‘Dune: Part Two’ Editor Admits Cutting Tim Blake Nelson’s Character Was ‘Torture’

“Dune: Part Two” is coming home, with or without Tim Blake Nelson.

Denis Villeneuve’s supersized sequel, so far the biggest movie of 2024, is now available on home video, as well as 4K UHD (the preferred format), Blu-ray and DVD. In the second film, which adapts the second half of novelist Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is dealing with his growing messiah complex, while also trying to court the lovely Chani (Zendaya) and fend off attacks from the Harkonnens (including the fearsome Feyd, played by Austin Butler) and the arrival of the galactic Emperor (Christopher Walken). It enhances everything that made the first film so powerful, while also engaging a more humanistic (and humorous) portrayal of the characters and Herbert’s esoteric worlds.

To mark the home release, TheWrap spoke with “Dune: Part Two” editor Joe Walker, who also edited the first film, about what it was like to cut the sequel (including having to chip away at performances), how early he gets involved and if he has spoken to Villeneuve about the third film, “Dune: Messiah.”

Was editing “Dune: Part Two” more challenging than the first film? Or just challenging in a different way?

Look, there’s never a reason to be complacent starting any film. It’s incredible any film gets made at all, let alone one with such a complex world. There was a certain fear factor on the first one of tackling a story that had been a very thorny path for previous filmmakers. I would recite “Fear is the mind killer” several times to myself, but it was good. It was good energy for the cut and for the process, and with “Dune 2” I think there was some liberation, shall we say, from the fact that most of those factions, of which there are many in “Dune,” had been well set up. It allowed us to lean into action-adventure/war film, and always trying to nurture the intimate and delicate and human. But sometimes playing both at the same time – you’ve got a shot that goes from the little desert mouse that goes up to a giant Harkonnen harvester. You’re always trying to delicately balance those intimate stories and even the influence of a tiny, shrimp-like fetus in the story with the massive desert landscape, which we knew would just bring such visceral pleasure to the viewer, especially on the big screen, and on smaller formats, I hope. The groundwork was done. But there was zero complacency. We were working hard at it for, in my case, the better part of a year.

Were you cutting while they were shooting? What was it like seeing that footage roll in?

Oh god, amazing. The big privilege of the job is that you’ve got a front row seat, seeing what these amazing teams, you know, you’re the still point of a turning world where you’re receiving material from camera and sound department. Also, we are always developing sound, for example, the Harkonnen gladiatorial scene. Denis had said very early to me, he just didn’t want the sound of 21st century sports game. He’d developed some behaviors for the Harkonnen – they didn’t clap. They would do other gestures. But how do you get the excitement and the ups and downs of a crowd that you need as an editor to build into the fabric of the cut to amplify the high points and low points of the story, the confusions when things aren’t happening as the crowd expects – that’s all being built right from day one. There’s no time to waste.

VFX department is bringing things in, and we’re pumping stuff out to VFX quickly. Often I’m there in Budapest in a cutting room a little bit separate from the location, insofar as I don’t go on set unless I really have to, mostly to achieve some kind of objectivity. And then he would come over to me often and come and have a look. We’d look at sequences together and spend some time over the weekends, pouring over the options for things that had to be turned over to VFX. I’m working in parallel with him, but you know, you say, “What’s it like to see it coming in?” Actually, apart from a little pre-shoot sequence that was shot in northern Italy, which was the some of the Bene Gesserit scenes with Florence Pugh and the Reverend Mother, those scenes. But the first stuff that came in was the arena scene, which if you think about it is a bold move. That’s the first material the studio sees, and it’s Feyd. I met him on set and he’s terrifying, but also the infrared look. Everyone’s eyes are really weird and the skin is really papery and waxy and vampiric. That was the first material I’m receiving. There’s no easing in, it was in there with the boldest decision.

Can you talk about who Tim Blake Nelson played and what it was like to cut that material?

None of those decisions are made lightly. I mean, it’s torture. Especially for Denis, somebody who nurtures his talent so much. Everything is to try and keep as many of the ingredients in play. But there comes a time where you have to balance the momentum of a story and the audience’s journey. And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not just actors, sometimes it’s a shot that’s taken them months to plan and days to execute, and it’s done with a heavy heart. I learned that a long time ago that it has to be story-first, always.

Denis is already talking about the third film. Have you started discussing things with him?

The gates that open it for an editor into a project are often the script, which in my case, I probably would have received about two months before they shot, just to be able to chip in some thoughts, but really much more for my benefit of seeing where they’re at and what the plan is. I know the books. But for me, the big impact of “Dune: Part Two” was the Chani update, which I thought was so clever and so in the spirit of the book without being slavish to it. I thought that was an exceptional choice. And then the next sort of stages, a couple of weeks before shooting our production designer would give us his concept book, which was about 90 or 100 pages of highly developed worlds. You write script, but then you storyboard and you develop the concept art, and you end in pre-vis, which is really becoming elaborate and brilliant. Then [Denis] will go back to the script and revise it, having worked it out in the storyboard stage. It’s constantly evolving. And it doesn’t stop there, you end up in the cutting room making many upheavals, some minor, some major, to try and balance the story and to always get to the end of a substantial film and hopefully leave the audience wanting more.

“Dune: Part Two” is now available on digital, 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD. It will be available to stream on Max starting May 21.

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