THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE WATCHING THE FILM
For Science Fiction nerds, like me, this new Dune movie is one of the best things to come out of Hollywood since Iron Man, because it is one of the fundamental books of Modern Science Fiction literature, right up there with Heinlein, and Asimov. If you knew how much shit we all lost watching this trailer. My reaction was calling out all the character names as the appeared and then reciting the mantra at the end. I’ve read the first book in the series every year since I was a teenager. I’ve read the entire series, including all the prequels. I’ve also seen every one of Villeneuve’s movies, so yeah, I’m just a little “verklempt”!!
I came across a lot of trailer reaction videos from people who had never read any of the books, and didn’t know about the 1984, David Lynch movie. I liked the Lynch version of this film okay, but I hated the TV version, which just looked cheap to me, (but I know some of you may have seen that). So under the philosophy of you don’t know what you don’t know, I thought I’d shed some light on the imagery in the trailer, and provide a tiny bit of backstory on the world of Dune.
Frank Herbert’s ideas turned out to be prescient to today, and involved discussions of imperialism, resource exploitation, colonization, religious zealotry, and eugenics, (although, as a white guy, he still makes the classic mistake of equating “Jihad” with violent revolution). Dune is a massive Space Opera involving hundreds of characters, and political, and religious intrigue, and yes, it even influenced the creation of Star Wars, since it predates that. It helps to think of the movie as Star Wars, crossed with Game of Thrones, as filmed by Christopher Nolan.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but to understand what’s happening in the trailer, (and possibly the movie) you need a tiny bit of backstory about the universe. The trailer looks like it gives the whole movie away, but the plot will involve much more than what was seen in the trailer, (if done correctly), and the movie will be in two parts to accommodate the size of the story, and this trailer only features images from part one.
Dune was published in 1965 by Frank Herbert.
The story takes place ten thousand years in the future. Earth is long forgotten, as humanity has expanded into the universe. There are no other intelligent alien races, (although there are alien life forms). Computers and any intelligent machinery have been outlawed, because of a long ago war between humanity and AI, so human beings fulfill all the the functions once occupied by computers. The primary movers and shakers in that regard are the Mentats, the Bene Gesserit, and the Spacing Guild.
There are a also number of religious sects, with the primary one involving a fusion of Islamic and Catholic beliefs. There are a number of noble Houses, each assigned to their own home planet, and other special groups, on their own planets, all with their own separate agendas, all constantly jockeying for positions of power closer to the Emperor (named Corrino). There are many groups, but I’m only going to talk about the groups featured in the trailer. The books have all the political intrigue you could want, with all the depth and introspection you can expect from a Denis Villeneuve (Vil-noove) movie.
Since all computer, and computer related technology has been outlawed (See: The Butlerian Jihad), human beings have taken the place of this technology, often aided by the use of the spice, (called Melange) from the planet Arrakis. They have attained almost superhuman levels of cognition, allowing them to perform all the same functions computers once did.
Often referred to as Witches, the BG are a sisterhood of warrior nuns, aided by the use of Melange. Although not all of them act as warriors, most of them have been trained by the sisterhood, since birth, to be proficient in physical combat, and the use of manipulation and poisons. They’re advisors to the Emperor and other Imperial Houses, and obey the edicts and decisions of their Reverend Mothers. Many of the wives of the Noble Houses are from the BG, or have received training from them. They can control people with their voices, have limited psychic abilities, and have, for centuries been manipulating different genetic bloodlines to produce a male Bene Gesserit (Benny- Jess-Erit).
The Spacing Guild is one of the most powerful organizations in this universe. Aided by their use of Melange, they are the ones that make space travel not only possible, but safe. Without their ability to “fold” space, travel between star systems would not be possible, and there would be no trade or commerce. The large oblong ships seen in the trailer are ” the smaller sized dropships” capable of entering a planet’s atmosphere. The planet sized Highliners that they come from can only exist off-world. These ships are used to move goods, whole populations of peoples, and military troops. These massive ships are piloted by the humanoid shipminds, called Guild Navigators (not shown in the trailer). Navigators are beings so heavily mutated by their use of Melange that they can only exist in a sealed atmosphere of it, so it is in their best interests to make sure the flow of Melange from Arrakis remains a stable commodity.
