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Film

Denis Villeneuve on how he "fell deeply in love" with the anatomy of the Sandworms

Denis Villeneuve sits in a very unique lane of filmmaking, with the likes of Christopher Nolan and James Cameron being some of the few directors to join him as a true modern innovator. A lover of science fiction and intricate human stories, Villeneuve has revolutionised the modern science fiction genre multiple times over with the releases of Arrival in 2016, Blade Runner 2049 in 2017 and, most importantly, Dune in 2021. 

Following in the footsteps of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky, two filmmakers who recreated the world of Dune’s Arrakis to differing levels of success, Villeneuve’s latest sci-fi phenomenon captured the minds of audiences and critics, hauling in several Academy Awards as a result. Starring some of the greatest contemporary actors including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa, the film tapped into the rhythm of the modern zeitgeist and remains to ride on its momentum to this day. 

Of the many spectacular elements of the sci-fi world, the story’s iconic Sandworms were a much-anticipated feature, with fans excited to see how the monstrous creatures would be brought to life. With a decent amount of room for creative expression, it was exactly how Villeneuve was intending to depict the Sandworms that created the most amount of fervent enthusiasm.

In conversation with Vulture, Villeneuve discussed his intentions behind the creature’s design, with the filmmaker stating that he wanted a unique take on the monster that differed from Lynch’s version and Frank Herbert’s original book. 

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Outlining that he wanted the worms to feel like ancient beings, he explained, “I kept saying to Patrice Vermette, my production designer, ‘I want the worm to be like a prehistoric creature, something that has been living and evolving for 100,000 years’”. Wrinkled and weathered, Villeneuve certainly pulls off this effect, with him further clarifying, “We needed a beast that can survive a harsh and brutal environment. We were thinking about how thick the skin should be, how the mouth should close to travel in the sand”. 

Strangely though, aside from the size and majesty of the beings, the most “important” part of the director’s creative process with his production designer was “how does it feed?”. 

Going deeper into his thought process, the visionary director recalled, “We had the idea that it would be a bit like a whale: It would need some kind of filter system to be able to capture nutrients in the sand — this idea of the baleen”. How much did he enjoy the process of design? Concluding his thoughts with the publication, he excitedly expresses, “I feel deeply in love”. 

We like to think he fell in love with the detail of the creature rather than its swollen appearance, and it’s clear that he does indeed adore the beast. “It’s an anatomic detail that’s very grounded in the world and in the ecosystem,” he adds, clarifying, “it also allowed me to create this idea that when you look into a worm’s mouth, it looks like an eye. It has this feeling of the presence of a god”. 

With more Sandworms to come in Dune: Part 2, we can’t wait to see just how deep the detail of the creatures goes.