Dune promises to be one of 2021's most majestic big-screen spectacles. Screening in both widescreen and IMAX formats, this adaptation of Frank Herbert's seminal 1965 novel sweeps audiences onto the planet of Arrakis, which has become a pawn in an intergalactic tug of war.
Sicario and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve is at the helm, adapting the first half of the first Dune book. And the cast is phenomenal: led by Timothée Chalamet (you can discover some of the other names by scrolling through our feature), this promises to be weighty, ambitious and visually stunning sci-fi at its finest.
With the new trailer now on release, here are some pivotal, non-spoilery plot details for those who haven't embarked on Herbert's original tome.
1. Chani, the Fremen and 'Spice'
Frank Herbert's original novel of Dune is framed by the recollections of Princess Irulan, a royal scholar and member of House Corrino. However, Villeneuve and his screenwriters, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) and Eric Roth (Oscar-winner for Forrest Gump), have opted for a more emotionally direct approach.
As evidenced in this new trailer, and the recent IMAX prologue preview, the narrative of the film is framed from the perspective of Chani, played by Zendaya (Spider-Man: No Way Home). She is a member of the indigenous population of the planet of Arrakis, and has personally witnessed the ruthless exploitation of her planet by external forces. One senses that Villeneuve and the writers are aiming for allegorical comparisons with events in the Middle East, the Amazon and elsewhere. As with all great science fiction, the scenario may be fantastical but the context draws on concerns that occupy us on planet Earth.
This should give the storyline a greater sense of immediacy as we witness colonial expansion through the eyes of someone whose traditions are suffering. The planet of Arrakis, as per the book, has become a political football because of 'Spice', a fabled substance that has become the most valuable commodity in the universe. Arrakis is the greatest known spice depository, and Chani and her fellow Fremen, including leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), plus scientist Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), are caught in the middle.
The mysterious tube that Chani has hooked to her nose is a self-regulating water supply deriving from a full-body outfit known as a 'stillsuit'. The suit repurposes moisture from one's own body, and is designed to help Chani and fellow tribesmen stay hydrated as they traverse the scorched wastes of Arrakis.
2. Paul Atreides and his destiny
Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name; the upcoming The French Dispatch) plays the story's main protagonist Paul, heir to the throne of House Atreides. As the trailer makes clear, his destiny has already been portended: he has visions, or, more accurately, waking dreams, of Chani, which anticipates his arrival on Arrakis and what is to come. The Atreides family derives from the planet Caladan, which, in a dynamic visual contrast to Arrakis, is lush, arboreal and filled with water, although damp and moisture-filled as a result. (In the book, this contrast yields some of Paul's most piercing observations when he lands on Arrakis for the first time.)
Although it's barely glimpsed in the trailer, at the beginning of the story Paul is put through an ancient test known as the Gom Jabbar. This is designed to test his instincts as he prepares to step up and succeed his father, Duke Leto (Star Wars' Oscar Isaac). The Gom Jabbar is led by the mysterious Bene Gesserit soothsayer Gaius Helen Mohiam, played by 45 Years' Charlotte Rampling (we'll get back to the Bene Gesserit momentarily).
Uprooted from his temperate home planet, Paul is transported with his family to Arrakis where his family has taken up stewardship at the behest of the Emperor. However, political machinations mean the outgoing and ruthless Harkonnen clan plots insurgent revenge against the Atreides family, causing chaos and disruption. Watch out in the trailer for the character of Dr Yueh, played by Chang Chen (known for John Woo epic Red Cliff). He has an important role to play in the terror that follows.
Fortunately, Paul has loyal support from his various mentors Gurney Halleck (Sicario's Josh Brolin) and Duncan Idaho (Aquaman's Jason Momoa). Both characters indulge the tough love approach as far as Paul is concerned, conditioning him for the challenges of royal succession and honing his instincts as to possible betrayal lurking around every corner. In the trailer, one briefly glimpses the use of the full-body shields used by Paul and Gurney during their combat training.
3. The role of Lady Jessica
Paul's mother Lady Jessica (played by The Greatest Showman's Rebecca Ferguson) is a concubine in the house of Duke Leto Atreides. She's known as a Bene Gesserit, essentially belonging to a collective of witches and seers who harbour their own political aspirations amidst the tapestry of Dune. The powers of the Bene Gesserit are honed through years of careful psychological conditioning with the most accomplished of the order known as Reverend Mothers (referred to earlier).
The Bene Gesserit are a matriarchal order but there is an implicit desire to produce a male heir, via selective breeding, named the Kwisatz Haderach. Should the prophecy be realised, this individual will take on Messianic qualities with powerful implications for the whole universe. All that aside, Villeneuve has granted the female characters more agency in his film adaptation, Jessica and Chani included (Liet-Kynes has also been changed from a male to a female character), and his treatment of the pivotal Lady Jessica character is already causing much excitement.
Initially somewhat standoffish towards her son, Jessica bonds with Paul when they are forced to flee the ruthless Harkonnen attack on Arrakis. Their subsequent escape, teased in fragments in the trailer, leads to some of the book's most riveting set-pieces, and we can therefore assume that the movie will follow suit.
4. The planet of Arrakis and the worms
Herbert conceived Arrakis based on serious, real-life ecology. Prior to writing the novel, Herbert, at one time an ecological consultant, had researched the constantly shifting sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, located southwest of Portland. Science, therefore, underpins much of the prose inherent in the Dune story, with Herbert crafting a plausibly mounted ecosystem in the form of Arrakis that extends to the details of the flora and fauna.
On Arrakis, one cannot escape the intimidating spectre of the monstrous sandworms, which are glimpsed to eye-widening effect in the new Dune trailer. Villeneuve reportedly spent an entire year honing the design of these monsters whose legacy and lifecycle is critical to the understanding of Arrakis. The only individuals with seeming mastery over the worms are the Fremen – they understand that the worms are attracted to minute tremors on the planet's surface, and to see one and stay alive is very fortunate indeed. The spice harvesters on Arrakis are particularly vulnerable to worm attacks – Paul and Gurney get a birds-eye view soon after they arrive on Arrakis, a sequence that promises stunning visuals in Villeneuve's adaptation.
The trailer hints at Paul's character development in this area. After fleeing with Jessica across the sand at night (one of the book's most suspenseful moments), he comes face to face with the cavernous maw of an oversized worm. This hints at his later integration with the Fremen and his own eventual ability to master the worms. (The trailer subtly signals this by overlaying the visual imagery with Duke Leto talking about Paul's destiny – he is indeed destined for great things.)
5. The blue eyes
One might be confused by the sudden iridescence of Paul's eyes (and those of other characters) in the trailer. This is directly due to the chemical properties of spice, which induces physical changes and more besides. To say more would be to spoil the story. One must wait until Dune is unleashed on October 22nd to discover the full impact of spice.