The first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is here, and we are beside ourselves. Over the course of a few minutes, the footage sets up a sweeping world of staggeringly beautiful vistas and many, many characters. Paul Atreides is at the heart of the story. He moves with his family to Arrakis, a harsh desert planet that is also known as Dune. The Emperor requests the move, pushing the Atreides from Caladan to a new home. And from there, well, Paul must traverse a dangerous path. All of the Atreides must. If you haven’t read Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel of the same name, it’s a lot. Even if you’re already familiar with that world, the trailer gives you so much to absorb. So, after you’ve given the Dune trailer a couple of viewings to appreciate its epic quality and that rocking Pink Floyd song, let’s break down the three minute trailer shot by shot.
Starting with the Pink Floyd song. The lyrics for “Eclipse” are rather fitting for Dune. But moreover, Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted Pink Floyd to do the music for the adaptation he never finished.
“There’s something happening to me.”
Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) stands in a bright light, dust swirling around him. The dust is likely spice, the addictive substance Arrakis is known for producing. He’s in the middle of a spice cloud on Arrakis—at least he is in his dream.
“There’s something awakening in my mind. I can’t control it.”
He sees Chani (Zendaya) on Arrakis, illuminated by the sun. Then he sees himself with Chani; they’re both wearing stillsuits. They kiss. This is still part of his dream. A prescient dream, as it turns out.
Paul awakens from the dream in his bed on Caladan, his home planet. Notice that the headboard features fish in motion. It’s a symbol. Caladan is a planet full of water. It’s lush… unlike where he’s about to go.
“There’s a crusade coming.”
The young Atreides sees a future of fire and smoke. He stands with what looks like the Lady Jessica (though it could be Chani) at a siege. Someone is attacking Arrakis. Is this part of a dream or is it really happening? Paul can see the future in his dreams, so it’s likely this attack is an event to come. Something that will lead to that dangerous path mentioned above.
Then we’re back on Caladan. Before the Atreides depart their home, the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) questions Paul. She asks the Atreides son about his dreams. She then administers the gom jabbar test to see if Paul is actually human.
After some dramatic shots of storm clouds above Caladan, we get a solid look at personal shields, a.k.a. Holtzman shields, and how combat with the shield works. It’s a personal protective energy field the wearer can easily activate. Here, Paul trains with Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin); they both have their shields activated. When the shield flashes red, it indicates a hit. Though brief, this scene illustrates that the Atreides heir is swift on his feet and capable in a fight. He’s been relentlessly trained by Gurney, a warrior poet, and other teachers to handle himself.
And behold, our first glimpse (in this trailer) of Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). He’s a powerful figure in the Dune world, and as Leto says goodbye to Caladan, he knows Arrakis will bring change and challenge. Paul points out to the Reverend Mother that his father rules an entire planet. The Reverend Mother notes that Leto is losing it. And that the Duke will lose Arrakis too.
We see the exterior of Castle Caladan, and servants and assistants packing up the interior. All of this—the color palette, the size, the number of possessions—sets up Caladan as a very different place than Arrakis. The Atreides are going from a place of comfort, of home to somewhere entirely unknown and unwelcoming.
As we see the last of Caladan, we cut to Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), a Bene Gesserit, Duke Leto’s concubine, and Paul’s mother. She looks on edge to say the least. For one thing, she’s leaving her home. She has no illusions about what Arrakis will really be like. Jessica is suspicious that House Harkonnen is letting go of the spice rich planet and letting House Atreides come in without consequence. She should be on guard. And as a Bene Gesserit, Jessica is unnerved by the Reverend Mother’s presence and that the elder put Paul through the Gom Jabbar. Lady Jessica’s decisions are at the core of a lot of Dune‘s major events, and though she can’t grasp that know, she certainly knows something is in the air.
Next, the arrival on Arrakis. From the first moment, the blinding light is opposite of the cooler hues on Caladan. Duke Leto Atreides appears in full armor and looks over his shoulder to give Paul a look of concern. Jessica and other women of the household appear to be in a formal dress of some kind. The vastness of Arrakis awaits them. Guild transport ships and troops stand on the sand.
As Paul and Gurney walk into the desert, a very eager Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) greets him. Duncan is another of Paul’s teachers; he’s an expert fighter. He went to Arrakis ahead of the Atreides to attempt forging an alliance with the Fremen. In this moment, we also get a glimpse of Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson). A mentat and master of assassins, Thufir works for House Atreides. He’s been training Paul in the arts of war and strategy. Paul and Gurney are in Atreides dress uniforms, while Duncan is wearing a Fremen stillsuit.
And speaking of the Fremen, this is Stilgar (Javier Bardem), a respected Fremen leader. The Fremen, of course, being the inhabitants of Arrakis’ desert. We get a good look at his blue-within-blue eyes—the Eyes of Ibad—which is caused by the consumption of spice. All Fremen eyes look like this.
“Arrakis is a death trap.”
