Walking the sandwalk: How Dune choreographed Timothée Chalamet's dance through the desert
The desert of Dune is deadly. As if the blazing sun and harsh winds of Arrakis weren't dangerous enough, the desert planet is also suffused with gigantic sandworms. These worms are ever on watch for anyone or anything that disturbs their environment, and nothing attracts them faster than steady, rhythmic sounds. So the only way for non-natives to avoid the worms' wrath is to move un-rhythmically.
Thus we have the sandwalk — the jittery, inconsistent pace that Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) adopt after being abandoned in the deep desert. The movement is described thusly by Dune author Frank Herbert in his original 1965 novel: "step...drag...drag...step...step...wait...drag...step..."
In order to find a way to translate this sandwalk to the screen, director Denis Villeneuve brought out a big gun: Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied.
"He's a friend of mine, so I said to Benjamin, 'I need someone to design a very simple way of walking the desert so that you will not trigger anything,'" Villeneuve says. "It's something that we see just a little glimpse of in Part One, but it's a really beautiful design. It's a way of walking in the desert that will not create a rhythm, because if you walk with a certain rhythm, the worms are attracted to that. So we designed a walk that emulates the sand and the sound of the desert. It's a genius idea from Frank Herbert that I wanted to make sure would be on the screen."
For Chalamet, learning the sandwalk was one of the most memorable parts of working on Dune. He agrees with Villeneuve that it is "one of the great conceits of Frank Herbert."
"That was a great challenge to get down," Chalamet says of the arrhythmic movement. "I learned it well in advance, because it's Paul's responsibility to show Jessica in that moment, and it also has to be, in his Muad'Dib fashion, instinctual to him. But it was an even greater physical challenge on the day, just doing it again and again. I think it was important to capture the exhaustion of the characters in those moments, where they're climbing those high ravines, or they take a break and are sitting on top of that ridge. It was tiring. But this is an incredible conceit Frank Herbert came up with, to be navigating the scariest environment with a Jaws-times-1000 figure lurking underneath."
If you want to figure out how to walk the sandwalk yourself, check out our handy graphic below.
- The sound of sand: How Hans Zimmer and Dune collaborators built their sonic sci-fi world
- What Dune's out-of-this-world costumes reveal about its characters
- Doing Dune right: Inside the making of the long-awaited (and star-packed) adaptation
- Queen of the Desert: How Rebecca Ferguson faced her fears with Dune
A new adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel about the son of a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable but crucially important planet.