Mentats are the human computers of Dune. Their job is to advise, calculate odds, and basically do all the things that computers used to do. After the outlawing of “thinking” machines, humans still needed the calculating ability of machines, so they created special schools for the purpose of replacing them. Most of the Noble Houses have at least one Mentat on retainer. The Mentat for House Harkonnen is Piter De Vries (David Dastmalchian). The Mentat for House Atreides is Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley). Mentats are heavy users of Spice, which some drink in the form of a special potion, called the juice of Sapho.
Suk School: One of the characters briefly glimpsed in the trailer is Doctor Wellington Yueh, (Chen Chang) who comes from the premiere medical school, and is the physician for House Atreides. Suk School doctors are some of the most trusted doctors in the universe, as they are specially conditioned to abide by their medical oaths to do no harm, which is denoted by the diamond shaped marks on their foreheads. They are often entrusted to serve in many of the Noble Houses, including that of the Emperor.
Paul Atreides, (of House Atreides, which is situated on the water planet Caladan) goes to the planet of Arrakis, where he meets the desert nomads, (The Fremen) of the only planet in the known universe which produces Melange. Think of Melange as something like space LSD. It’s a potent drug that expands a person’s mind to the point where they can do computer like calculations, see into the future, navigate through outer space, and increase longevity. Everyone in the upper echelons of power uses Melange to some degree, putting it in their foods and beverages, breathing it in the form of a mist, or just living within it like air. One of the side effects is that it turns the eyes that blue color seen in the trailer.
The rival of House Atreides is House Harkonnen, from the industrial planet Geidi Prime. Baron Harkonnen is an obese, manipulative, cruel man, with two nephews. Glossu “The Beast” Raban, (Dave Bautista) who is the governor of Dune and the Baron’s right hand, and Feyd Ruatha (not seen in the trailer). The Harkonens were tasked by the Emperor to colonize the planet Dune, and make sure that Spice production remains stable.
I’m going to try really hard not to give away any spoilers, though the book is 60 years old, and there’s, like, two movies about it. This is just a 101. If you want to go deeper than this, I’ll leave some resources for you to read at the end of this post.
Paul talks about his prophetic visions. While he is not someone who has necessarily been exposed to a lot of Melange, he does have Ben Gesserit training from his mother, who gave birth to a son, rather than the daughter she was ordered to have by her Order.
The next character we see is Chani (Chay-Nee) played by Zendaya, who is Paul’s love interest. Chani is the daughter of Liet Kynes.
Paul is taken to a meeting with the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, who is his mother’s superior in the Bene Gesserit Order. She gives him a test to determine if he is a human being with the ability to withstand pain, or an animal that will seek to avoid discomfort. He sticks his hand in a box, which will produce the worst pain ever experienced, and if he withdraws his hand, she will kill him with the poisoned needle she holds to his neck, called a Gom Jabbar.
Yes, this woman is powerful enough to waltz into the home of Duke Atreides, threaten to kill his only child, ( she could actually kill him if she wanted), and walk back out, with no repercussions.
Paul walks along the rocky beaches of Caladan as the Reverend Mother foretells his father’s future.
Paul is fighting with Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) using a Hotlzman Shield. All members of the Royal Houses are trained in this form of combat, and will not appear in public without one. Shield fighting techniques require mastery of the sword, since projectile and energy weapons don’t work against Shields, which were specifically developed to withstand such weapons.
Images of the Atriedes family arriving on Arrakis, the Duke Leto Atreides, played by Oscar Isaac, and the Lady Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson. The Lady Jessica is the only the concubine of the Duke. The two are not married, which has created some small amount of scandal among the other Houses.
Paul is warmly met by Duncan Idaho. Duncan has been trained by a special guild called the Swordmasters of Ginaz. He works for Duke Leto Atreides as his Scout and personal guard, and he has, along with Gurney, helped to train Paul in various fighting techniques.
The leader of the tribal Fremen is named Stilgar, played by Javier Bardem. Their entire society is loosely based on the desert cultures of Northeast Africa and the Middle East. Stilgar is also the leader of a small tribe of Fremen called a seitch. Small tribal communities, along with the use of the black rubber suits you see everyone wearing on Arrakis, are how the Fremen survive in the deep desert. Everything in their culture involves the safe care of water. Each person in the tribe is allotted a specific amount of water based on their rank, their actual water amount, and sometimes their deeds as a warrior.
