Minor spoilers follow for select scenes from Dune.
IGN was among the media outlets invited to screen advance footage from Dune in IMAX this week, including the movie’s opening 10 minutes and the new trailer, which debuts Thursday. What was shown truly showcased the film as a treat for the eyes and ears. It’s as stunning-looking as you would expect from Denis Villeneuve, the visionary director of Blade Runner: 2049 and Arrival, but the sound design and musical score (by Hans Zimmer) were just as singular and gripping as the direction, cinematography, art design, costumes, and special effects. While we only saw a sliver of the final film, the footage shown certainly left this writer even more excited for this highly anticipated screen adaptation of the seminal Frank Herbert novel.
Dune begins with narration from Arrakis native Chani (played by Zendaya) speaking about her homeworld and their alien overlords — the House Harkonnen — who have brutally oppressed them in order to extract their planet’s most valuable natural resource: the spice melange. Her narration plays over an attack by the native Fremen, including Chani, on the spice harvesters. The brutal environment of the desert planet Arrakis is evident as wind and sand pummel the Harkonnen troops and their giant spice harvester. But nearly as swift and brutal as the elements is the ambush by the Fremen upon these interlopers. Chani recalls how the Emperor eventually recalled the Harkonnens from Arrakis but now the Fremen are left to wonder who their next oppressor will be.
We cut to the planet Caladan, homeworld of House Atreides, where we are introduced to young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), the heir and only son of Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). Paul dreams of someone he’s never met on a planet he has not yet visited: Chani of Arrakis. Awakened by what we learn is a recurring dream at this point, a weary Paul has breakfast with his mother, the imperial consort Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). She’s a member of the Bene Gesserit order who tests Paul’s telepathic abilities by having him use “the voice” to command her to pass him his drink. It’s our first but small introduction to Paul and his mother’s powers that will gain greater significance later in the story.
During this sequence on Caladan, we also see that items have been packed in crates for shipping and we learn the Spacing Guild is on their way for the ceremonial handover of power from House Harkonnen to House Atreides. The opening ten minutes conclude with the Guild arriving in full pomp and circumstance as Duke Leto — flanked by Paul, Lady Jessica, and their chief officer Gurney Haleck (Josh Brolin) — formally accepts the charge given him by the Emperor and the Guild to assume oversight of Arrakis and its spice production.
The film’s costume design is immediately apparent in these opening 10 minutes — from the spice harvesters’ oppressive gear to the regal militarism of the Atreides to the survivalist stillsuits of the Fremen and the exotic, quasi-ancient garments worn by the Guild. Then there’s the oppressor chic of the darkly clad Harkonnens and the austere vestments of the Bene Gesserit.
The amalgam of influences on Dune the book is well documented and the looks on display in this film adaptation are suitably diverse and powerful. Although set in the year 10,191, Dune depicts a fusion of futurism and feudalism. The Guild and House Atreides may use giant spaceships for transport but the ceremonial handover event is marked by such medieval elements as reading from a paper scroll and Leto signing off with the wax seal of his aristocratic house.
In a video introduction, Denis Villeneuve presented another scene from Dune, this one taking place a bit later after the Atreides have arrived on Arrakis to assume control. In this action-packed sequence, Duke Leto, Paul, Gurney, and imperial planetologist/ecologist Dr. Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) fly over the dunes of Arrakis in an Ornithopter to observe one of the Atreides spice harvesters in action. However, they then spot a massive sandworm — one of the monstrous creatures inhabiting the dunes of Arrakis — quickly burrowing its way under the sand on its way to attack the spice harvester vessel.
When a ship-to-ship airlift recovery fails, Leto risks all to lead a rescue operation of the harvester crew, abandoning the spice in favor of saving lives. But it’s during this sequence where Paul has his first true psychological and spiritual connection to the planet Arrakis and its spice. It’s an overwhelming, almost narcotic moment for Paul where he is overwhelmed by a strangely emotional and psychological oneness with the desert. If not for the arrival of Gurney then Paul might have perished. The two barely make it back to the ship in time before the sandworm devours the giant spice harvester vehicle whole.
In a separate video, Villeneuve chatted with composer Hans Zimmer about creating the unique musical score for Dune. Zimmer turns out to be as much of a die-hard fan of Frank Herbert’s Dune as the director. Zimmer observed how he was always irritated when alien civilizations in science fiction films were scored using traditional earthly musical instruments so he had new musical instruments invented just for this film! Based on the footage screened, Zimmer’s score is both otherworldly and ancient, brutish yet haunting.
Between the new trailer and all the additional footage screened at the IMAX press event, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune feels both operatic and intimate, a cutting-edge science fiction film that also hearkens back to the epic period spectacles of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Here’s hoping the final film lives up to the promise of this exciting early presentation.
Dune opens in US and UK theaters and on HBO Max on October 22 and in Australia on October 21.