What to know about ‘Dune’ before seeing ‘Dune’

Chia Bella James

With much fanfare, speculation and both in-theater and streaming releases, Denis Villeneuva’s film adaptation of “Dune” is finally here.

Based on the 1965 classic sci-fi book, this version attempts to translate the web of characters, politics and history for the both the big and small screens.

But let’s face it, “Dune” is overwhelming, and somewhat confusing. If you haven’t read the novel — a 700-page behemoth — or seen the 1984 movie, which struggles to capture the complexity of the book in two hours (but see it for Sting’s breakout role), never fear.

We’ve got you covered with the when, where, who and what of “Dune,” so you can talk shop with die-hard fans like a pro.

When are we talking about exactly?

“Dune” takes place thousands of years in the future. To be precise, the year 10191. But the feel of the future more closely resembles medieval feudalism of centuries past.

Wealthy noble families, or “houses,” decide the fates of planets, people and resources. A galactic emperor ultimately rules over the fractions and pits house against house in a political chess game.

Where is this all happening?

The setting is the desert planet of Arrakis, which is the source of a “spice” mineral known as melange. Spice is the drug of choice in the universe. It sharpens human consciousness and senses and can lead to prophecies and vivid perceptions. Everyone wants it and no one can get enough.

Spice is a rare substance, a very powerful substance that all the economy of the universe is based on,” Villeneuve says. “The substance can extend your life, and also brings you health, protects you from diseases.”

As you’d expect, harvesting spice is no cakewalk. Beyond the scorching heat and sandstorms, there are subterranean “sandworms” that will attack at the slightest vibration on the surface of the planet.

Who are the players?

The House Atreides has been bestowed stewardship of Arrakis and control of the lucrative spice trade by the emperor.

Atreides is led by Duke Leto (Oscar Issac) and his consort, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson).

Their 15-year-old son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is being groomed to lead the house one day with the help of Master of Weapons Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Swords Master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa).

The House Harkonnen, which previously ruled Arrakis with a tight grip, is under the brutal command of Barron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård).

His second-in-command, Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), also known as “the Beast,” is the general who does the barron’s bloody bidding.

Rabban, ‘the Beast,’ is one of the generals of the baron, one of the nephews, the leader of the armies that were used to rule Arrakis before,” Villeneuve says. “He was a brutal, savage dictator.”

Far from the wealth and privilege of the powerful houses are the Fremen — humans who have discovered a way to live amid the relentless sandstorms and predatory sandworms of Arrakis.

Spice in the sands have given the Fremen luminous blue eyes, which separates them from the imperialists. The Fremen want Arrakis to themselves, and they’ll fight, kill and die to make that happen.

So, what’s the deal?

As the warring houses battle for Arrakis, princely Paul, who is guided by his mother, emerges as a Messiah-like chosen one with the ability to see into the future. He has a pure heart and could be a transformational leader.

He dreams of a young Fremen fighter named Chani (Zendaya), and she has visions of him. They share a connection, and they both have a strong intuition they’ll meet one day.

Paul comes to empathize with the Fremen, but will he fight for them? That will have to wait for the sequel since Villeneuva’s “Dune” only covers the first half of the story. But if you're impatient, there's always that 700-page behemoth with the answer.