The next image, of crowds of dark clad soldiers are probably the Emperor’s Special Forces shock troops, called Saudauker (Sadu-car), which are highly trained, and specially condidtioned soldiers, often used to quell planetary rebellions. Its best to think of them as better trained Stormtroopers.
Images of Glossu Raban, and his uncle, Baron Vladmir Harkonnen, followed by a shot of Dr. Wellington Yueh, Jessica, and more Sardauker, in a battle with Duncan Idaho.
The scene of Gurney and Paul on the ship is the two of them looking at a Spice harvester being swallowed by one of the planet’s massive Sandworms. Sandworms are attracted to any rhythmic sound in the desert, so Spice Harvesters are always in danger from them, and are often shepherded by several ornithopters, the insect like flying machine that Paul and Gurney are riding in. Their job is to look for signs that a Sandworm is coming, and warn the Harvester, so it can be picked up and moved to safety.
More character shots, including one where Paul fights a young man of Stilgar’s tribe, named Jamis.
At the end of the trailer you see Paul pick up a handful of sand, (just as you saw him pick up a handful of water when he was on Caladan). Melange is so abundant on Arrakis that it is virtually inescapable. The tiny glittery spots you see in the sand is probably Melange.
The last image we see is Paul running across the desert being chased by a Sandworm. Yes, I know it looks like a giant sphincter, but hey! I didn’t design the darn thing. It is however impressively vast, and much like I imagined they look from the books.
Paul recites the Litany Against Fear, which is what he uses in his trial with the Gom Jabbar. Every Dune nerd knows this litany, and probably has it tattooed somewhere on their body…
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.I will permit it to pass over me and through me.And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.”
I don’t think I need to tell you, that this has been one of the primary tenets of my life, and you might be surprised to know, this actually f*cking works to focus your thoughts, especially when any kind of anxiety.
Stillsuits – The black outfits you see everyone wearing in the desert scenes are suits worn only on Arrakis, and are meant to re-capture the body’s water, sweat, breath vapor, and even urine, to clean it, and recycle it into drinking water, to be reclaimed by the person. Living on Arrakis requires an acute knowledge of Water Discipline. Water is so scarce that many cultural activities surround it, and everyone’s lives revolve around procuring it, keeping it, and recycling it.
The Dune universe is so vast that there are entire planets devoted to a primary theme. Dune is a desert planet, Caladan is a water planet, much like Earth, and Geidi Prime is an industrial planet.
Sandworms are animals similar in appearance to colossal terrestrial annelids and in other ways to the lamprey. They are cylindrical worm-like creatures with a fearsome array of crystalline teeth which are used primarily for rasping rocks and sand. During his first close encounter with a sandworm in Dune, Paul notes, “Its mouth was some eighty meters in diameter … crystal teeth with the curved shape of crysknives glinting around the rim … the bellows breath of cinnamon, subtle aldehydes … acids …”A giant sandworm with its ring of teeth seeks to devour an ornithopter, in the Dune miniseries (2000)
Sandworms grow to hundreds of meters in length, with specimens observed over 400 metres (1,300 ft) long and 40 metres (130 ft) in diameter, although Paul becomes a sandrider by summoning a worm that “appeared to be” around half a league (2,778 meters = 9121 ft) or more in length. These gigantic worms burrow deep in the ground and travel swiftly; “most of the sand on Arrakis is credited to sandworm action”.
Sandworms are described as “incredibly tough” by Liet-Kynes, who further notes that “high-voltage electrical shock applied separately to each ring segment” is the only known way to kill and preserve them; atomics are the only explosive powerful enough to kill an entire worm, with conventional explosives being unfeasible as “each ring segment has a life of its own”. Water is poisonous to the worms, but it is in too short supply on Arrakis to be of use against any but the smallest of them.
Liet Kynes – in the books Liet Kynes is the father of Chani. He is also the Imperial planetary climatologist who has been working with the Fremen to create more water on Arrakis, and study the Sandworms. He is the liaison between the Emperor, whichever House currently resides on the planet, and the Fremen, and works as a kind of peacekeeper between the factions. In the movie, Liet Kynes is now a Black woman (although (I don’t think skin color much matters in a universe that’s ten thousand years away from Earth.) The new Liet Kynes is played by Sharon Duncan Brewster.
The Score – The Score heard in the trailer is a slowed down version of Pink Floyd’s Eclipse, from The Dark Side of the Moon album.