Denis Villeneuve on 'Dune: Part Two,' sci-fi and China
By Zhang Rui  ·  2024-03-21  ·   Source:

During a short promotional tour in China from March 13-15 for the release of "Dune: Part Two," director Denis Villeneuve visited the Forbidden City, an IMAX theater and other venues in Beijing. Villeneuve also met with enthusiastic fans and received gifts that included Chinese local spices and incense. Besides greeting fans, he also exchanged ideas with Chinese directors Chen Sicheng and Frant Gwo, discussing the new film, his views on science fiction and his past experiences and possible future China plans. 


Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and Tanya Lapointe, his wife and film producer, pose for a photo at China's Forbidden City in Beijing, March 13, 2024. [Photo courtesy of Legendary East]  

"First of all, it all started with the book. The book is very strong in details and textures and sensations," Villeneuve said, noting the classic sci-fi novel "Dune" by Frank Herbert. Despite "Dune" being a cornerstone of science fiction, Villeneuve was determined to ground his adaptation in reality, filming on location in the vast deserts of Abu Dhabi and Namibia.

Though modern tech innovation has prompted worries about artificial intelligence and other high-tech concerns, Villeneuve said that one aspect of the novel that attracted him is that it's not about technology. "It's about the triumph of the human spirit in the 'Dune' universe, where AI is banned."

Gu Bei, the sci-fi writer and Chinese translator of "Dune," praised Villeneuve's approach to filming, highlighting how "Dune: Part Two" is tailored for a cinematic experience with its classical textures and soul-stirring music. "What's most important is that the director has truly grasped the main warning the original author wanted to convey to the world: when a belief system, power and charismatic heroes combine it is actually very dangerous for humanity," she remarked.

The epic tale of Dune's protagonist Paul Atreides continues to draw viewers into theaters for an immersive experience that only premium formats like IMAX can provide. "Dune: Part Two" has grossed 260 million yuan in China by Sunday and is nearing $500 million worldwide since its debut in early March.


Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has a dialogue with his Chinese colleague Chen Sicheng, who is making an innovative new film "Decoded," in Beijing, March 14, 2024. [Photo courtesy of Legendary East]  

Chen Sicheng, the renowned Chinese filmmaker whose "Detective Chinatown" trilogy grossed a total of 8.74 billion yuan, met with Villeneuve on March 14. "As I continue making films, including watching 'Dune: Part Two,' there's always a sense of déjà vu. I increasingly feel that the best works of art, including films, are about awakening — a part of our subconscious or a dimension of our awareness," Chen said, striking a chord of agreement with Villeneuve.

Villeneuve's admiration for Chinese sci-fi cinema was reciprocated when he met with Frant Gwo, director of the wildly successful "The Wandering Earth" franchise which grossed more than 8.7 billion yuan with two installments. "The scope of 'The Wandering Earth II' is so big that it makes my movie look like an indie film," Villeneuve joked, expressing his awe for Gwo's exploration of "sacrifice" and the meticulous attention to detail in the films' production and design.

Villeneuve sees science fiction as a playful yet profound medium to address different difficult subjects. "I think it's very healthy for human beings to project themselves into the future. Nowadays it's even more essential; it's an act of hope," he stated.


Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve and his Chinese colleague Frant Gwo hold posters of each other's films during a dialogue held in Beijing, March 15, 2024. [Photo courtesy of Legendary East]  

Gwo, in turn, drew attention to the humbling perspective that sci-fi can offer by mentioning "Pale Blue Dot," NASA's iconic photo of Earth which is featured in "The Wandering Earth II." He noted, "Such an image inspires reflection on our place in the cosmos and the kindness we owe to one another. Thus, sci-fi films can help us see this from different dimensions and perspectives."

Villeneuve called himself "one of the worst actors ever" when Gwo extended an invitation for him to make a cameo appearance in "The Wandering Earth 3." However, he said he would love to visit the set in the future, mentioning he visited Chengdu in 1990 while making a small documentary. The French-Canadian film director continued by saying that he has always wanted to return to China for decades because of his fascination with the country and its culture.

"I have always said to my wife, I think the only way that we can come back and spend time [in China] would be to make a movie here actually. So, I will try to make this happen. I don't know if it's 'Dune: Part Three' but that I have the chance to spend time and work here will really be a dream, and I'm serious," he said.

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