Or, as they put it: “…the complex story of a fallen noble family’s attempt to control a desert planet named Arrakis and its export, a rare spice drug, while being betrayed by a galactic emperor.

“Paul Atreides is the lead character, the son of the ruler of the family, who is forced to escape into the desert wastelands and partner with its nomadic tribes. Using enhanced mental abilities, he eventually rises to become their ruler, the nomads believing he is their messiah, and leads an army to overthrow the empire.”

Which barely scratches the surface. Dune is weird, man. So weird that Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to film it back in the ’70s – a failed project that nonetheless had a massive ripple effect through the culture. Check it out:

…so weird that even David Lynch couldn’t crack it, although his catastrophic 1984 effort, which starred Kyle MacLachlan as Paul, has its defenders (and some wonderful production design).

Still, the presence of Chalamet indicates that they’re tackling this thing with serious intent, and Villeneuve’s clear ambition and love of the genre (it’ll be his third science fiction film in a row) are also positive signs. Nonetheless, it’s going to be odd if Dune penetrates the mianstream, and suddenly perfectly normal people are talking about Sardaukar and the CHOAM company without batting an eyelid.


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