The trailer of Dune is now widespread across the internet. In one month, it has managed to surpass the DC Fandom Teaser for Batman and the Official Main Trailer of Wonder Woman 1984, both of which have been already out for two months during the hype of the DC fandom. The trailer has been largely positively received and generally liked by everyone who watched it. However, this begs the question: What is the story actually about? This is something which newcomers might not be able to figure out from the trailer. This articles aims to alleviate this ailment and will contain minimal spoilers.
Dune is based on a 1965 book by author Frank Herbert. The book is regarded as one of the most influential science-fiction books of all time. Even recently, it became the highest in the Washington Post Mass Market Paperback Best Seller Lists in anticipation of the upcoming 2021 movie.
Frank Herbert’s DUNE is #1 on the current Washington Post mass market paperback bestseller list. More than 50 years after the novel’s 1st publication, and 34 years after my father passed away. He lives on through his incredible, beloved novel. — Brian Herbert (17/06/2020)
At the time of publication, Dune was tied in the 1966 Hugo Awards alongside Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal to win the best novel of the year award. Ironically, this was the same time Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy won the title as the ‘Best All-Time Series’. The Foundation books were a significant influence in the creation of the Dune universe and will be adapted by Apple TV.
Dune was also influenced by the likes of 1774s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire book, 1924s With Lawrence In Arabia novel (and its consequent 1962 film adaptation) and the 1960s The Sabre of Paradise, which I have previously compared.
In return, Dune itself has inspired a variety of franchises, most notably Star Wars, Game of Thrones, WarHammer and everything else. I have previously written an article which talks about the comparisons between Star Wars and Dune. Many notable people regard Dune as having a significance influence in their work and is still regarded as one of the best selling science-fiction novels of all time.
The upcoming film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, will become the seventh attempted adaption of Dune.
What about the contents of Dune itself? Dune itself takes place 20,000 years into our future. 10,000 years prior, mankind fought a significant battle against artificial intelligence (also known as “thinking machines”). After humankind won the intergalactic conflict, commonly referred to as The Butlerian Jihad, the entire intergalactic population decided to revoke the use of all forms of sophisticated technology to prevent a similar machine uprising from happening again, though there were conflicts originally. This prohibition even extended to technologies originally used for medical purposes.
This created a gap in the progress of mankind. Without the presence of computers, humankind was bound to become stagnant, similar to the dark ages. This led mankind to become innovative and start focusing their studies to enhance the human mind to replace the thinking machines in the aftermath of the jihad. This led to the formation of three significant groups: Bene Gesserits, Mentats and Guild Navigators, as well as the discovery of the spice melange, all of which become mainstream by the time the events of the original Dune book occur, i.e. the film.
Spice and Society
The spice melange is the most precious commodity in the entire universe. It has a variety of functions, including enhancing the human lifespan, unlocking prescient (prophetic) abilities, improving mental attributes as well as serving as a source of fuel to allow faster than light space travel to occur. Every single society possess the melange. It is the oil of the universe. He who controls the spice, controls the universe. It is found only in one planet known as Arrakis, also known as Dune, thanks to the presence of sandworms.
Bene Gesserit is a secretive matriarchal society who officially serve all members of the imperium, including the emperor himself, who rules the known universe. The sisterhood have the ability to see into their feminine past and have limited prophetic abilities, thanks to the presence of the spice melange. They also have a skillset and abilities similar to the Jedis of Star Wars.
The Mentats are essentially human computers who have the ability to undertake complex trajectories and mathematics within a millisecond. Every major house of the Duniverse (known as the Landsraad) possess a Mentat: It’s practically essential.
The Guild Navigators are the pilots responsible for safely guiding ships from one part of the galaxy to another. Through the use of the spice melange, they gain prescience to dictate the best possible and most efficient path to reach a desired location and hence are highly valuable and essential for the transportation of all forms of commerce. Without them, every planet in the Duniverse would, for all intents and purposes, become isolated.
10,000 years later, we arrive to the events of the movie. At this time, mankind has turned into an feudalistic society with rivaling houses. In the book, the focus is on House Atreides, the honourable family of the imperium. Their rivals are the greedy and sadistic House Harkonnen. All houses of the Landsraad answer to the Padishah Emperor, who belongs to House Corrino.
