Everything you need to know about the ‘Dune’ universe before watching the movie

What Dune is about: A plot and character breakdown in less than 900 words -  Polygon

When Dune , by Denis Villeneuve, opens at the cinema in Spain on September 17 , a few weeks earlier than in the United States and Latin America (where you can see on HBO Max, one of the great wounds that the release schedule had left due to COVID will be closed.

Dune , the work based on the science fiction book by Frank Herbert , written in 1965, It is one of the great stories of the genre. So much so that its adaptations and attempts to achieve it have never managed to package what today could be described as a mix between Star Wars and Game of Thrones with touches of environmental awareness.

With an astonishing universe that spawned a lot of continuations, Dune’s novels are notoriously convoluted, with very long plots, characters with strange names, and a few themes. as intoxicating as they are dreamlike and complex. It is not surprising, then, that previous film adaptations have had problems. Twin Peaks creator David Lynch’s 1984 film was almost universally maligned , the cult Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky failed to carry out his adaptation (which resulted in a fascinating documentary ), and a closer version of the SyFy channel may be perhaps the best, but too heavy.

However, Villeneuve vows to unveil the secret formula and finally give Dune the big screen treatment he deserves. The director of Blade Runner 2049 and The Arrival has already demonstrated his ability to direct impressive stories of science fiction, and now it is surely facing its greatest test with a cast full of familiar faces. But before we go into the screen, surely an introductory guide to the Universe of Dune is appropriate. And for that we are in Hypertextual .

What is Dune and how its universe is configured

As we said, the origin of Dune is the 1965 science fiction novel of the same name written by Frank Herbert, an enormously influential tome whose space opera and dense mythology can be seen in everything from Star Wars until Game of Thrones. But Dune is also a growing franchise. Herbert himself wrote five sequels between 1969 and 1985, and his son Brian Herbert has written another 14 prequels and sequels in collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson since 1999 . There was also a movie in 1984 and a TV miniseries in 2000, in addition to numerous board and console games.

What you really need to know is that now it’s also a huge new film from director Denis Villeneuve. And possibly the beginning of an extensive multimedia franchise that includes both television series already expected for HBO Max – owned by Warner, its distributor – and film sequels. At least if everything goes as originally planned in terms of results. For now, the pre-premiere reviews since its exhibition at the Venice festival do not disappoint.

Welcome to Arrakis

Dune is set in a fictional and distant future (in the year 10,191 to be exact) in which the noble houses lead a feudal society that spans many planets, which are considered fiefdoms. The pre-history that the first novel presents us and that the prequels reveal shows us a society that at some point had a confrontation with high technology, returning to that spatial feudalism.

Now the rain of names begins. The protagonist, Paul Atreides, is the son of Duke Leto Atreides and Jessica , a Bene Gesserit acolyte. The Bene Gesserit are a matriarchal religious sect who wield apparently superhuman powers gained after years of exhausting physical and mental training. They have their own political motivations and seek to acquire more power, hence Jessica has settled in the Atreides House as a partner of the Duke.

The world of Dune is the from a distant future where humanity had a confrontation with high technology, returning to that space feudalism. Now, the empire’s wealth is measured by melange, a spice found only on Arrakis.

Much of the population of this universe distrusts the Bene Gesserit and calls them “witches” for their strange abilities. We know that Bene Gesserit acolytes are involved in a long-running genetic breeding program to give birth to a Christ-like male figure of the same abilities, known as the Kwisatz Haderach (yes, the names are complicated, take a time to review them a couple of times).

So far a brief brushstroke of the background painting. Dune begins with the transfer of the entire Atreides family from the peaceful planet Caladan to manage the harvest of a very important export product called melange, known colloquially as a spice, on the desert planet Arrakis. Come on, they are forced to change oasis for desert to fulfill orders in this important raw material, object of desire and wealth throughout the Galaxy.

From melange to Fremen: the ecosystem of Dune

Duke Leto is ordered to do so by Emperor Padishah Shaddam IV. The stay of the Atreides in Arrakis is not long in becoming dangerous due to the remains of the presence of the members of House Harkonnen, former rivals of House Atreides.

The Padishah Emperors are the hereditary rulers of the Old Empire , who reign over the known universe. Their power is kept in check thanks to a feudal agreement with the noble houses of the Landsraad and the Space Guild. Although the Emperors and the Landsraad houses share political power, they both rely on the Space Guild for interstellar travel, creating a faint sense of stability.

AND in the midst of all this are the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis . An apparently old-fashioned society that learns to live with ‘stillsuits’, armor that makes any drop of liquid that emanates from its body be exploited due to its scarcity. Fremen live in tribes called sietches and value water above all else. When a Fremen dies, their body turns into water to preserve the moisture they had in life.

