With Dune hype riding high off the trailer for Part Two of Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation, publisher Insight Editions has offered up an exclusive peek inside a new book of stunning imagery taken on the set of Part One by veteran film photographer, Chiabella James (Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Wonder Woman 1984).
“I’ve spent my whole life on film sets, but the difference on Dune was the atmosphere amongst the cast and crew,” James tells me over email. “The tone of the whole experience was of respect, collaboration, and creative expression, which gave space and opportunity for crew like myself to work with the freedom to push our boundaries and show our best.”
Hitting stands this August, Dune Part One: The Photography comprises an assemblage of production and candid stills meticulously culled from the thousands snapped during the film’s Sandworm-sized shoot around the globe.
Principal photography took the cast and crew from the precarious cliffs of Norway (serving as Caladan, the Earth-like home world of House Atreides) to the expansive deserts of Jordan (standing in for the spice-filled wastelands of Arrakis). While stunningly depicted onscreen, these real-world locations posed the greatest challenge for James, who found herself in a constant battle with the elements.
“The most difficult images to get are usually the ones in extreme conditions like the sandstorms or the rain,” the photographer recalls. “It’s hard enough to find a great angle when you’re squeezing your way into a film set, trying to stay out of the way of the cameras and crew working to shoot the scene, but add in the practicalities of sand or rain whipping your face, seeping into your equipment and obscuring your image, and the challenge to get a great image is intensified exponentially!”
As for choosing which stills would make the cut for publication, James selected “a few hundred images from the thousands,” and then winnowed it down from there. The goal, she explains, was to show that an on-set photographer’s job goes well beyond the usual collection of assets included with a press release.
“I went through multiple rounds of selections to narrow down to the best. I wanted to incorporate the whole experience of the production … while also shining a light on the fact that, on a film like Dune, unit photography is an art — not just a marketing tool.”
Hailed for its dense and world-building and influence on the likes of Star Wars and Game of Thrones, the seminal source material written by Frank Herbert takes place in a far-flung future where royal houses live in tenuous harmony throughout the cosmos. This interstellar civilization thrives on Spice Melange, a precious and mind-altering substance only found on the desert planet of Arrakis. When his father, Duke Leto Atreides, is betrayed by the ruthless Harkonnens, young Paul seeks refuge among the Fremen (the native folk of Arrakis) and fulfills his destiny.
Dune Part One: The Photography goes on sale from Insight Editions Aug. 15. The book features a foreword by executive producer Tanya Lapoint, a preface by cast member Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica), and an afterword by author Brian Herbert (son of Frank Herbert and curator of the Dune legacy).
Dune: Part One is currently streaming on HBO Max (or just Max, if you prefer). Part Two arrives on the big screen Friday, Nov. 3. While nothing’s been confirmed yet, Villeneuve has voiced interest in a trilogy by adapting Dune Messiah.