House Atreides had fiefdom over the blackwater planet Caladan. This has been their ancestral homeland since the times of the Butlerian Jihad. However, they have recently lost their fiefdom under the command of Emperor Shaddam and are ordered to instead to relocate their homeland to the violent desert planet of Arrakis, the motivations of which will become clear later in the story.
The head of House Atreides is Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), an extremely popular and highly influential member of the Landsraad. In compliance with the Emperor’s verdict, he is forced to abandon the place his ancestors called home for the past 10,000 years. He is supported by his concubine, the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who is always at his side.
At the center of this journey is Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the son of Leto Atreides and Lady Jessica. He would be the successor of House Atreides after his father and would be responsible for running House Atreides. He is trained by the very best soldiers of the imperium. These are Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), the weapon master of House Atreides and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), the personal bodyguard to the duke. His mother, being a Bene Gesserit, gave him training which is supposed to be given exclusively to other members of her sisterhood.
In the beginning of the trailer, Paul is seen placing his hand in a box. This test known as the “Gom Jabbar”. It’s a psychological assessment of an individual and is designed to separate people based on their reactions. The ones who fail the test did so due to their animal instincts taking control of their mental state. The successful candidates manage to keep their animal instinct in control and separate the pain in their mind and tolerate the perceived difficulty. It’s way of separating the mentally strong from the mentally weak. But if you fail, it can be lethal.
Dune (i.e. Arrakis), at first glance, appears as a great place to be granted a fiefdom over. After all, this is the sole source of the spice melange, the most sought-after resource of the universe. This would, in theory, allow House Atreides to become one of the richest houses of the imperium.
However, the power of House Atreides lies in its oceans and seas and possess a massive navy force as well as soldiers trained in a blackwater environment. This made Caladan both beautiful and easy defendable in comparison to Dune. Arrakis is a scorching hot desert where the rain never sets with an indigenous population known as Fremen who don’t even believe in the concept of an ocean. In the deep desert, water is most precious commodity to the Fremen. It’s a total alien landscape. With sandworms.
In other words, the armed forces of House Atreides have not been specifically trained for this particular environment. Leto Atreides suspects the emperor has ulterior motives due to his jealousy of him.
Conflict of Houses
The Atreides-Harkonnen feud originated during the Butlerian Jihad, which was 10,000 years ago. Both families have engaged in conflicts beforehand in an attempt to wipe the other house out. There are allegiances to other houses, well-planned assassinations and political intrigue.
Dune was previously under the fiefdom of House Harkonnen. When landing in Arrakeen, Leto Atreides discovers the cruelty of House Harkonnen among the native population. Leto sought to immediately rectify this by creating a society of fairness and justice for all residents of Arrakis. The change in administration is quite apparent.
An Unstoppable Jihad
In the midst of the story, Paul sees visions of a terrible future. He can not tell what sees or what he perceives, but it’s coming. Something violent and vast is coming. He can feel an imminent threat where time is relative. An even bigger conflict than the current feud. Something far, far greater with significant ramifications.
Muad’Dib could indeed, see the Future, but you must understand the limits of this power. Think of sight. You have eyes, yet cannot see without light. If you are on the floor of a valley, you cannot see beyond your valley. Just so, Muad’Dib could not always choose to look across the mysterious terrain. He tells us that a single obscure decision of prophecy, perhaps the choice of one word over another, could change the entire aspect of the future. He tells us “The vision of time is broad, but when you pass through it, time becomes a narrow door.” And always, he fought the temptation to choose a clear, safe course, warning “That path leads ever down into stagnation.” — Dune (1965)
- Dune is based in a feudalistic-interstellar society.
- House Atreides are being deported to planet Arrakis, also known as Dune.
- The central character is Paul Atreides, the successor of House Atreides.
- Dune was previously occupied by their rivals - House Harkonnen.
- Leto Atreides, the Duke of House Atreides, suspects foul play and a conspiracy.
- Paul has visions of a terrible future.
- Paul’s arc is actually similar to Lawrence of Arabia and Imam Shamyl.
And then, everything unfolds…
The real question is: Where is it all heading? What is the ultimate endgame?
