Video Credit: Supplied footage/edited by Anas Thacharpadikkal

“See you at the Oscars,” said Hollywood actor Josh Brolin with a wink. As far as parting words go, Brolin had nailed it.

We were at the end of our whirlwind interview in Abu Dhabi, discussing his operatic sci-fi marvel ‘Dune: Part Two’ with visionary director Denis Villeneuve and wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista. Behind us, the sprawling Al Wathba desert in the UAE capital was witness to his worthy and playful assumption.

Let’s not forget that Dune’s first instalment in October 2021 landed 10 Oscar nominations, second only to Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the Dog’ as the most nominated film at the 94th Academy Awards. While their first instalment landed nominations in every craft category and took home six golden statuettes, Villeneuve wasn’t nominated in the best director category, making it one of the biggest Oscar snubs of that year. Following the notorious awards rebuff, Brolin even posted a video on his social media calling it an “[expletive] totally dumb” move. But they all seemed to have moved on.

So, when this journalist asked them how important Oscar’s glory was to them with regards to ‘Dune: Part Two’, they had contrasting views on getting awards recognition.

“It’s not [important]. When you make movies, it’s not about the outcome. Seriously, it’s about the process because I have no control of how our movie will be received. We are making a movie for the audience and I have no idea how even people will receive it,” said Villeneuve, adding that working with incredible artists was the real treat.

Denis Villeneuve, Tanya Lapointe, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin return to Abu Dhabi after filming significant portions of 'Dune: Part Two' in this region

But Brolin, who returns as General Gurney Halleck -- the surly mentor to Paul Atreides’ (Timothee Chalamet) -- was having none of it and quipped: “They are really, really important. I love it.”

Everybody laughed at his impishness, but he continued in a more serious tone.

“You know what it is [Oscar wins]? It’s a nice gesture. If it happens, it’s a nice gesture. But if somebody who has seen ‘Dune’ comes up to you at the airport and goes: ‘Oh My God, I just saw Dune and loved it,’ that’s the same to me. You know what I mean? It’s a personal reaction that I cherish,” said Brolin.

For Bautista, who returns as the evil-incarnate Beast Rabban in ‘Dune: Part Two’, releasing in the UAE cinemas on February 29, awards even if it's the highly desired Oscars mean very little.

“I am very indifferent [to Oscars] and it has never been [about the awards]. Throughout my whole career — whether it be acting or wrestling — it has never been about accolades. It’s been about the process of performance. So, it’s really about the art,” said Bautista.

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Wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista during the Abu Dhabi premiere of 'Dune: Part Two' at the Vox Cinemas, Galleria Mall

Bautista’s last sentence rings true for the operatic and dense sci-fi adventure ‘Dune: Part Two,’ starring a galaxy of talents including Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Florence Pugh, Rebecca Ferguson, and Austin Butler.

Filmed largely in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter and Jordan, their latest cinematic chapter — culled from Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name — is a glorious piece of storytelling and an arts behemoth that deals with complex issues like political greed, ecological abuse, and finding one’s identity with admirable flair and cinematic flourish.

While the original is set on the futuristic desert planet Arrakis and throws the spotlight on the journey of Paul Atreides (Chalamet) and his reluctant ascent to power, the sequel follows how he navigates the murky world of politics, power struggles, and those mystical forces.

Themes like destiny, free will, greed, and leadership are explored with great depth. Plus, Abu Dhabi plays a starring role in this film. Villeneuve and team spent nearly a month filming significant portions of the film in the UAE capital.

Timothee Chalamet and Josh Brolin in 'Dune: Part 2'
Josh Brolin and Timothee Chalamet in 'Dune: Part Two'

In a separate interview, Sameer Al Jaberi, head of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, said they had built roads and a village to accommodate 300 local crew, 250 international staff, and 500 extras.

So what was it filming in the deserts of Abu Dhabi? Brolin and Villeneuve described it as the most magnificent and humbling experiences of their lives. Brolin believes the arid landscape is life’s biggest leveller. “You want to talk about life lessons? Just go live in the desert for six weeks and you are confronted, ultimately, with yourself over and over and over … There’s something very enticing and overwhelming about filming in a desert,” said Brolin, adding that they were all picking things up, carrying things, and helping each other like one big giant family.

For Villeneuve, who has begun to naturally gravitate towards Abu Dhabi, claims he feels unconditional love for the desert. For the first instalment, he filmed for just under a week in the UAE capital, but set aside 27 days of shoot in Abu Dhabi for the second instalment. 

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“The desert and me, it’s a love affair … It’s brutal, but it’s something that nourishes my soul deeply … Coming back for the premiere in Abu Dhabi brought back some beautiful memories. Just the smell of the desert is enchanting … I hope we will have the chance to come back,” said Villeneuve. Abu Dhabi has also proved to be a lucky mascot for their operatic spectacle of a film.

Early reviews for ‘Dune: Part Two’ have been extremely flattering with the majority of film critics, including Gulf News, give it a four star rating out of five. Just like how 2023 was the year of ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’, movie punters have pegged 2024 as the year that belongs to ‘Dune: Part Two’. The stakes are higher, the onscreen world-building richer, and visuals far more dazzling in the chapter. And the best part? The characters get murkier with each instalment. So is ‘Dune’ a masterclass in life that tells you that there’s no black or white characters, just all shades of brown?

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Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya in 'Dune: Part Two', out in UAE cinemas on February 29

“All credit to that goes to Frank Herbert who wrote the novel. For him, Dune was an exploration of a warning against character figures … It was a warning against heroic figures that sometimes you are compelled to believe in them. And that’s dangerous to give them so much power,” said Villeneuve. The movie is also a cautionary tale about greed, goodness, and everything in between.

“It’s ultimately a human journey. The story focus is on a young man finding his place in the new world and a love story of his with a young woman who helps him understand a new culture and that new culture will help fight the enemy … What makes Dune amazing is that it’s a very human story,” said Villeneuve.

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‘Dune: Part 2’ is out in UAE cinemas on February 29