The Dune trailer must flow, and after months of waiting, director Denis Villeneuve — with a little help from late-night funnyman and Frank Herbert aficionado Stephen Colbert — finally unleashed the first full trailer for his forthcoming magnum opus on the world.
The trailer reveal was prefaced by a live panel featuring several key members of the Dune cast and moderated by Colbert. Not that the fanbase necessarily needed any added excitement, but hearing from the likes of Timothée Chalamet (Paul Atreides), Zendaya (Chani), Oscar Isaac (Duke Leto Atreides), Jason Momoa (Duncan Idaho), Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica Atreides), Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck), Javier Bardem (Stilgar), and Sharon Duncan-Brewster (a gender-swapped Imperial Planetologist Liet-Kynes) certainly got the stillsuit juices flowing.
The trailer runs for three minutes and change, which is apparently plenty of time for Villeneuve to reveal both the massive scale of his vision and a few new details that eager Duneiacs will likely be salivating over until the December release. The fresh intel comes hot and fast as we cut between scenes on the Atreides homeworld of Caladan, the vast, untamed Fremen deserts of Arrakis, and the latter planet’s polar port city of Arrakeen. The trailer included a few shots we’ve seen before in production stills, and many more that were entirely new — including our first good look at the villainous Harkonnens and their displaced armies.
If you’re a fan, we’re guessing you’ve already clocked a few spins on YouTube. Even so, here are a few of the details you might have missed, as well as what they tell us about Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious adaptation of the novel that felled so many top-tier filmmakers before him.
The scale of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is unlike anything attempted before
One of the major problems confronting past filmmakers in their attempts to adapt Dune is the sheer scale of the novel. Everything is massive in Dune — from the planetary desert stretching from pole to pole on Arrakis, to the godlike hydrophobic sandworms (Shai-Hulud, in Fremen parlance) that burrow through the parched sands carrying brazen Fremen and generating spice. Granted, past attempts at adaptation had to work with the technology available at the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that all the various visual interpretations of Herbert’s world that came before clearly failed to capture its sweeping grandeur.
Dune is very much the space opera that launched the modern iteration of the genre. It’s influence is apparent in just about every sweeping sci-fi epic that’s come along since — Star Wars, most prominently. From the first frames of the trailer, it’s clear that Villeneuve understands this, and has pulled out all the filmmaking stops to bring the universe of Dune to life at scale.
At last, everything on screen actually lives up to the portrait drawn by Herbert’s elegant prose — from the titanic transport vessels that move House Atreides from Caladan to Arrakis to the assembled armies of House Harkonnen, marching to retake Arrakeen from the Atreides. There’s also the Worms, of course. Those deadly desert natives — the only source in the universe of the spice melange — finally present on screen with the religious majesty Herbert always intended. This is how Dune is supposed to look.
Many details from the book popped up in the first Dune trailer
Past Dune adaptations were similarly plagued by their auteurs’ lack of faithfulness to Herbert’s text. Everyone understands that film is a different medium than the novel, so some changes will always have to be made in translation, but when those changes start to feel capricious or disrespectful, fans start to get their blood up. It’s too early to say exactly how faithful Denis Villeneuve will be to the famous 1965 text, but several minor details from the trailer are encouraging on this front.
The first voices we hear in the trailer come from Paul Atreides and Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), the leader of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. The scene, of which we see pieces intercut with other glimpses of Caladan and the Atreides crew, comes straight out of Act One in Herbert’s book. Mother Mohiam arrives at the Atreides homeworld to administer a deadly test to Paul — a test usually reserved for potential members of the Sisterhood (an all-female sect). Paul is instructed to place his hand in a box containing unimaginable pain, and that needle she holds at his neck? It’s called a Gom Jabbar, and it just might be the most famous poisonous dart in all of science fiction. If Paul removes his hand from the box, Mother Mohiam will pierce his neck with the Gom Jabbar, killing him instantly.
In the book, Paul overcomes this test by meditating on the Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear,” another book element included here. In the final moments of the trailer, as we see Paul and Chani confront a sandworm somewhere on Arrakis, we hear Paul’s voice over recite the words: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer.” This litany will be familiar to any fan of the source material, and its inclusion in the trailer is another encouraging sign.
The bad guys were finally revealed in the first Dune trailer
While Denis Villeneuve has managed to keep a pretty leak-proof set, the few authorized production stills and teasers that have made their way to the internet have mostly focused on the Atreides clan and the Fremen — the story’s protagonists (in book one, at least). The trailer at last provided our first look at their foils — the villainous Harkonnens. In the Duneverse, the universe has reverted to a kind of feudal economy in which Atreides and Harkonnen are two co-equal noble houses with a generational enmity that runs deep. When control of Arrakis and the universe’s most valuable commodity is wrested from Harkonnen control and given to the Atreides, you can imagine that there are some hurt feelings on the Harkonnen side. In response, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and his two sons, Beast Rabban and Feyd-Rautha, stage a violent rebellion against the Atreides, which sets the stage for Paul’s fated union with the Fremen.
The first trailer gave us our first shadowy glimpse of the Harkonnen patriarch, played by Stellan Skarsgård, and a much better look at Rabban, the monster who ruled Arrakeen before the Atreides (and after) with an iron fist (pictured above). Rabban will be played by Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, and he’s sure to bring all of Drax’s ferocity to the role (with exactly none of his good humor).
Are you ready to experience this trance? Dune is set for theatrical release this holiday season on December 18.