Dune IMAX footage reveals sandworms, spice, and Zendaya’s surprising role
Here's exactly what's in theatrical IMAX preview footage and why it matters.
Spice fever is here.
With the joint theatrical and HBO Max release of Dune: Part One three months away, the hype machine is ramping up for all things Arrakis.
In addition to the explosive second trailer for Dune, special IMAX screenings are offering select audiences an exclusive first look at, among other things, the first 10 minutes of Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction blockbuster. And that footage reveals one change from the books that rather smartly shakes up the narrative structure of Frank Herbert’s novel.
Here’s what to know about Dune’s IMAX footage, and what it means for the saga at large. Spoilers ahead for the first 10 minutes of Dune.
Dune’s first 10 minutes, explained
Following a brief behind-the-scenes sizzle reel with comments from Villeneuve and his cast, leading man Timothée Chalamet, who plays Paul Atreides, introduced the first 10 minutes of Dune. Here are our takeaways from that footage:
- For those who read the leaked script online, most of this opening is totally different. So, don’t trust the leak!
- The opening narration comes from Chani (Zendaya), not Princess Irulan as in both the books and David Lynch’s previous adaptation of Dune.
- In said narration, Chani details the oppression of the Fremen by House Harkonnen and its servants, ending her speech by ominously saying, “Who will be our new oppressors?” This serves to broaden the perspective of Villeneuve’s film beyond House Atreides.
- Chani describes the Spice and how it’s mined on Arrakis. We see Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista) wielding a whip, as well as the Fremen sabotaging a Harkonnen Spice harvester. In other words, the film opens by establishing the conflict between the native Fremen and the Harkonnens, their appointed imperial oppressors, additionally making it clear why House Atreides is summoned to Arrakis.
- We then see Paul’s dreams of Arrakis — and of Chani. Paul wakes up. He’s on the planet Caladan, his home.
- Paul has breakfast with his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). In this scene, Paul’s mother tells him to use “The Voice” to summon a cup to drink, furthering his Bene Gesserit training. In the world of Dune, The Voice is analogous to a Jedi mind trick in that it serves as a form of mind control. Paul’s attempt to use The Voice fails, but the sound effect utilized to portray it is notedly trippy.
- On Caladan, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), Lady Jessica, Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), and Paul greet a herald from Emperor Shaddam IV, who asks whether House Atreides will assume command of spice harvesting operations on Arrakis. Duke Leto agrees, as seen in the trailer. (Notably, as the novel opens, House Atreides has already been appointed to this position on Arrakis, making this scene a major alteration that’s specific to Villeneuve’s vision.)
Chani’s role has changed from the books
In the first Dune novel, there wasn’t just one point-of-view narrator. Baron Harkonnen’s schemes, Lady Jessica’s maneuvers, Paul’s dreams, and Duke Leto’s regrets are all communicated by those characters directly in Herbert’s book, which shifts between the perspectives of its characters as the plot progresses. Historical documents offer a larger context for the story, depicted through the writings of Princess Irulan in the novel. As such, her perspective forms the opening narrative of both the novel and Lynch’s film.
That narrative power, previously allotted to a member of the aristocracy in Dune, is now in the hands of Chani, the book’s most vital Fremen character. This reframing doesn’t necessarily mean the broadest plot events of Dune will play out differently, but it does represent a paradigm shift in terms of whose story Dune is to tell. Dune tells a story about colonizers gradually coming around to see the perspective of those they’re oppressing, and the new film reframes that idea by toggling between various points of view, allowing the oppressed to keep for themselves.
In addition to the first 10 minutes of Dune, various behind-the-scenes features, the second trailer, and a segment on Hans Zimmer’s score for Dune, the IMAX screening also screened another scene that appears to take place early in the story: that of a sandworm eating a Spice harvester. Paul, Gurney, and Duke Leto join Liet-Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and take an Ornithopter out to survey spice operations, only to find themselves involved in a rescue operation.
This scene is iconic within both the novel and Lynch’s previous adaptation, given that it’s the moment in which Paul realizes how at home he feels on Arrakis. It’s also the moment in which Liet-Kynes — a climatologist for the Empire, but also a secret Fremen supporter — realizes Paul and his father are decent, well-meaning people.
But in Villeneuve’s version, Paul and Gurney walk on the sand and are almost lost to quicksand, only to be rescued by Duke Leto. Paul inhales the spice, muttering about “understanding” the “words” of an “old man.” This is a reference to the religious name the Fremen give the sandworms, “Shai-Hulud,” which sometimes translates to “old man of the desert.” In other words, Paul is talking about communicating with a giant alien worm.
In the new footage, the sandworm is immense, creating an unbelievably cool rippling effect as it moves through the sand. And when it eventually eats the doomed Spice carry-all, the worm is so massive that we barely even see this final act of destruction.
That closing moment might be the perfect metaphor to describe all the Dune preview footage. The film is sprawling, complex, beautiful, and terrifying. And the Dune footage screened is only a tiny fraction of a larger world. Like the elusive and enormous sandworms, whatever we’ve seen of this new Dune so far still obscures much larger threats and spectacular sequences that have yet to be revealed.
Dune hits theaters and HBO Max on October 22.