Major spoilers for the movie “Dune,” and for the novel the film is based on, below.
The opening title of “Dune,” Denis Villeneuve’s new film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s celebrated 1965 sci-fi novel, includes a not-very-unexpected surprise – a subtitle that says “Part One.”
The surprise isn’t that it is Part One. of course, We’ve known for a long time now that Villeneuve only adapted (approximately) the first half of the novel, give or take, with his plan all along to cover the rest in a potential sequel. The surprise is the apparent, if undersold commitment from Warner Bros., which released “Dune” today in theaters and on HBO Max, to a sequel.
That doesn’t guarantee Part Two will ever happen of course. We’ll probably still have to see how Part One (which wrapped two years ago) performs before they agree to shell out another dump truck of money. But at least this adds a bit of suspense, especially for those familiar with the story – where, exactly, will “Dune” (Part One) end?
If you’re here, you already know the answer, so now you’re probably wondering what the hell happened, and what it means for a potential follow-up installment. Read on, and we’ll tell you.
First, a brief recap of the movie you just watched: The galactic emperor orders Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) to take command of the planet Arrakis, a desert world that is the galaxy’s only known source of “spice,” the substance that makes space travel possible and without which all of human civilization would fall. (It also gives people psychic powers and has side effects not like extremely fun, and extremely addictive, drugs.)
Leto’s son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) has frequent visions of desert nomads and himself leading them to salvation, and these visions become more intense, vivid and real after the family arrives on Arrakis.
We’ll skip the reason for now — it involves his mother’s involvement in a women-only, magical secret society called the Bene Gesserit — and skip to where things get bad for Paul. Nearly all of the Atreides (including his hunky father — bye Oscar!) end up murdered by their rivals, the House of Harkonnen (led by a levitating, latex entombed Stellan Skarsgård), whose goal it is to take back control of Arrakis. But Paul and his mother survive the attack, and a run-in with a sandworm (huge, hulking predators that wander the dunes of Arrakis — there, now you understand the title), and end up taking refuge in a stronghold of the Fremen, the people Paul keeps dreaming about.
Stilgar (Javier Bardem), a Fremen leader, isn’t too keen on Paul and Lady Jessica staying with them, and forces Paul to fight his lieutenant Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) in a duel to the death, using the ancient Fremen weapon the crysknife (ah, sci-fi terminology, you just love to see it).
Having only been trained in the use of fancy shield technology by his gruff-but-accepting mentor Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin), Paul isn’t exactly prepared for this fight. But even more confounding, he recognizes serious conflicts between his dreams (prophecy?) and what actually ends up happening. For one thing, in his dreams a very-much-alive Jamis helped with his ascension; for another, a Fremen acolyte named Chani (Zendaya), a true love in Paul’s visions, wants little to do with him in real life.
Of course, Paul kills Jamis, setting into motion some serious questions about the validity his visions (and the motivations of the Bene Gesserit), and whether or not he will lead the Fremen to victory or doom. But the important thing is that Paul and Lady Jessica have, at least for now, been accepted by the Fremen. And as they trek further into the wasteland, Paul notices Fremen riding a sandworm – which yeah, pretty impressive.
But then Chani, now starting to see Paul’s potential as a leader — and we’re guessing, a super bedtime pal — turns back and says, “This is only the beginning.”
Cut to black. End of “Dune.”
No, really, that actually is the last line in the entire movie. And you’re not wrong, it was featured in marketing – which is weird! That’s one hell of a place to leave things off. But what does this all mean, exactly?
Well, the short answer is that it means fans of this movie better hope there’s a sequel, because “Dune” ends just before the novel’s actual plot kicks in. Again, pretty weird.
The slightly longer answer is: The entire second half of the novel is what happens. And if you have several days to kill, you might want to read it.
If, however, you don’t have the time it takes to read almost 900 (unabridged) pages, we’ll give you the run down. Be warned though, this will spoil the (potential) next movie. So read no further if you want to be surprised.
Again, if you do not want to know what happens in the parts of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” that Denis Villeneuve held back for Part Two, stop reading now.
So, after all that, in the book at least, Paul takes the Freman name “Muad’Dib,” he and Chani become lovers, and she gives birth to his son, who he names Leto after his Father. After a time skip of several years, Paul’s powers have increased to the point that he’s now considered a messiah figure by the Fremen. He also sees visions of a horrific future in which the Fremen wage jihad (yes, it is specifically called a jihad in the novel) against the entire universe.
Meanwhile the Harkonnens, ostensibly in control of Arrakis on behalf of the empire even if the Freman are constantly attacking them, catch word of a scary new leader among the Fremen, which of course is Paul. Paul ends up drinking some magic water and gaining fantastic psychic powers, which is good because right about now the Emperor brings his forces to Arrakis and teams up with the Harkonnens to wipe out the Fremen threat once and for all. Which triggers a massive fight involving badass desert warriors riding sandworms into battle. It’s pretty awesome.
We’ll hold back what happens next, except to say that the sequel novel, as we mentioned above, is called “Dune Messiah.” Make of that what you will.
We still have questions of course. The “Dune” universe is sprawling and contains a huge amount of extremely weird and extremely awesome stuff — we’re very curious if those fetus guys from David Lynch’s version of “Dune,” known as a Guild Navigators, will make their debut in the next chapter, even if canonically, they don’t show up until “Dune Messiah.” Oh well, as Chani said, “This is only the beginning.”
Unless of course, it’s also only the end. Because we’re going to be real with you. Villeneuve took a huge risk picking such a weird, abrupt spot to end his “Dune” movie. And it reminds us of some earlier films based on novels that only adapted part of them — like the final “Divergent” novel, or “The Golden Compass.” Neither one of those movies got their sequels. Here’s hoping “Dune’ fans won’t be left similarly disappointed.