Not pictured: dunes.
Photograph: Warner Bros.

The advertising and marketing for Dune guarantees that Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming sci-fi epic is for the fans, not the critics — although our critic did certainly prefer it. That’s to say, the individuals who occur to have learn Frank Herbert’s dense, multigrain-loaf-size sci-fi novel a few desert planet might get the small print. The people who find themselves going into theaters (or most likely the glitchy frontier that’s HBO Max) who’re like, I do know Timothée Chalamet is on this and nothing else, might miss lots. Herbert’s ebook and its sequels are filled with particulars in regards to the interplanetary conflicts that precipitate its plot in addition to stray particulars about desert survival, a gaggle of witches who need to handle the universe’s bloodlines, and the spice commerce.

For those who’re within the latter camp, you’ll be able to expertise the film on a purely sensory stage and simply let the montage of concept-art-style tableaux and the blaring Hans Zimmer soundtrack wash over you (this can be higher in the event you’re excessive), ignoring the specifics of the plot. Or you would learn the ebook earlier than watching it and get all of the references. Or you would need to try this, run out of time and/or need to take action, and skim this useful abstract of the important thing points of the Dune universe you’ll need to perceive as a substitute. It’s all put collectively by me, somebody who learn Dune prematurely of seeing the film Dune final fall as a result of I had plenty of further time in 2020.

So who’s our protagonist, Timothée, enjoying?

This dude named Paul. By “dude,” in fact, I imply the inheritor to the Home Atreides, which runs the planet Caladan as its fiefdom. Paul is the son of Duke Leto Atreides I, a.okay.a. Oscar Isaac in space-daddy mode, and his official concubine, Woman Jessica, a.okay.a. Rebecca Ferguson of lip-syncing that one track “Never Enough” in The Best Showman fame. At first of the novel, Paul is popping 15 (Can Timothée nonetheless move for a teen? Ben Platt seethes someplace) and is nervous about assuming his familial duties and mastering the witchy abilities he has inherited from his mom.

Sorry, this can be a sci-fi universe and their names are Paul and Jessica?

Wait until you meet Duncan Idaho.

How vital is the Atreides household on this universe?

They’re one of many “major” homes inside Dune’s complete galactic empire, which is finally run by the Padishah Emperor, who’s the supreme head of the galaxy. The household and planet are form of styled round Spain in Herbert’s writing: They like a great bullfight and have plenty of water. One of many inciting elements within the plot, nevertheless, is that they’ve gotten just a little too good at working their planet and making alliances with varied different homes, and that has made the emperor uncomfy. You by no means need your nobles to threaten your energy as an absolute monarch; in any other case, you’re gonna get your self a Magna Carta. So the emperor has determined to offer them a cursed present: the desert planet of Arrakis, which is essential to the interplanetary spice commerce.

Okay, what’s spice?

It’s this supercool invented substance discovered within the sands of Arrakis that’s extremely priceless. It might probably trigger hallucinations that allow you to see the long run, publicity to it turns your eyes blue, and it’s extremely addictive (irrespective of how a lot you’ve gotten, it’s … never enough). However crucially, spice is used to execute faster-than-light journey throughout the galaxy as a result of its mind-enhancing results permit pilots to calculate their routes. (The Spacing Guild has a monopoly on that journey, however you don’t have to know a lot about it, aside from it’s a impartial get together that offers with all the varied homes and wears cool domed helmets which can be full of spice mud.) Subtract the supernatural components and mainly spice is oil. As you might have seen, Dune freely riffs on the historic colonization of and conflicts inside the Center East. Additionally, within the ebook, it’s referred to as the “spice melange,” however within the film, they have an inclination to only say “spice.” Too dangerous, melange is a enjoyable phrase.

But when Arrakis is stuffed with spice, that appears like an awesome deal for the Atreides?

Properly, sure, if they’ll run the planet nicely. However there are two key issues. First, the planet was beforehand owned by Home Harkonnen, and in the event you weren’t tipped off by the ominous title and the truth that their chief, Baron Vladimir, is performed by Stellan Skarsgård, sure, they’re fairly evil. When the emperor arms Arrakis over to Atreides, he’s mainly guaranteeing a battle between that household and Home Harkonnen, who’re none too comfortable about dropping all that spice cash. That battle would weaken each households, which is good for the emperor.

Second, Harkonnen has been working Arrakis with a concentrate on extracting spice above all and brutalizing the planet’s native inhabitants. That has, unsurprisingly, actually pissed them off. Particularly, there are teams of Fremen who reside out within the desert and are suspicious of any off-worlders who would possibly traipse onto their planet. They’re unlikely to assist Home Atreides out, however Duke Leto tries to win them over with a “look, we’re nice colonizers” marketing campaign.

Leaping again a bit, Paul’s mother has witch abilities?

Yup, she’s a member of the Bene Gesserit, a clique of nunlike ladies who function inside the Imperium with an agenda of their very own. Dune leans towards tougher sci-fi, so that you don’t get an excessive amount of magic. However these ladies have honed their talents to do issues like management folks’s minds with their voices.

What are the witches as much as?

