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Dune 2’s “Tragic” Book Change Means Dune 3 Has To Happen

Denis Villeneuve’s latest Dune comments are a sandworm-sized bombshell.

Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan.
Warner Bros/Legendary
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The sleeper must awaken! By this time next month, the full cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s first Dune novel will be complete. And, while we should expect an ending that is mostly faithful to the book, Denis Villeneuve has hinted that there’s at least one way in which the new film differs from the text. And, in this revelation, it seems like a third Dune film almost has to be completed, otherwise, everyone is just going to be too depressed. Book spoilers ahead.

In the latest issue of Total Film, Denis Villeneuve lays out why he feels Dune: Part Two will hit differently than the original book, which seems to make the possibility of a third Dune film not only more likely, but possibly necessary.

Dune’s ending will be darker than the book

“All of the elements are there...But I think the movie adaptation is more tragic than the book,” Villeneuve told Total Film, which was then reported by that magazine’s sister publication, Games Radar.

This is just the first part of the new quote from Villeneuve, but it’s a lot to unpack. By saying “all the elements are there,” Villeneuve seems to be making it clear that he’s not altering the plot or themes from the Frank Herbert book. Somewhere before the end of the movie, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and Chani (Zendaya) will likely lose a child. Because this happens quickly in the novel, perhaps this is what will feel more tragic. That said, the death of Paul and Chani’s first child can’t be the very end of the movie. In theory, the final scenes should depict Paul rising to power, and, agreeing to marry Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh).

So, Dune: Part Two won’t suddenly depict the planet Arrakis blowing up (that happens in book five, and several thousand years later.) Nor will the ending of the movie somehow change the fundamental implications of the novel: Paul becomes a religious leader as well as a political one, and his reign spreads a holy war, whether he wants it or not.

It’s probably this detail — the grim result of the Fremen victory — that will create the feeling of greater tragedy than what’s on the page at the end of the book version of Dune. Then again, it’s possible that, unlike Herbert’s novel, Villeneuve will actually give us scenes from Messiah, which could make the ending not just tragic for what happens in this story, but also, what’s coming.

Dune 2 demands Dune 3

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two.

Warner Bros/Legendary

Because of “the way that Part Two ends” Villeneuve also told Total Film that “it would create a total balance and equilibrium to finish Paul’s storyline in what we could say in Part Three.”

What this means is that Villeneuve views the end of Paul’s complete story at the conclusion of the second book, Dune Messiah. Dune: Part One and Dune: Part Two comprise a full adaptation of the first novel Dune, while a hypothetical third movie, would adapt the second novel, Messiah. In terms of length, Dune Messiah is nearly half as long as Dune. It takes place 12 years later, and tells the story of Duncan Idaho’s resurrection, a conspiracy against Paul, and how Paul and Chani’s twins are born. Paul’s prescience in Dune Messiah also becomes the thing that destroys him; ensuring him in precognition that prevents him from making different choices. The eventual result? Paul is blinded, and walks into the desert on his own, which, relative to the Villeneuve movie versions, would fit with the Part One line “my road leads into the desert.”

When Frank Herbert wrote Dune, he didn’t give us specific flash-forwards to the ending of Messiah, because it hadn’t been written yet. But, Villeneuve could easily foreshadow the events of his Part Three, before the end of Part Two. He’s done it before. In Part One, we got several scenes of the future, in which Paul and Chani were ruling over the universe, and Paul had obtained the blue eye coloring of the Fremen.

So, maybe the ultimate reason that the ending of Dune: Part Two will feel more tragic than the book, is simply because the tragedy of the next film will already be witnessed. Because when the main character can see the future, everything gets a little bit sad.

Dune: Part Two is out in wide release on March 1, 2024.

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