Essentially, it’s a combination of Game of Thrones and Star Wars for a mature audience. It has even been described as “Star Wars for Adults” by the director himself:
Most of the main ideas of Star Wars are coming from Dune so it’s going to be a challenge to [tackle] this. The ambition is to do the Star Wars movie I never saw. In a way, it’s Star Wars for adults. We’ll see. — Denis Villeneuve
The creator of the Game of Thrones book series also appreciates the literature:
DUNE is a classic work — George R. R. Martin
Denis Villeneuve is the latest filmmaker to adapt the 1965 book. It was previously adapted in 1984 by David Lynch, but this ultimately flopped. It was commercially and critically a failure, primarily due to the interference by its producers who decided to bring their own version to the big screen. It was then adapted in 2000 by the SyFy channel and it was deemed as a success. This ultimately led to the 2003 sequel Children of Dune which was also a hit. A remastered version of the original show has been announced and is expected to release in November 2020.
However, there are indeed multiple versions of the 2000 miniseries, with the American version being considered as unwatchable. The two best versions to watch are the uncensored and director’s cut versions.
Judging by the runtime of the remastered product, it appears to suggest that this is the uncensored version. That is only 6 minutes shorter than the Director’s cut, the latter of which is only available on DVD for a hefty price, so the former edition will suffice.
Denis Villeneuve is a big fan of the franchise. He has read the entirety of the original franchise after reading the first book and so is immensely familiar with the source material. Furthermore, he has made masterpiece after masterpiece, with movies such 2013s Prisoners, 2016s Arrival and 2017s Blade Runner 2049. Blade Runner 2049 was a critical-hit and described as ‘one of the great sequels ever made’ by some. Whilst most of the movies were not commercially viable, there were creatively successful.
Blade Runner 2049 and Dune are both science-fiction materials which are difficult to sell to mainstream audiences. They both are filled philosophy, complex ideas and have a slow-paced environment-absorbing type of touch. Both of them also possess a concept of deconstructing the chosen one trope, although this might not be evidently clear from the first book alone. Denis Villeneuve made a masterpiece with Blade Runner 2049 and so one can expect another great film in the form of Dune! In terms of its commerciality, they need to learn from their marketing campaign of Blade Runner 2049.
The upcoming movie is only adapting the first half of a complete story. It will cover 2/3 of the original novel. The sequel to the movie is already in development, but chances are it will not be officially green-lighted until Warner Bros can assess the popularity of the franchise.
In terms of the actual movie itself, this should not be an issue. Some have shared concerns that this film will not feel complete because it ends in the middle of the book. However, the Cinematographer Greig Fraser of Dune has previously stated that this movie will feel like a standalone film:
It’s a fully formed story in itself with places to go. It’s a fully standalone epic film that people will get a lot out of when they see it… It was quite an adventure visually. It was a beautiful experience making it. The people involved with it, I was overwhelmed. Some of the actors, as well as being insanely talented actors, are just lovely, lovely people who I’ve become very close to since then. — Greig Fraser
He has been previously responsible for 2012s Snow White and the Huntsman, 2016s Star Wars: Rogue One, 2019s The Mandalorian and the upcoming Robert Patterson Batman film. He knows what he’s talking about.
Alongside a great director who is extremely passionate about the story, there is also a great cast involved with the project. All of these are well-known actors from well-known franchises alongside academy award nominees and winners.
The list are as follows:
- Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides
- Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides
- Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica
- Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck
- Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho
- Javier Bardem as Stilgar
- Zendaya as Chani
- Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
- Dave Bautista as Glossu ‘Beast’ Rabban
- David Dastmalchian as Piter De Vries
- Chen Chang as Dr. Wellington Yueh
- Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam
Judging by a cast interview by Stephen Colbert, it seems like a lot of the actors are also somewhat familiar with the source material and all of them are extremely passionate with this particular project.
At the same time, Warner Bros are developing a prequel TV show for HBO Max. It is called Dune: The Sisterhood. It is based on the prequel book “Sisterhood of Dune”, according to a taken-down synopsis of the show. The fact that Warner Bros is already creating a spin-off shows that they have confidence in the franchise and believe in its profitability.
I read this book last year and it had a decent story. It’s the beginning of the Schools of Dune trilogy, with the other two books being “Mentats of Dune” and “Navigators of Dune”. The trilogy as a whole talks about the formation of the major schools of Dune which become widespread by the time of the original saga.
There are a lot of materials in the wider Duniverse. There are a lot of books within the franchise. It is a very much rich world with complex world-building. In total, there are 10 prequel books, 6 original books, 2 in-between books and 2 sequel books. Every single book is quite long too. There is a lot of potential here.
