Dune Trailer Breakdown and Analysis

Here are all the secrets, as well as the complete cast and characters from that spectacular Dune trailer!

Dune Trailer Breakdown and Analysis
Photo: Warner Bros.

This article contains spoilers for the Dune book and probably the movie. You’ve been warned.

The first trailer for Denis Villeneueve’s Dune is here and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Showcasing a spectacular all star cast, truly epic visuals, and a surprising Pink Floyd song choice, this looks like a faithful adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi novel.

Well…half of it, at least. Y’see, Warner Bros. and Villeneueve have (wisely) opted to split the book into two films. So everything you see in this trailer is roughly from the first half (or less) of the story.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is…

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Pretty spectacular, right? Now, let’s dive in…but before I start, a note about spoilers.

Look, if it’s in the marketing material, it isn’t a spoiler. And it’s tough to truly spoil a book that is almost 60 years old, especially when David Lynch adapted this back in 1984, in a version that has been widely seen and is inexplicably beloved. Nevertheless, I’m keeping this spoiler light, and trying not to allude to stuff in the latter half of the book, although you can draw some pretty strong conclusions from what’s shown in the trailer.

My own analysis here is mixed in with quotes from the cast, taken from a Q&A that was moderated by Stephen Colbert.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune (2020)

Paul Atreides

That’s Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, the protagonist, if not the actual “hero” of Dune, inasmuch as this story has any actual heroes. He’s only 15 years old, leaving his comfortable existence on his home planet, because his family has just won the contract to mine the most valuable commodity in the galaxy, the spice Melange, on the planet Arrakis.

And yes, as you expect, there is more to him than there might seem to be at first. We wrote more about Paul here.

Zendaya as Chani in Dune (2020)

Chani

Zendaya is Chani, a Fremen of the planet Arrakis. Some of Paul’s narration in this trailer seems to be based around prophetic dreams he has had of eventually meeting Chani on Arrakis.

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“I think upon their first meeting, she doesn’t … She’s tough,” Zendaya said in a cast Q&A. “She’s a warrior. She’s native to this planet. This is all she knows. And so, this kind of other kid coming in, she’s not really feeling it. And that’s to the Fremen culture, that they have strong culture and bond within and amongst each other…she obviously doesn’t know about these visions and things. And he knows her, she doesn’t know him. And there’s these moments that … don’t want to give anything away, but these moments where she sees something in him that is obviously an indicator of what is to come.”

We have more on Zendaya’s role in the film here.

Paul Atreides on Caladan in Dune

Speaking of dreaming, here’s Paul in his bedroom back on his home planet of Caladan in the Atreides ancestral home, Castle Caladan. Based on the book, this scene takes place shortly before the Atreides family departs for Arrakis.

For an even more fun detail from the book, the headboard of Paul’s bed is exactly as it’s described in Herbert’s novel.

Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) in Dune

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

This is the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (played by Charlotte Rampling). She reports directly to the Emperor, but was also the teacher of Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica.

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Fans of David Lynch’s film may remember the key role she played in determining that young Paul had an extraordinary destiny, and that scene plays out throughout this trailer.

Notably…

"the box" in Dune (2020)

“What’s in the box?”

“Pain.”

This box literally causes pain, but with no physical damage. What’s happening here is the Reverend Mother has summoned Paul to see if he has some of the Bene Gesserit physical/mental control powers. When Paul’s hand is placed in the box, nerves are stimulated causing pain.

In the book the level of pain is described as if the flesh is being seared from his bones, although no actual damage is done.

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The Gom Jabbar (Dune 2020)

The Gom Jabbar

Ah, but what’s a test without consequences, right? To make sure that Paul takes this little test seriously, the Reverend Mother holds this nasty little device to his neck.

It’s called a gom jabbar, described in the book’s “Terminology of the Imperium” appendix as “the high-handed enemy; that specific poison needle tipped with meta-cyanide used by Bene Gesserit proctors in the death-alternative test of human awareness.

