There’s a lot going against Denis Villeneuve’s big-screen adaptation of Dune. For one, Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel might be an unadaptable text—so sprawling and dense that even the inscrutable legend David Lynch couldn’t make sense of it. Can Villeneuve do any better, and pull in the kind of audience that would justify what appears to be such a pricey ordeal from Warner Bros.? (Herbert’s material isn’t exactly as approachable as Star Wars, although Paul Atreides might loathe sand more than Anakin Skywalker.) There’s also the fact that Villeneuve’s Dune is slated to arrive in December, at a time when moviegoers might (quite understandably) still be hesitant to return to theaters in droves amid a global pandemic.
Take all that away though, and Dune undoubtedly looks promising.
There’s Timothée Chalamet as our hero Paul, carrying over his signature brooding from Call Me by Your Name onto the desert planet Arrakis; in a move that feels specifically designed to appease Tumblr users, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson play his parents. As the swordmaster Duncan Idaho, Jason Momoa gets to be himself: a good hang seemingly impervious to all the mopey-looking characters around him. And of course there’s the appearance of a giant sandworm, because if there’s anything a casual fan would know about the world of Dune, it’s that there are giant sandworms. Although, is it weird that they kind of look like giant [gets redacted by HR]?
Why would you inhabit a desert planet where giant sandworms are liable to attack you? Well, much like the internet, the most valuable resource in the world of Dune is spice. (Technically, it’s a sand-like material called Melange, but it is colloquially referred to as spice.) Paul’s father, Leto Atreides, accepts a position overseeing things on Arrakis—a move that puts him closer to enemies like the antagonistic Harkonnen family. The Harkonnen patriarch is played by Stellan Skarsgard—I can’t stress enough, this film’s cast is stacked—who is seen briefly in the trailer obscured by smoke and sand saying “kill them.” (Sounds bad!)
Villeneuve has already revealed that he’s splitting Dune into two parts, while the new streaming service HBO Max will be the home of a Dune prequel series. There’s a lot riding on Dune being a success, then, though the French-Canadian filmmaker has already proven he can handle weighty sci-fi material and even weigher expectations with Blade Runner 2049. (Like 2049, Dune feels like it has already developed a cult-like following.) But as lauded as Villeneuve’s long awaited sequel to Blade Runner was—it captured two Oscars, including a long overdue cinematography win for the great Roger Deakins—there’s no escaping the fact that it was a bit of a letdown at the box office.
Since Villeneuve burst onto the scene in 2013 with the dual-releases of Enemy and Prisoners, his talent has never been a question. It’s just a matter of consistently translating that into something financially viable, so we can get more big-budget swings like Dune and Blade Runner 2049 in the future to compete with the steady stream of superhero movies. I would very much like that to happen, and for Dune to be a hit on the level of other sci-fi epics.
But like Tenet, we have to weigh the excitement of getting to see Dune sooner, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, versus waiting a little longer for a time when the notion of sitting in a dark room for several hours isn’t such a legitimate health risk. We all want to see Dune on the biggest possible screen. But whether or not the movie does arrive in a few months, the spice of this epic Dune trailer will sustain me for a very long time.