These can be divided into 3 prequel trilogies (with one more on the way), the original saga, the two expanded books (Heroes of Dune) and the two sequel books.
[Possible Spoilers Ahead]
The books, in chronological order, are as follows:
Legends of Dune Trilogy
Dune: The Butlerian Jihad (2002) — How the Great Revolt Started.
Dune: The Machine Crusade (2003) — In the Midst of the Jihad.
Dune: The Battle of Corrin (2004) — The Final Showdown of the Jihad.
Schools of Dune Trilogy
Sisterhood of Dune (2012) — Formation of the Major Schools of Dune.
Mentats of Dune (2014) — A Conflict Between the Schools and Imperium.
Navigators of Dune (2016) — The Final and Fixed Establishment of the Schools.
Prelude to Dune Trilogy
Dune: House Atreides (1999) — Political Intrigue Taking Place a Generation Prior to the Original Novel.
Dune: House Harkonnen (2000) — Leto Atreides is Now Duke of Caladan and Shaddam IV is the Emperor.
Dune: House Corrino (2001) — Leto Atreides Has Children. Lady Jessica is Introduced to House Atreides. Jealousy & Treason.
Dune: The Duke of Caladan (2020) — Beginning of a 4th Prequel Trilogy. Takes Place Right Before the Original Novel.
Dune (1965) — Original Book: House Atreides VS House Harkonnen.
Expanded Book (Heroes of Dune)
Paul of Dune (2008) — Intergalactic Jihad.
Dune Messiah (1969) — Paul Ruling the Imperium.
Expanded Book (Heroes of Dune)
The Winds of Dune (2009) — Alia Atreides Becomes the Regent.
Original Saga Continues
Children of Dune (1976) — Paul’s Children Take Precedence.
God Emperor of Dune (1981) — Golden Path in Effect.
Heretics of Dune (1984) — Aftermath of the Scattering.
Chapterhouse of Dune (1985) — Fighting Against a New Enemy
Acknowledgement & Recommendations
My very first article I ever wrote on Medium is titled “Why you should start reading Dune”. As you can tell, I am a big fan of this particular franchise. I discovered it around 2 years ago and I have been hooked ever since I found out this will be adapted by Denis Villeneuve. If you like reading books with a complex storyline and are interested in philosophy, I highly recommend you read the original Dune book. If you’re a fan of Battlestar Galactica and Terminator, you will definitely enjoy the “Legends of Dune” trilogy. If you want to know more about the world-building of the Duniverse, you will enjoy the two subsequent prequel trilogies. If you enjoy witnessing the change of society and culture over the course of thousands of years, you will enjoy the original saga. The two sequels I still have yet to read, but I am sure I will enjoy it! If you are a completionist and can read in a reasonable speed, or have access to audiobooks, then I will highly recommend you read all of the Dune books in chronological order, similar to Midnight’s Edge.
Alternatively, there is also an upcoming graphic novel based on the original Dune Book arriving in December 2021:
This will cover 1/3 of the original novel, with subsequent volumes to arrive at a later date. I will also recommend watching a book-by-book analysis and summary by the YouTuber Quinn’s Ideas of Ice and Fires. It was largely thanks to him and I became quite familiar with the Duniverse.
The playlist starts with the summary of the original saga before analysing each book individually in the subsequent videos. Furthermore, Comic Book Girl 19 also has videos which explore the books in far more detail and with discussion. As of the writing of this article, she has discussed the trilogy of the original saga, with an analysis on God Emperor of Dune expected in 2021.
Finally, Youtuber Secrets of Dune also has a collection of videos in regards to the analysis of the movie footage and its subsequent connection to the lore of the Duniverse. He manages to pry out even the most minute of detail within his breakdowns. He specialises in highlighting the various Islamic undertones and Arabic etymologies found in Dune, which are heavily present in the entire saga.
All in all, I highly recommend everyone who is fan of either science-fiction, philosophy, complex literature, the director or the cast to watch this movie when it releases on the 1st October 2021. After the catastrophic ending of Game of Thrones and the end of Disney’s Star Wars Trilogy, many fantasy series will attempt to become the new big hit. If it’s successful, Dune will kick off a great franchise which will bear striking analogues to reality.
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