It seems like we’ve been waiting forever for the much-anticipated release of filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel Dune. The movie was originally slated for a November 2020 release before moving to December, but the winter surge of COVID-19 ultimately crushed those hopes. It was rescheduled to October 1, 2021, then bumped yet again to October 22. That date still holds (fingers crossed!), and Warner Bros. just released a new three-minute trailer showcasing tons of new footage from the film.
As we’ve reported previously (here and here), Herbert’s Dune is set in the distant future and follows the fortunes of various noble houses in what amounts to a feudal interstellar society. Much of the action takes place on the planet Arrakis, where the economy is driven largely by a rare, life-extending drug called melange (“the spice”). Melange also conveys a kind of prescience and makes faster-than-light travel practical. There’s betrayal, a prophecy concerning a messianic figure, giant sandworms, and battle upon battle, as protagonist Paul Atreides (a duke’s son) contends with rival House Harkonnen and strives to defeat the forces of Shaddam IV, Emperor of the Known Universe.
When Dune was first published, The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the monuments of modern science fiction.” Astronomers have used the names of fictional planets in Dune to identify various topographical features on Saturn’s moon Titan. Herbert wrote five sequels, and the franchise also includes board games, computer games, and numerous prequels and sequels written by his son Brian Herbert with the help of Kevin J. Anderson.
Dune is notoriously difficult to adapt—as David Lynch discovered when he directed his critically panned 1984 film adaptation—but Villeneuve found the trick was to split the novel in half. This first film will cover events in the first half of the novel, and a second installment will cover events in the second half. However, Villeneuve wrote an op-ed for Variety last December, sharply criticizing the studio’s decision to release Dune simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max (for a 31-day period) because of the ongoing global pandemic. He predicted this could result in the film underperforming at the box office (“piracy will ultimately triumph”), leading to a cancellation of the planned sequel.
Per the official premise:
A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence—a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential—only those who can conquer their fear will survive.
Timothée Chalamet plays the scion of House Atreides, Oscar Isaac plays Duke Leto Atreides, Rebecca Ferguson plays Lady Jessica, Jason Momoa plays Duncan Idaho, and Zendaya plays the mysterious Chani. Josh Brolin plays Paul’s other mentor, troubadour/warrior Gurney Halleck, while Javier Bardem plays Stilgar, the leader (naib) of the Fremen tribe—the original inhabitants of Arrakis who naturally view House Atreides as invaders.
Villeneuve tapped Stellan Skarsgård (in full-body prosthetics) to play Baron Vladimir, head of House Harkonnen, and Dave Bautista plays Glossu Rabban, the baron’s brutish nephew. In a departure from the book, the character of Liet Kynes, an Imperial planetologist on Arrakis, has been gender-swapped to be a Black woman, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
Warner Bros. debuted the first trailer last September. The reactions of Ars staffers were decidedly mixed, bordering on “meh”—mine being the exception. As I wrote at that time:
I found the 1984 Lynch film almost comically unwatchable (see Sting’s space Speedo), so Villeneuve’s take looks appealing to me. And I’m generally pretty tolerant of creative adaptations and thus not as heavily invested in how much the new film adheres to the details in Herbert’s novels. I think it was wise of Villeneuve to split the film into two parts; in fact, a big-budget prestige TV series might be even better, given the span and complexity of the source material.
This latest trailer opens with Paul’s recurring visions of a mysterious woman (Zendaya’s Chani). “My planet Arrakis is so beautiful when the Sun is low,” she tells him in a voiceover. “Rolling over the sands you can see spice in the air. The outsiders ravage our lands in front of our eyes. Their cruelty to my people is all I’ve known. What’s to become of our world… Paul?”
Paul tells Duncan Idaho about his dreams, but his friend is dismissive. “Dreams make good stories,” Duncan assures him, “but everything important happens when we’re awake.”
When Duke Leto accepts stewardship of Arrakis at the emperor’s request (despite suspecting that it’s a trap set by his political enemies), he takes Paul and Lady Jessica to the planet. But the Duke is betrayed, leading Paul and Lady Jessica to natives of Arrakis called the Fremen—and Paul recognizes Chani as the woman from his dreams. It’s not long before an all-out war breaks out on Arrakis, as House Harkonnen undertakes what Paul realizes is an extermination: “They’re picking my family off one by one.” Fortunately, he has Duncan Idaho urging him and the Fremen to “fight like demons”—with some great footage of Duncan doing just that.
I’m still not entirely sold on casting Chalamet in the lead role, but visually, Villeneuve’s film looks stunning—and there are small touches of humor sprinkled throughout that give me hope that Dune will be a serious adaptation that knows when not to take itself too seriously.
Dune premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on October 22, 2021, following the film’s world premiere at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival this September. Here’s hoping Villeneuve’s pessimistic forecast doesn’t prevail and the film does well enough so that we get to see his two-part vision realized in full. There’s also a prequel TV series in development, Dune: The Sisterhood, which will focus on the Bene Gesserit.
Listing image by YouTube/Warner Bros.