Here is a simple guide to help you avoid being left out of the next party conversation when the topic turns to upcoming movies. Even if you don’t like science fiction, Dune is a movie worth your attention. What is the Dune movie about? This quick guide should help.
The story takes place in our universe in the far, far future. Earth is a distant memory and humans have populated many habitable planets. One of these is a desert planet, Arrakis, also known as Dune. It is the source of the most valuable substance in the universe, the spice melange.
The addictive spice provides the mechanism of interplanetary travel, the ability to see into the future and for whoever controls it, absolute power. Dune focuses on two feuding noble families, House Atreides and House Harkonnen.
These houses are ruled by a powerful Emperor who secretly plots to eliminate the popular Atreides. The Emperor relocates House Atreides to Arrakis, previously ruled by House Harkonnen. The Emperor and the Harkonnens devise a secret plan to destroy the Atreides so the Emperor can have sole control of the spice.
The Good Guys
House Atreides is headed by the Duke Leto Atreides, with his concubine the Lady Jessica, and their 15-year-old son, Paul. It’s the far future, but noble family politics is alive and well. Duke Leto suspects the move to Arrakis is a trap, but he believes there is a way to avoid it.
The Lady Jessica is trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, an all-female order of sorcery and mind-control. Paul is a young nobleman who learns that he may be the “super-being” prophesied by the Bene Gesserit to be the savior and ruler of Arrakis.
House Atreides is supported by a cast of loyal lieutenants, weapons-masters and Mentats, the human computers. The Atreides are popular among the other noble houses, and this poses a threat to the Emperor’s power and control of the spice.
The Bad Guys
House Harkonnen is led by the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, a baddie you won’t forget. The Baron and his thugs are rotten to the core. The Harkonnen’s hold a generations-old vendetta against House Atreides. When the Emperor proposes a secret plan to destroy the Atreides, the Baron is eager to join in.
The Baron will use any method of deception, torture or manipulation to get what he wants. He is a revolting, ruthless leader. He is supported by his nephews, Glossu (Beast) Rabban and the younger Feyd-Rautha, who the Baron wishes to rule Arrakis after wiping-out the Atreides.
The Harkonnen’s also have a Mentat, or human computer, named Piter De Vries. He plays a pivotal role in the attempt to bring down the Atreides, and unintentionally saves the Baron from a desperate act of revenge. A great story needs plenty of evil opposition. The Harkonnen’s bring plenty of it.
It’s all about the spice. It is only produced on one planet in the universe, Dune. Whoever controls the spice, controls the universe. If another noble family gains control of the spice, the Emperor’s power is threatened. House Atreides is popular among the noble families and the Emperor Shaddam IV resents the Duke’s rising political influence.
The Emperor leverages the Atreides/Harkonnen feud as a means to demolish House Atreides. By relocating the Atreides to Arrakis, the Duke will manage the spice production. The Atreides will be vulnerable to sabotage and attack by the Harkonnen forces and the Imperial legions.
Set against the backdrop of politics, it is a coming of age story. Paul learns his true potential as the product of generations of Bene Gesserit genetic breeding. He becomes the reluctant messiah of the native people of Arrakis, the Fremen.
The Harkonnens vastly underestimate the numbers and strength of the Fremen. When Paul becomes their leader and messiah-figure, he mobilizes them into an overwhelming force.
Will It Be Any Good?
Now that you have a basic idea of the Dune story, you should be able to avoid being shamed in most discussions about Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming movie. The original Frank Herbert book is ranked as one of the best science fiction novels of all-time because Herbert’s world-building is so complete.
The story is intriguing, political, thrilling and relevant in a year like 2020. Herbert reveals the characters’ deepest thoughts and motivations, but he keeps you guessing to the end.
If his 2016 science fiction film Arrival is any indication, Denis Villeneuve is just the director to make a loyal adaptation of Dune. Arrival carefully balances heady ideas with riveting action. We may not understand all the complex ideas in this alien invasion story, but Villeneuve reveals just enough that we are glad we came along for the ride.
Villeneuve has assembled an experienced cast to portray the characters beloved by generations of Dune fans. Popular stars like Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Furgeson, Oscar Isaac, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgård should bring a lot of attention. From the few production photos, the design feels realistic, gritty and unfamiliar. It doesn’t feel like a world we’ve experienced before. There is a lot to explore here and that’s exactly what audiences want after a quarantine.
Why Should You Care?
Much like A Game of Thrones is the fantasy series for those who don’t like fantasy, Dune is the science fiction book for those who don’t like science fiction. Dune has continued to resonate with readers for over half a century. This may be because it explores cultural and political themes that are relevant today, perhaps even more than when it was written in 1965.
What is the Dune movie about? Instead of looking at how technology will affect humanity and it’s institutions, Dune explores the way culture and politics may evolve humans over time. If self-awareness is the gateway to healing, perhaps a movie like Dune will help us see and understand ourselves better in our current world of cultural and political change. In addition to all of that, it should be a whole lotta fun.