The Fremen, who depend on the noble family that currently oversee the planet, are a group of humans who have lived in the rocky outcrops of Arrakis for generations. Constantly fighting for survival, they are skilled in combat and hardened by the harsh elements of the planet.

Although Arrakis is a place where no one would want to be, the secret as we say is in the melange , a species with a multitude of functions including mentally altering the faculties of the person taking it . And that, by the way, is created thanks to desert worms kilometers in diameter, without which this cycle of the species would be impossible. And, as we will see later, Dune is also a manifesto in favor of maintaining ecosystems. In fact, one of the most important characters to understand the books has the position of planetologist.

In short, Dune is the story of a family betrayed by their masters and forced to work with the natives of the planet to survive. The adventure focuses mainly on Paul, and continues with a whole series of strange and wonderful characters.

A brief history of his few but intense adaptations

Dune adaptations have left a special legacy as only those films that were a failure at the time but which, due to their rarity, became cult films leave behind. A testimony also of how difficult it is to transfer this story from the page to the screen.

The three main attempts to make a film of Dune, in chronological order, were given like this:

La Dune by Jodorowsky (70s)

The only thing we know is that it would have been a strange film … if it had been made. The Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to make a film of 14 Hours starring Orson Welles (whom he bribed to join the cast by promising the director of Ciudadano Kane that the chef of his favorite restaurant would be in charge of the catering), Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí and his own 12-year-old son.

Jodorowsky hoped the experience of watching the movie would elicit a mental response similar to taking LSD, he said in post interviews eriors. Famous painter HR Giger, comic book artist Moebius, and visual effects supervisor Dan O’Bannon participated in the pre-production. Pink Floyd and the French group Magma were going to put a soundtrack to House Atreides and House Harkonnen, respectively. It was going to be truly insane.

Unfortunately, Jodorowsky’s vision was too great and the film spent more than two years in development, which cost the director 2 million dollars. In the end, the project stalled for financial reasons and was never resumed. However, you can see the fantastic documentary about the almost making-of. Plus, you can enjoy the fruits of Jodorowsky’s labor in other ways: Giger, Moebius and O’Bannon were inspired by his work on Dune and led to a movie that did see the light of day: Alien .

La Dune by David Lynch (1984)

A film with some special effects (but not only because of age, but because of how they are used) that today is certainly striking. Surely David Lynch’s biggest commercial gamble, the movie is still good: Kyle MacLachlan plays Paul Atreides and singer Sting appears as the villain Feyd Rautha.

Filming was chaos, and Universal interceded to cut the wings of Lynch’s idea , which ended up becoming a film not strange because of the director’s workings, but because of a reckless montage.

The intrahistory, however, did not place Lynch as director. After Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights to Dune in 1976, the Hollywood producer initially hired Ridley Scott to direct Dune. When Scott left the project, the Laurentiis’ daughter convinced him to hire David Lynch.

Unfortunately, interference made the final cut so bad that voice-overs had to be recorded to reconstruct the holes in the plot . Lynch continues to refuse to discuss Dune, claiming “zero interest” in any adaptation after his experience left a bad taste in his mouth.

SyFy’s version of 2000

The last attempt before the current one comes from the SyFy channel (then known as SciFi), which was well aware that D une was basically a science fiction bible, so he included Frank Herbert’s name in the miniseries title. Directed and adapted by John Harrison (contributor to George A. Romero), the series won two awards at the 2001 Emmys.

Although the critics praised the miniseries, and to date it is one of the programs with the highest audience ever broadcast on the SyFy channel, it is a bit hard to watch, probably for following a text very closely very difficult to bring to the screen, a challenge that Villeneuve now has before him. The miniseries however led to a sequel , Children of Dune , 2003, starring James McAvoy.

What about the new Dune de Villeneuve?

The most important thing is that the one that is going to arrive at the cinema now is only the first part of the first book. Villeneuve has divided the story in two, recognizing that it takes really important footage to fit the whole story. The (potential) problem is that although the second part is officially planned, it has not been shot yet, and its creation is totally dependent on Dune being a success .

However, Villeneuve is a stellar choice for this film, as he is used to making big, bright and thoughtful sci-fi movies, since Blade Runner 2049 until Arrival .

The writers are Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth. Spaihts wrote Passengers and the original drafts of Doctor Strange and Prometheus . Roth’s previous works include A Star is Born , Munich and The curious case of Benjamin Button , and won an Oscar for Forrest Gump . The music, almost by popular acclaim, is by Zimmer.

If we add to this a cast full of familiar faces, we can say that there is wood. Now it remains to be seen if it is as valuable as melange.