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Dune director Denis Villeneuve breaks down ‘technically complex’ sandworm scene

Denis Villeneuve’s take on Frank Herbert’s Dune is colossal—with expansive desert shots and huge army artillery. But, as with all his work, the director manages to capture the intimacy and emotional depth in the story, using these huge sets as extensions of his characters.

One particular scene which strongly captures this features a spice harvester, as Paul Atreides (played by Timothee Chalamet) has his first encounter with spice, and the sandworms are revealed.

Spice is the substance Paul and his family Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) have been placed in charge of producing, with it holding the power of interstellar travel and heightened prescience in humans.

In this moment, we are introduced to the immense power available on the planet Arrakis, while also seeing the reason why the harsh, cruel landscape has foiled so many before them.

WARNING—ahead are some spoilers for Dune.

In a conversation with Newsweek, Villeneuve explained how this scene not only introduced the sandworms, but it also included filming in two locations and matching up the “puzzle” to make it fit together.

The ground section of the scene was shot in Jordan, after Villeneuve scoured the glove for “pristine sand dunes.”

Josh Brolin and Timothee Chalamet in the iconic scene from “Dune”.
Warner Bros

He said: “The scene was shot in Jordan and we found a place with pristine sand dunes that had the proper height, sand dunes that later on will fit with the areas that we will shoot in another country.”

The other shooting he mentioned is the air-based shots, where Paul, Duke Leto, Gurney (Josh Brolin) and Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan Brewster) are scouting one of the spice harvesters from their helicopter.

Villeneuve explained how they brought in 11-ton army artillery to act as the harvester, and parked it “in the middle of nowhere” to begin the filming of the action on the ground.

He continued: “There was a massive amount of wind machines everywhere, throwing sand and dust at the actors and part of the harvester was built in the desert, so it’s a mixture of aerials and groundwork that I did with the actors, with the main cast.”

Pulling the right people together is only part of the battle, as ensuring things like the sky and wind matched for the mixture of shots was crucial, especially when matching the scenes together that were shot in other countries.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in "Dune"
Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in “Dune”
Warner Bros

Luckily, he said they had “white skies,” which was exactly what they wanted, making the process simpler despite it being full of “little elements” to get right.

Villeneuve also said, while the scene was “technically complex,” it also felt incredibly cinematic. There was little dialogue but a great sense of purpose, as Paul feels a sense of deja vu when the spice hits him for the first time.

He added: “A scene like that is a puzzle. There’s tons of little elements that we shot in this environment which was technically complex to do, but very fun because it’s a scene that relies exclusively on cinema.

“There’s no dialogue, it’s more simple, a very cinematic scene that is one of my favorite ones and I love the moment where Paul… is stepping out for the first time in the desert and having that feeling of deja vu, or that feeling that ‘I have seen this before, I feel comfortable,’ I love that.”

The scene is also Paul’s first experience breathing in the spice, which not only heightens his sense of deja vu, but also sets him onto a moment of clarity and vision where he sees a version of his future in a more profound way than ever before.

After Paul manages to escape, the sandworms swallow the spice harvester, and the audience sees one of these beasts for the first time in an epic display.

Dune is in movie theaters and on HBO Max now

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