Watching the Dune theatrical trailer was more than I bargained for. Frank Herbert’s classic Dune is one of my favorite novels of any genre, so I was looking for signs that Denis Villeneuve’s movie will honor the enormously popular book.
In 3 minutes and 7 seconds, I counted at least 10 indications that Villeneuve’s Dune is going to make fans of the novel glad he signed up to direct. I will discuss each of the elements in the new Dune movie trailer that give me hope this Dune may be the film adaptation we’ve been waiting for.
Call Me By Your Name
The trailer opens with Paul (Timothée Chalamet) saying, “There’s something awakening in my mind, I can’t control it.” Immediately the focus is on Paul and his transformation into the ultimate ruler of Arrakis.
This is exactly where the emphasis should be, Paul’s journey of self-realization. Paul is speaking to the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) just prior to the iconic gom jabbar test. If he survives this ruthless test he lives. If not, he dies.
Gom Jabbar Exam
This iconic moment from the novel is a sign that Villeneuve is going for book accuracy. We hear the voice of the Reverend Mother, “Do you often dream things that happen just as you dreamed them?” Paul reluctantly responds, “Yes.” This is nearly verbatim from the book.
Foreshadowing Paul’s Potential
The dialogue between Paul and the Reverend Mother continues with foreshadowing Paul’s potential as a leader. The Reverend Mother warns, “You inherit too much power. You have proven you can rule yourself, now you must learn to rule others.” These lines indicate that Villeneuve understands how important the emphasis on Paul’s character arc will be to making him convincing enough to be a messiah-figure.
Intercut with the Reverend Mother dialogue is another iconic scene from the novel: the sword duel between Paul and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Paul’s mentor and weapons trainer. We see Paul, with his blade in hand, switch on his personal shield from a device attached to his wrist.
In Dune, personal defense shields can protect the wearer from projectile weapon attacks, but slow movements will penetrate it. The use of shields creates a unique future in which warfare involves fewer firearms and more close-combat.
Frank Herbert described these shields as producing a faint sheen around the wearer. During the melee in the trailer, the shields worn by Paul and Gurney have a slight distortion around their bodies. This appears accurate to the novel.
For the Father, Nothing
The next dialogue sequence uses lines lifted directly from the pages of the book. Paul continues speaking to the Reverend Mother and refers to his father Duke Leto Atreides, “My father rules an entire planet.” “He’s losing it,” she replies. “He’s getting a richer one,” Paul continues. She responds darkly, “He’s losing that one too.” When lines are straight from the source material, that’s a good sign.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Denis Villeneuve describes his approach to creating the massive sandworms of Dune.
I think that as soon as you say, ‘okay, let’s make Dune,’ you go back home and the first thing you ask is, ‘okay, what about the worm?’ It’s a fantastic central figure of Dune’s story, that massive creature that lives in the deep desert, so when we were creating the worm I tried to create a life form that you will totally believe can go and survive in this land. So of course it has to have some prehistoric quality to it, because it’s living in the most rough environment. It was a lot of dreaming. We took our time with it. I deeply love the worm we came up with. It was important for me to understand that this huge creature has a soul, to understand that it is revered as a god-like figure.
This attention to detail by the director means that the right-thinking went into designing the sandworms to look and feel real. The Fremen revere the creatures as god-like, so they must act more than mindless predators. By taking the worms seriously, we have more evidence that Villeneuve knows the layers of depth in this story.
Frank Herbert’s world-building is some of the best in literature. Arrakis, or Dune, doesn’t feel imaginary, it feels like a world that actually exists. Villeneuve has the monumental task of convincing the audience that Dune is real. One of the ways he is doing this is with incredible cinematic scale.
A sequence in the trailer shows the Atreides family arriving on vast desert plain surrounded by enormous transport ships and ornithopters. Legions of troops stand at attention beneath ships the size of skyscrapers.
Next, we see a wide shot of thousands of troops lining a landing field, with ominous rain clouds overhead. In the background stand ships of staggering proportions. These may be the Harkonnens, the Atreides sworn enemies. I’m thrilled by the massive scale of these images, it mirrors the realism depicted in Herbert’s book.
Stillsuits That Work
One small detail that bothered me about previous screen adaptations of Dune is the essential stillsuit. Arrakis is a planet devoid of water. In order to survive for any amount of time in the open, the body’s water must be recycled. The native Fremen developed the stillsuit to capture all bodily moisture, which it filters to produce necessary drinking water. A cringe-worthy, but critical piece of equipment.
There are a few shots of the stillsuit and it looks more plausible than those in 1984 Dune adaptation. The suits seen in the trailer appear to have nose plugs, but also the essential face mask, hood and robes described in the novel. Small details like this don’t go unnoticed by fans of the book.
Fear is the Mind Killer
The trailer builds to a climax with the voice of the Reverend Mother speaking, “One day, the legend will be born,” intercut with scenes of the destruction of the Atreides home city of Arrakeen. She concludes with, “All civilization depends on it.” This film is the first of two parts, so the war between the Atreides and the Harkonnens will likely conclude this episode.
Paul continues with words that reinforce Villeneuve’s focus on the hero’s prophetic journey: “The future…I can see it.” He quotes one of the most well-known phrases from the novel, The Litany of Fear. Paul steadily repeats, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Where the fear is gone. Only I will remain.”
Everything Under the Sun
The trailer reaches fever pitch with Paul and Jessica desperately running toward a rock outcropping as a tsunami of sand seeks to devour them. As they reach the safety of the rocks, Paul turns and looks up into the maw of a gigantic sand worm. It’s mouth appears to be the size of a soccer stadium.
We feel the fear and awe that would accompany a creature so powerful that it is revered as a god by the native Fremen. The monster stops, breathes and appear to consider this tiny human standing beneath it. As if the worm senses unrealized power in Paul.
In just over 3 minutes, the evidence suggests that Villeneuve has made a film that will honor the classic novel. I firmly believe that Frank Herbert would be pleased with these scenes of Villeneuve’s vision. After 50 years, I think we may have the film we’ve been waiting for. It’s been a long wait.