Dune: everything you need to know about the Frank Herbert adaptation

Scheduled to arrive this December, Dune is one of the year's most ambitious movies. Director Denis Villeneuve has assembled an outstanding cast to do justice to the celebrated science-fiction novel of the same name.

Here's everything you need to know about it.

1. It's adapted from Frank Herbert's classic novel

First published in 1965, Dune was the first book in Herbert's eventual Dune saga, and is considered one of the most influential sci-fi novels ever written.

The complex narrative begins on the watery, lush world of Caladan, from which the royal Atreides family are about to depart. Duke Leto Atreides has been asked by the Padishah Emperor to take up stewardship of the arid, sand-blasted planet of Arrakis – but the family is walking into a trap.  And it all revolves around the priceless spice known as Melange, the most valuable substance in the galaxy, which is only found on Arrakis.

Not long after their arrival on Arrakis, the Atreides' are betrayed by the outgoing Harkonnens, led by the scheming Baron Harkonnen. Heir incumbent Paul Atreides and his mother Lady Jessica, Leto's concubine and a Bene Gesserit 'witch' blessed with uncanny abilities, find themselves outcast in the desert. They must band together with the native people of Arrakis, known as the Fremen, to take revenge on the Harkonnens.

The likes of Star Wars and Game of Thrones owe themselves to Dune's multi-stranded, character-driven narrative, which uses a fantastical conceit and setting to explore distinctly human concerns of lineage, betrayal and political wrangling. Herbert based the description of Arrakis and its people and creatures on real-life ecological concerns, with plausible science grounding the apparently outlandish elements. One such element involves the reclamation of water from the body by the Fremen, which helps them survive Arrakis' brutal environment.

Dune was the first in a highly successful series that later spawned Dune: Messiah in 1969, Children of Dune in 1976 (later turned into a TV series in 2003), God Emperor of Dune in 1981, Heretics of Dune in 1984 and Chapterhouse: Dune in 1985. Herbert died in 1986 but his son Brian later continued the legacy with 2006's Hunters of Dune and 2007's Sandworms of Dune, both written with noted sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson.

Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune movie

2. It's the latest movie from Denis Villeneuve

Not just the man behind Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has scored an unbroken line of critical hits with Arrival, Sicario, Enemy, Prisoners and Incendies. Villeneuve has emerged in recent years as a paragon of serious-minded, beautifully filmed, and thought-provoking stories that often touch on an individual's place in the world.

This has been famously exhibited in the likes of Blade Runner 2049, with Ryan Gosling's K struggling for identity in a futuristic Los Angeles. Similarly, in Arrival, Amy Adams' linguist finds herself in the midst of a global situation when she's asked to decipher the language of an alien species that have landed on Earth.

Villeneuve's movies have met with critical raves and awards attention. Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins finally won his first Oscar for his bold interpretation of Blade Runner 2049, and Arrival was nominated for eight Oscars (although, bafflingly, not for Adams herself). Drug cartel thriller Sicario was nominated for three Oscars and three BAFTAs, including a nomination for Benicio del Toro, playing mysterious hitman Alejandro.

Villeneuve's attention to detail both in terms of world-building and character development has earmarked him as one of the finest filmmakers working today. This stands him in good stead to do justice to Frank Herbert's intricate and engrossing universe, something that has its eye on both intergalactic sweep and intimate character moments.

Denis Villeneuve directs Javier Bardem in Dune movie

3. It's got an all-star cast

Call Me By Your Name's Timothee Chalamet portrays Paul, the naive though intelligent young boy turned warrior-survivor. Paul's journey is at the heart of Dune, and Chalamet has proven himself up to the task in conveying complex characters, not just in Call Me By Your Name, but also the likes of Beautiful Boy.

He's joined by The Greatest Showman's Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, who looks set to bring an appropriately ethereal quality to the role. Ex Machina's Oscar Isaac is Duke Leto, Sicario's Josh Brolin is weapons trainer/troubadour musician Gurney Halleck and Aquaman's Jason Momoa is Atreides sword master Duncan Idaho.

Rounding out the cast are Spider-Man's Zendaya as Chani, daughter of Fremen leader Stilgar, played by Skyfall's Javier Bardem. And on the side of the villains, there's Guardians of the Galaxy's Dave Bautista as the brutish Glossu Rabban, and Good Will Hunting's Stellan Skarsgard as the ruthless Baron Harkonnen. All of that adds up to what is surely the most impressive ensemble cast of the year, one that will help bring gravitas and emotion to the world of Arrakis.

Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune movie

4. Villeneuve says it's his most challenging movie so far

When the director of Blade Runner 2049 says a project is difficult, it makes you sit up and pay attention. The world of Herbert's Dune is not only challenging on a conceptual and visual basis, but so much of the story is driven by internal monologues, which are hard to make convincing when said aloud on the big screen.

This is what tripped up David Lynch, the director of the original Dune. Released in 1984, Lynch's movie was widely pilloried for failing to get the essence of the novel, although Herbert confessed to being pleased with it, and the film has gone on to be something of a cult classic. Nevertheless, the stilted performances and awkward exposition make it apparent how challenging a novel Dune is to adapt.

Villeneuve told Vanity Fair: "It’s a book that tackles politics, religion, ecology, spirituality – and with a lot of characters. I think that’s why it’s so difficult. Honestly, it’s by far the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life."

Frankly, that only makes us keener to see the end result.

Jason Momoa in Dune movie

5. Villeneuve has compared the character of Paul to The Godfather

One doesn't invoke the legacy of Francis Ford Coppola's mob masterpiece lightly. Nevertheless, Villeneuve says there are definite comparisons to be drawn between Timothee Chalamet's character in Dune, and Al Pacino's escalatingly ruthless Michael Corleone in The Godfather.

"Paul has been raised in a very strict environment with a lot of training, because he’s the son of a Duke and one day … he’s training to be the Duke," Villeneuve told Empire. "But as much as he’s been prepared and trained for that role, is it really what he dreams to be? That’s the contradiction of that character. It’s like Michael Corleone in The Godfather – it’s someone that has a very tragic fate and he will become something that he was not wishing to become."

Villeneuve continues: "Like any young adult he is looking for his identity and trying to understand his place in the world, and he will have to do things that none of his ancestors were able to do in order to survive. He has a beautiful quality of being curious about other people, of having empathy, something that will attract him towards other cultures, and that’s what will save his life."

Timothee Chalamet in Dune movie

6. It's being scored by Hans Zimmer

Oscar-winning composer of The Lion King, Gladiator, The Dark Knight and many others, Zimmer is practically an industry unto himself. Not just a multi-talented composer adept at leaping between genres, Zimmer is also responsible for the Remote Control scoring studio, which harbours and develops aspiring young film composers.

Zimmer's sound is unmistakable: honed through the likes of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, it usually involves booming bass chords, heavy use of brass, and a heavily processed, almost industrial soundscape. These qualities were evident in his and Benjamin Wallfisch's score for Blade Runner 2049, on which they replaced Denis Villeneuve's usual collaborator, the late Johan Johansson.

Zimmer and Wallfisch's soundscapes also paid deference to Vangelis, whose electronic score for the original Blade Runner is one of the most celebrated of all time. On Dune, Zimmer is going it alone, albeit one expects with his usual team of ghostwriters and orchestrators. He even turned down the opportunity to score Nolan's Tenet because he's such a self-confessed fan of Herbert's novel.

What weird and wonderful soundscapes will Zimmer conjure for the extraordinary planet of Arrakis? We'll find out in due course.

7. The design of the famous Arrakis sandworms took an entire year to complete

One of Dune's most famous aspects is the Arrakis sandworms, monstrous beasts that burrow beneath the burning sands. The worms are a constant threat to the spice operations on the surface, but the native Fremen have learned how to harness the abilities of the enormous creatures.

Villeneuve took the design of the worms to heart, saying he spent an entire year designing them He tells Empire: "We talked about every little detail that would make such a beast possible, from the texture of the skin, to the way the mouth opens, to the system to eat its food in the sand. It was a year of work to design and to find the perfect shape that looked prehistoric enough."

The conception of the worms was one of the few things that worked in the original David Lynch movie, so we can only imagine how awe-inspiring and terrifying they'll be in Villeneuve's film.

8. It's the first part of a two-part story

Villeneuve has stated that his adaptation of Herbert's first Dune book will be split into two movies. There's certainly a lot of plot and character to work through in the first novel, so this is good news for allowing us to luxuriate in the sun-baked world of Arrakis.

"I would not agree to make this adaptation of the book with one single movie," Villeneuve tells Vanity Fair. "The world is too complex. It’s a world that takes its power in details."

It's not yet clear whether that means Villeneuve will have to reassemble his cast and crew, including Rogue One cinematographer Greig Fraser, for part two. Or whether he's shot the second half of the story already, and it's awaiting a release slot from distributor Warner Bros.

Either way, it's heartening to see an accomplished director go all-out for a story so involved and resonant as this one. Could we be looking at another masterpiece from Villeneuve? All the signs indicate it's a yes.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster in Dune movie

Dune is scheduled for release on 18th December 2020. Let us know @Cineworld if it's one of your most anticipated movies of the year.