In other words, if Paul pulls his hand out of the box of pain (please, no Grateful Dead jokes), he’ll be pricked with this extremely poisonous needle and die an agonizing actual death.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in a Shield (Dune 2020)

Shields

So you know how in Star Wars and Star Trek ships have shields and deflector screens? In the world of Dune, you get personal energy shields!

According to the “Terminology of the Imperium” these defensive shields “will permit entry only to objects moving at slow speeds (depending on setting, this speed ranges from six to nine centimetres per second).”

Shield Activation in Dune

In other words, no guns or projectile weapons work with someone wearing a shield, making the art of personal combat that much more important in this universe…

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Paul and Gurney fight in Dune (2020)

…hence Paul training with blades here. And his instructor?

Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck in Dune (2020)

Gurney Halleck

That would be Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), who is responsible for teaching Paul how to use weapons and defend himself. And kick his ass when necessary.

“Gurney is the war-master,” Josh Brolin said. “He’s also kind of a parent of sorts, where Duke Leto is obviously busy, extremely busy, in what he’s doing. And he’s taken a real liking to this kid, and I think he has a real soft spot. So Gurney Halleck is like a great dichotomist character, because he’s this great kind of brave-heart warrior, but at the same time, has a love of poetry and kind of heart, and there’s a softness to him…It was fun to play.”

Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto Atreides in Dune (2020)

Duke Leto Atreides

Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) appears to be taking one last look at his home planet of Caladan before departing for Arrakis.

“He’s a father, and he’s got all the qualities of, I think, what the epitome of what a father should be,” Isaac told Colbert. “He’s noble … and under incredible pressure to save his family, save his house, but to adapt to this new existential threat situation, which is moving to this strange planet, and being forced to, and being able to see that there could be a trap, that it could be … there’s a lot of things at work, and yet, trying to live up to those bigger ideals, which is sensitivity and empathy and love and order, and trying to give that and show that to his son, knowing that he’s not going to be there forever, in the hopes that they can use this dark, strange situation to their advantage.”

The Planet Caladan (Dune 2020)

The Planet Caladan

This is the surface of planet Caladan, the lush, watery planet that the Atreides family leaves for um…dryer pastures on Arrakis.

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Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica in Dune (2020)

Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson)

This is the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), the Duke’s concubine and the mother of Paul Atreides. Don’t mistake her for a passive observer, though. She’s a Bene Gesserit, which makes her something like a combination of a psychic badass and a superspy. She’s absolutely central to the story.

“She’s [Leto’s] dearest partner in greatness, but she has her own weird, Bene Gesserit, prophet, spy thing going on,” Isaac said. “And I think he kind of doesn’t really get too much into what that’s all about. He understands she has this specific role to play. And then he’s got a son that might be the messiah, so there’s a lot going on there.”

“She’s the engine of the family,” he continued. “She’s the engine of the events that happen, and it’s a long game that’s being played, over millennia, and she’s part of that…she’s in a very interesting place too, because she understands that there’s a much greater mission to accomplish, and yet, she also loves her family and wants to protect them in any way she can. So it is. They’re a family in an insane amount of pressure and a lot of conflict. But I think at the core of that, it’s an intense love that they have for each other.”

Timothee Chalamet also sings the praises of both the character and the actress.

“There is no Dune without Lady Jessica,” Chalamet said. “And without giving anything away, although the book has been out for decades, anybody can read it, they … Lady Jessica ignores the order of the Bene Gesserit. She’s supposed to have a girl, and she has a boy instead. And that’s one of the triggering events of Dune.”

The Planet Arrakis (Dune 2020)

The Planet Arrakis

Arrakis, the titular Dune of the film, is quite a change from Caladan, isn’t it? It’s a planet of great strategic importance, with an incredibly valuable natural resource, that powerful factions are willing to go to war over.

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So, you know, nothing political about this at all.

Stephen McKinley Henderson as Thufir Hawat in Dune

Thufir Hawat

I’m pretty sure that’s Stephen McKinley Henderson as Atreides family Mentat (and Master of Assassins) Thufir Hawat visible between Paul and Gurney here.

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in Dune

Duncan Idaho

Meet Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), swordmaster of the Atreides and one of the most trusted lieutenants of Duke Leto. Duncan was sent ahead to Arrakis which is why he’s so pleased to see everyone here.