As if to emphasize this warning about Arrakis, we see a huge number of Sardaukar, the Padishah Emperor’s elite military force. That these soldiers are on Arrakis is very bad news. And they are present in huge numbers.
With the introduction of the threat of the Sardaukar, it’s time to meet the primary opposition to House Atreides: House Harkonnen. We first see Glossu Rabban Harkonnen (Dave Bautista), a.k.a. the Beast. He’s Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s oldest nephew and quite sadistic and terrifying.
Speaking of sadistic and terrifying, this is brief look at Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen. The leader of House Harkonnen is no foolish enemy. He’s cunning, manipulative, and excellent at staying one step ahead of his enemy. It’s hard to tell what he’s doing here, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s evil.
As palm trees burn outside the Arrakeen keep the Atreides now call home, a distressed Lady Jessica appears. Arrakis only means trouble for the Atreides family. Paul notes, “This is an extermination.”
This is our first look at Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chen Chang). The Suk doctor serves as Duke Leto’s personal physician. The black diamond tattoo visible on his forehead denotes Imperial Conditioning, which conditions doctors against taking human life. It basically means nobles can trust any doctor with this tattoo not to assassinate them.
And then Sardaukar drop in. We hear Paul say, “They’re picking my family off one by one.” The young Atreides appears by his father, both in Fremen stillsuits. In the book, they wear stillsuits to go out into the desert to observe spice harvesting so that may be what we’re seeing here (or about to see).
“Let’s fight like demons.”
Remember how I mentioned Duncan Idaho being an excellent fighter? Well, he’d better be, because he’s facing a lot of Sardaukar. You can see more shield hits as he launches into action.
In the middle of this growing tension, we flash back to the Reverend Mother giving Paul the gom jabbar test. She explains an animal caught in a trap will gnaw off its own leg to escape. The Bene Gesserit elder wonders what Paul will do. Is she trying to say the Atreides are going to be caught in a trap on Arrakis? And that Paul will have to take action? Hmm…
As the footage shifts back to Arrakis, we see Paul’s first in person meeting with Chani. He’s seen the Fremen women in dreams before, so he’s not startled to recognize her.
The next few sequences illustrate the amount of trouble the Atreides face. Some of it, anyway. Drop ships arriving during what looks like a siege. An ornithopter is in the air. What seems to be a group of Atreides troops take a hit with Gurney Halleck looking blinded and surprised by an explosion.
Baron Harkonnen, bald like his nephew Rabban, rises from oily water. Baldness is apparently a Harkonnen thing in this Dune adaptation.
Then Duncan Idaho and Paul salute each other, and it looks like Paul has a crysknife. This is likely before an important duel (if you’ve read the book you know the one, and if you haven’t, I won’t spoil it).
One of Arrakis’ many perils is the sandworm. The creatures that reside in the desert make traveling on foot and harvesting spice a challenge. Case in point, a sandworm devours a spice harvester whole while Paul and Gurney look on in this scene.
Dr. Yueh from earlier walks alongside Harkonnen troops. That sure seems suspicious.
And then next we get a look at Dr. Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Dr. Kynes is the planet’s Imperial ecologist and also a Fremen leader. The character is gender-swapped here.
The pace picks up, signaling the increasing threats the Atreides face. We see Rabban leading Harkonnen troops. The camera pauses on the Beast’s stomach, likely because of the whip he’s wearing. It’s an inkvine whip. In the Dune book lore, the Beast used that whip in a fight with Gurney Halleck and left a scar on the warrior’s cheek.
A bloody hand falling from Duke Leto’s shoulder (likely belonging to the Shadout Mapes, the head housekeeper of the Atreides’ new abode).
Paul, apparently settling right into Fremen life, engages in a duel. He pulls a crysknife on one of the Fremen.
Then Jessica and Paul pilot ornithopter in what looks like a rushed manner. They’re running from something or someone. I mean, there’s plenty to run from on Arrakis so…
Arrakis is such a treasured planet because of the spice that comes from the desert. Here, Paul picks up a handful of sand containing the highly valued substance.
We hear Paul say “Fear is the mind-killer” as Duncan Idaho kneels in front of Paul and says, “My lord Duke.” The words Paul recites are from the Bene Gessert Litany Against Fear, maybe the most quoted passage from Dune.
And as the trailer ends, we get a clearer look at a sandworm. It looms above Paul and Jessica, mouth agape and ready to devour whatever and whoever is in its way. You can see how its mass displaces the desert sand around it. If the fact that a sandworm ate a whole harvesting vehicle wasn’t enough to unnerve you, this certainly should do the trick.
Like we said, it’s a lot to unpack. The trailer doesn’t shy away from emphasizing that the Atreides are about to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But how will they bounce back? Specifically, how will Paul react to his new place, both on this strange planet and in his family? That’s what the Reverend Mother wanted to know. And that’s what Dune will show.
Dune will arrive in theaters on December 18, 2020. Be sure to check out all our Dune content.
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Amy Ratcliffe is the Managing Editor for Nerdist and the author of The Jedi Mind, available for pre-order now. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.