Apart from planning out plenty of veil-forward appears for Charlotte Rampling, the present reverend mom, the Bene Gesserit are concerned in a long-term selective-breeding program. They’ve spent centuries planning out marriages between totally different homes with the tip aim of making a Kwisatz Haderach, a male inheritor who would act as a form of chosen one and have extra-tremendous particular powers, together with the flexibility to see into the long run.

So it’s full sci-fi. Are there robots?

Form of. There’s an entire backstory the ebook references wherein folks rose up in opposition to precise robots that explains why Dune doesn’t have any androids. However there are folks known as Mentats who prepare themselves to suppose like machines. Stephen McKinley Henderson’s character Thufir Hawat is one, although the film doesn’t clarify that particularly. Individuals who have learn the ebook will get why his eyes flit up into his head when he has to do a calculation. Individuals who haven’t? Well.

So is Paul the chosen one?

Perhaps! The Bene Gesserit didn’t plan for Woman Jessica to have a son, however she determined to do it and be a legend within the hopes of pleasing her husband with an inheritor and seeing if she might beginning the Kwisatz Haderach. When the novel begins, the reverend mom exhibits as much as put Paul by one of many Bene Gesserit Kwisatz Haderach exams — that’s the scene with the field you see within the trailer — and the query of whether or not his passing the check means he’s actually the chosen one hangs over the remainder of the plot. Usually, Paul appears like he could be a messiah, however different instances he might simply by accident be following alongside on a path laid for him by exterior forces with little free will of his personal. It’s as if Luke Skywalker spent the entire film being like Wait, am I Luke Skywalker? and Is it a great factor for a Luke Skywalker to exist typically?

Is there another person who may very well be the chosen one?

To cite Star Wars, one thing closely influenced by Dune, there’s one other: Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen additionally occurs to be the product of Bene Gesserit breeding. However! He’s evil. In David Lynch’s movie of Dune, Sting performed Feyd-Rautha whereas rocking this look. Since this Dune is an adaptation of solely half one of many novel, Feyd-Rautha hasn’t proven up but, however I feel Lucas Hedges ought to play him if there’s a sequel. Actually play up the Woman Fowl rivalry. Have Saoirse Ronan play Princess Irulan! (You don’t have to know who she is but.)

How do the folks on Arrakis really feel about his complete “chosen one” quest?

Properly, the Bene Gesserit have gone round to varied planets by the centuries and seeded them with myths about chosen heroes that they’ll deploy to get the populace to assist them with their very own schemes. So when Paul arrives on Arrakis, lots of people are inclined to suppose, Hey, is that this the Muad’Dib? Which is their title for a messiah. That’s good for Paul in that it helps him survive, nevertheless it additionally provides him much more fraught emotions of accountability towards the folks of Arrakis. Muad’Dib can also be the title for just a little rodent that hops round their desert, which is why the film has plenty of portentous photographs of a cute mouse.

Why wouldn’t it be dangerous for Paul to be a messiah?

Properly, if Paul is the superspecial chosen one, lots of people are going to begin following him and eager to unfold the phrase of his greatness across the galaxy — most likely violently — which is plenty of bloodshed for one man to hold on his slim, little shoulders. Dune the ebook refers to this as a possible jihad. Dune the film doesn’t use that phrase, most likely due to sure geopolitical developments which have taken place between 1965 and the current.

Actually appears as if there’s plenty of appropriation of Center Japanese and North African tradition occurring.

Yup! It’s just a little bizarre that the chief of the Fremen, who’ve a tradition based mostly largely on Bedouin tribes, is performed by … Javier Bardem.

Additionally appears as if that is mainly Lawrence of Arabia, with the entire “white guy ingratiating himself with a desert culture” vibe?

Frank Herbert did have that on the mind.

So it’s additionally simply desert Avatar?

Hey, Avatar is simply jungle Dune. Get the order of influences proper! However sure, there’s an identical thread of ecology-focused sci-fi that runs between them. Herbert bought his inspiration from reporting an article about efforts to handle sand dunes in Oregon.

Wait, I heard Zendaya can also be on this film. The place does she are available in?

Zendaya performs Chani, a Fremen lady who Paul retains seeing in his desires. Largely her job on this film is to wander round within the desert as a part of these desires. She is essential within the again half of the novel, however for now, it’s largely posing within the desert.

Some other key characters I ought to learn about?

Control Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho. He’s a proto Han Solo charming, roguish soldier dude, a fan favourite within the ebook sequence. Additionally Duncan Idaho is a cool title, like he’s a badass potato vendor at your native farmers’ market.

That’s not a badass title or occupation.

You and I disagree.

Sufficient plot. Inform me in regards to the sandworms.

Recognized individually and collectively as Shai-Hulud, the sandworms are these supermassive beings that plow by the deserts of Arrakis, consuming all the pieces that dares enterprise unprepared into their territory. The worms are what make harvesting spice so tough as a result of they have an inclination to eat no matter instruments off-worlders use to mine it. They’re additionally sacred to the Fremen, who appear to know methods to navigate round them, and, one way or the other, they’re linked to the creation of spice. Consider them as large honking metaphors for the chic powers of nature that loom past human understanding, like a desert stuffed with Moby Dicks.

Okay, however they do appear like buttholes.

I’m ending this dialog.

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