Momoa described his character with his typical aplomb as “basically the greatest fighter in the fucking world,” before adding, “he just would do anything to protect Paul…and looks up to all these guys.”

The “these guys” in question are the Fremen, the fierce natives of Arrakis who the charming Idaho is trying to make into allies for the Atreides.

Javier Bardem as Stilgar in Dune

Stilgar

Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is a powerful Fremen leader and potential ally of the Atreides as they acclimate to Arrakis.

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“Stilgar is the head chief of the people that live deep in the desert of planet Arrakis, which is also known as Dune,” Bardem said. “He’s a leader, and he’s a fighter. He has a lot of ethics and morals, and he’s taken by the message that the messiah, Paul Atreides, is bringing with him…They are kind of protecting their environment and their planet…So there’s a lot of ethics and morality and also environmental thinking in their ways, which I think is brilliant in the book and in the movie.”

Giedi Prime, the Harkonnen Homeworld, in Dune

The Harkonnen Homeworld

I’m not completely certain, but I’m pretty sure this is Giedi Prime, the homeworld of House Harkonnen.

Dave Bautista as Beast Rabban in Dune

Beast Rabban

That’s Dave Bautista as “Beast” Glossu Rabban, the nephew of the film’s nasty villain, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. He doesn’t look particularly healthy, does he?

“I grew up a massive WWE fan, and I’d never met Bautista… let alone Bautista, the real human,” Timothee Chalamet said. “And his excitement being there, having already worked with Denis [on Blade Runner 2049]. And when you see an actor that’s already worked with a director and is more humbled than ever and is more excited to be there than ever…just kind of set the bar on these kind of movies.”

Anyway, speaking of the Harkonnens…

Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune

Baron Harkonnen

This might be a completely unrecognizable (and disgusting) Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

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“I will say that my secret weapon for that was Stellan Skarsgård, because you put Stellan with the way we designed the Baron and we shoot him,” Villeneuve said. “People will understand right away what his position regarding the Atreides and what is the difference of moral values between the Atreides and the Harkonnens.”

If the above shot is any indication, he ain’t kidding.

Harkonnen soldiers in Dune (2020)

I’m not totally sure what we’re looking at here, but the most likely explanation is Harkonnen soldiers.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet Kynes in Dune

Liet Kynes

Sharon Duncan-Brewster is Liet Kynes, an ecologist studying Arrakis. In the book and Lynch film, Kynes was a male character, but that has been swapped here.

“Denis was adamant that we just concentrate on what Kynes represents and thematically, the sense of … he’s an integral role,’ Duncan-Brewster said. “He connects all the dots. He connects the Harkonnens, he connects House of Atreides, he connects the Fremen, planet Arrakis, the sand-worms. This is somebody who understands … and moves in between each and every one, seemingly with one agenda. But however, as things go, we start to understand that there is more gameplay-ing or survival or preservation for the good of certain people or individuals or beings.”

Chang Chen as Dr. Yueh in Dune

Dr. Yueh

This is Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen), a doctor who works for the Atreides. The black diamond tattoo on his forehead identifies him as a member of the Suk School, the greatest doctors in the known universe.

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the Spice Harvester Gets Swallowed by a Sandworm in Dune

Spice Harvester

There’s a great scene in the book (and in the Lynch film) where a spice harvester gets swallowed by a sandworm and, well…here it is.

Ornithopters in Dune (2020)

Ornithopters

These weird dragonfly like vehicles you’re seeing here are Ornithopters. They’re man made aircraft that flap their wings like birds.

Sandworm (Dune 2020)

Sandworms

And there it is, Shai-Halud, the notorious and iconic sandworm of Arrakis. These things can be 400 meters long, are essentially immortal, and unless another sandworm kills them or they drown in water (which isn’t exactly in great supply on Arrakis), they aren’t going anywhere.

The “Terminology of the Imperium” gives an ominous indicator of how powerful these are, with “most of the sand on Arrakis is credited to sandworm action.”

Dune is currently scheduled to open on Dec. 18.

Did you spot anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!