'Dune' Trailer Breakdown: A Closer Look At Denis Villeneuve's Jaw-Dropping Adaptation

Director Denis Villeneuve has given Dune the blockbuster treatment, and today's newly released trailer makes it look like one of the biggest movie events of 2020. But if you've never read Frank Herbert's 1960s sci-fi classic, there's a good chance you were bowled over by the visuals in that trailer but were left wondering what exactly is happening in this story. That's where we come in. Join us as we go through some of the trailer's biggest beats and explain what's going on.

The first images of the trailer zero in on Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the young protagonist of this story. Paul's a dreamer, and many of his dreams come true: as he grows up, he slowly begins to realize that he has psychic visions that will shape his destiny forever. But who's this girl, played by Zendaya, and why does she have such piercing blue eyes? She plays Chani, a warrior in a tribe called the Fremen who live on Arrakis, a dry planet also known as Dune. Her eyes are blue because she's addicted to melange, A.K.A. "the spice," which is the most powerful substance in the entire galaxy and is found only in the deserts of Arrakis where she and her tribe dwell. All of the Fremen have that same eye color due to their proximity and heavy reliance on the spice for survival, and even those who weren't raised in that environment can develop that coloration if they consume enough of it.

"There's a crusade coming," Paul intones, as we see him and his mother, the Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) look out over a battlefield on Arrakis. Paul was raised on Caladan, a planet full of water and vegetation. But when his father, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), is put in charge of Arrakis, he's forced to move his whole family there to establish a stronghold and fend off the nefarious characters who want to overthrow the Atreides and take control of the planet for themselves. That conflict comes to a violent head in the story, and Paul and Lady Jessica are witnesses to some of its biggest clashes.

Before the family moves to Arrakis, Paul is tested by the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit, a religious order of women with mysterious powers who influence galactic events. Lady Jessica is a member of this order, and she's begun to see certain signs that Paul might become a powerful Messianic leader on one side of a giant galactic war. During this painful test, Paul utters the phrase "fear is the mind killer," a saying he learned from Jessica and which becomes something of a mantra for him throughout this story.

Josh Brolin plays Gurney Halleck, Duke Leto's master of arms and close ally. Gurney is a soulful musician but a fierce warrior, and he has a soft spot for Paul and has spent years training him in the art of short-range combat. Many fighters in this universe equip themselves with electronic body shields, which are essentially small force fields. In the book, the shields don't allow any weapons to penetrate them unless the weapons move below a certain speed, resulting in an oddly jerky blade-based combat system focusing on tactical advantages and reading the body language of your opponent. It's unclear if the movie will retain all of the book's complexities of this style of fighting, or if it'll simplify it to simply cool-looking sword fighting.

Once they arrive on Arrakis, Paul reunites with Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), a swordmaster for Duke Leto and another soldier who trained our young hero in the art of war.

Javier Bardem plays Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen tribe that Zendaya's Chani belongs to. Before Duke Leto Atreides moved his family to Arrakis, he sent Duncan Idaho ahead to meet with the Fremen and study their people, and Duncan and Stilgar became friends. When Stilgar pulls his mask off in this shot, you can see something sticking into his nose. That's part of his stillsuit, a specialized suit that preserves and recycles all of the body's liquid waste; because the desert heat is so punishing, stillsuits are required to survive in the arid environments of Arrakis.

The chief villain of the story is Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), the head of a rival house that's been feuding with the Atreides clan for generations. He's one of the most disgusting characters in the novel, both inside and out: he's a greedy, power-mad maniac who relishes making others suffer, and he's also a hideous, obese mass of a man whose flabs of fat are so large that they literally have to be held up by floating anti-gravity sensors. Harkonnen is angling for control of Arrakis, and the giant war sequences in the trailer are between his forces (including Dave Bautista's hulking soldier Glossu "Beast" Rabban) and Duke Leto's.

One of the unique ship designs in Dune is that of the ornithopter, a small transport vehicle which had wings that flapped like an insect's. Very cool.

It may not be immediately apparent here, but this is the trailer's first reveal of Dune's infamous sandworms. In the story, Duke Leto pilots an ornithopter out into the desert to witness an excavation of the spice and spots a giant sandworm closing in on the excavation site. (The worms are attracted to vibrations on the surface, providing clear inspiration for the Graboids in Tremors years later. More about those worms in a minute.) A rescue ship intended to extract the workers and their spice haul has mysteriously vanished, so Leto flies into action and rescues the workers himself in a valiant display of leadership. The spice haul is lost as the sandworm consumes the equipment on the surface.

Through a series of events that I won't spoil here, Paul and Lady Jessica find themselves in Stilgar's tribe out in the desert, where Paul is challenged to a fight to the death by one of the hotheaded members of the tribe. This appears to be that fight, which pits the desert-hardened warrior against Paul's years of training from Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho (as well as some Bene Gesserit skills he's picked up from Lady Jessica).

After a series of quick shots, we see Duncan Idaho bowing before Paul and referring to him as "my Lord Duke," indicating that something terrible has happened to Duke Leto Atreides and Paul is now the head of the family.

These ripples in the desert are referred to as "wormsand," a signifier that a sandworm is slithering around beneath the surface. Before Paul and Lady Jessica make contact with Stilgar's tribe, they find themselves out in the desert alone – and they quickly realize that they've awakened a worm. The sandworms are the creatures that ultimately produce the spice, and they're both feared and worshipped as godlike beings by the desert-dwelling Fremen.

After sprinting to the safety of a nearby rock formation, Paul and Lady Jessica are given a brief reprieve – but in a moment that doesn't happen in the book, the pursuing sandworm emerges from the ground and comes face to face with Paul, almost as if its judging him like the smoke monster from Lost. Does it actually sense him? Does it know how Paul could potentially impact the future of this planet and the rest of the known universe? I look forward to seeing what credited writers Villeneueve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth have up their sleeves.

Dune arrives in theaters on December 18, 2020.