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‘Dune’: Trailer, release date and everything else we know about the sci-fi epic

Dune
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Frank Herbert’s Dune has long been a seminal work in the sci-fi genre. But despite a couple of attempts to bring his grand saga to the big screen, fans of the novel are still waiting for a satisfying adaptation from Hollywood. They’ll be getting another attempt at it very soon.

Warner Bros. Studios is set to release Dune from director Denis Villeneuve and starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac and a smorgasbord of other A-list actors this fall. 

Dune is among the most anticipated films of the year, and below you can find out everything that you need to know about it.

What is the plot of ‘Dune’

Dune is a 1965 science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. The story takes place on the planet Arrakis, an inhospitable world but one that is rich in the “spice” known as melange, a much sought after resource that can extend life and enhance consciousness.

Arrakis is governed by the Atreides family. However, when they are betrayed, the young Paul Atreides must set out on a journey that can save his family and all of Arrakis.

Though there are sequels, this adaptation of Dune is only going to cover the first book from Herbert, and reportedly only half of it.

Who is director Denis Villeneuve?

If you don’t recognize Denis Villeneuve by name, you likely are familiar with a number of his films. Villeneuve is the director of Arrival (for which he received a Best Director Oscar nomination), Blade Runner 2049, Sicario and Prisoners.

Villeneuve has shown an ability to handle big budgeted, intricate movies thus far, but even he knew that Dune was a massive undertaking and stipulated early on that it be broken up into two films.

Villeneuve has also been a proponent of Dune having a big screen debut. When WarnerMedia announced that it would be releasing its 2021 slate of films, including Dune, on HBO Max the same day as theaters, Villeneuve had some harsh words for the studio for the lack of communication on the decision by the studio and parent company AT&T, as well as voicing his overall support for the theater-going experience. The relationship seems to have mended, but it’s clear how Villeneuve wants his film to be seen. 

Who makes up the ‘Dune’ cast?

The level of talent involved in Dune in front of the camera is incredible. While Chalamet, Zendaya and Isaac headline the film, Dune is stacked from top to bottom. Here is a more in-depth rundown of who’s in Dune and who they’re playing:

  • Timothée Chalamet - Paul Atreides
  • Zendaya - Chani 
  • Oscar Isaac - Duke Leto Atreides 
  • Rebecca Ferguson - Lady Jessica 
  • Jason Momoa - Duncan Idaho 
  • Josh Brolin - Gurney Halleck 
  • Dave Bautista - Glossu “Beast” Rabban 
  • Javier Bardem - Stilgar 
  • Charlotte Rampling - Gaius Helen Mohiam 
  • Stellan Skarsgård - Baron Vladimir Harkonnen 
  • David Dastmalchian - Piter De Vries 
  • Stephen McKinley Henderson - Thufir Hawat 
  • Chen Chang - Dr. Wellington Yueh 
  • Sharon Duncan-Brewster - Liet Kynes 
  • Babs Olusanmokun - Jamis 

When will ‘Dune’ premiere?

Fans have been waiting for Dune for a while now. It was originally expected to be released on Nov. 20, 2020, before being initially pushed to Dec. 18, 2020, as all of Hollywood was shifting dates because of the pandemic. However, Dune, like many other big budget films in 2020, was shelved until 2021. We now know that Dune is finally going to debut in theaters on Oct. 22 (after a premiere at the Venice International Film Festival). 

And despite Villeneuve’s criticism of the decision, Dune will indeed have a same-day release on HBO Max where the service is available. These day-and-date releases are available at no extra cost to subscribers to HBO Max’s $14.99 plan, but are only available on the streaming service for a month after the film’s release.

Is there a ‘Dune’ trailer?

People got their first look at a Dune trailer back in September 2020, when we all still thought that a 2020 debut was on the horizon. Alas, it was not to be. But now that we are just a few months away from its new 2021 release date, Warner Bros. has debuted a brand new trailer, which you can watch below. 

As you can see, Dune looks absolutely epic. It’s massive scale is on full display and we get glimpses of much of the star-studded ensemble. Personally, I can’t wait until the next time I go to a movie theater and get to watch it on a big screen. 

'Dune' reviews

Dune has officially screened at the Venice Film Festival, and the first reviews are in, offering a mixed bag of reactions.

Many reviewers praise Dune's grand scale, which The Guardian described as "blockbuster cinema at its dizzying best" in a five-star review. Though even some who applauded the epic scale of the film apparently found the film a bit of a mess narratively, like The Hollywood Reporter.

Then you have the likes of IndieWire, which summed the whole film as a "massive disapponitment."

Another common theme in reviews is the sentiment that Dune does need to be seen on the biggest screen possible (aka movie theaters), rather than on HBO Max, where it will simultaneously stream for the first 30 days of its release. This is an idea that Dune director Dennis Villeneuve has been pushing all along.

Still, early scores from review aggregators are strong for Dune. Rotten Tomatoes has the film at 86% hours after the film premiered, while Metacritic scores it at a 76. 

The critical opinion around Dune will clear up a bit as more reviewers get their eyes on it closer to its release. But one way or the other it is looking like it will be one of the more talked about titles of the fall.

Will there be ‘Dune’ sequels?

As mentioned above, Villeneuve made Dune with the goal that it would be the first of a two-part story. Still, no official green light has been given for a sequel. This was actually part of Villeneuve’s concern when he criticized the HBO Max/Warner Bros. strategy, as he worried that streaming would eat into Dune’s potential profit and threaten any chance at a sequel. In the end, we won’t know one way or the other until a sequel is officially announced.

Just to play devil’s advocate, Space Jam: A New Legacy and Godzilla vs. Kong both led the box-office in their debut weekends in theaters and on streaming. It’s impossible to know how much an exclusive theatrical opening would have impacted their overall numbers.

But it’s not just in film where we may see some other Dune material. A prequel series titled Dune: The Sisterhood has the go-ahead at HBO Max, officially ordered to series in 2019. Diane Ademu-John was recently announced as the showrunner, writer and executive producer for Dune: The Sisterhood. No information is available on a potential release date. 

What about the previous ‘Dune’ attempts?

Like I said, this isn’t the first time that a filmmaker has tried to adapt Dune for the big screen. Most notably, David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet) brought his unique sensibilities to Dune in 1984. The film starred Kyle MacLachlan and Virginia Madsen, but was widely panned.

Another attempt was made at one point by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, though he ultimately was not able to get his version of Frank Herbert's novel off the ground. However, there is a great documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune that details the filmmaker’s plan for his adaptation, which included H.R. Geiger and Salvador Dali.

What to Watch will update this page as more information on Dune becomes available. 

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a D.C.-based entertainment writer and content producer for What to Watch. He previously has written for TV Technology and Awards Circuit.