Denis Villeneuve continues to miss the ‘north’ of the release of HBO Max from Dune, which hits theaters and HBO Max in October 2021, but effectively director Denis Villeneuve has a problem with the streaming release plan. As movie theaters closed their doors en masse during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, studios and distributors had to make drastic decisions to help navigate these devastating circumstances for the film industry.
One of those decisions came from Warner Bros. who, after a ‘pilot’ with a model released simultaneously with Wonder Woman in 1984, decided that the WB’s 2021 release would arrive on HBO Max the same day as the theaters. With Dune already pushed back to 2021 in the wake of the pandemic, the news angered Villeneuve among others, who felt that their film experience and box office numbers would be irreparably damaged by this unusual method of distribution.
In fact, the Dune de Villeneuve seems to have been designed for a cinematic experience – something Denis specifically quoted in an interview with Total Film, saying, “It’s a film that was made as a tribute to the ‘big screen’ experience,” but his comments in the interview ignore an unfortunate reality of the pandemic era.
Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of Dune will finally hit the public this fall, and despite the director’s troubles with Warner Bros’ HBO Max distribution deal, this is the best option for the sci-fi blockbuster – because the pandemic still weighs heavily on the legacy of this project. Frank Herbert’s famous dense sci-fi classic was ‘imported’ from novel to film (most infamously, David Lynch’s Dune 1984), but Villeneuve, strong in contemporary sci-fi, decided the time was right to lead a remake around 2016.
After baring their teeth in similar large-scale ventures like ‘Arrival’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’, Villeneuve and company threw everything they had into a much-maligned production of equally complicated source material, eventually opting to tackle the novel in two. halves, and the already complicated project was soon launched today: the coronavirus pandemic.
Much has been said about finding a sense of normalcy during these continuous and unprecedented times. For some, seeking “normalcy” is a fundamental part of the desire to return to theaters. But for others, venturing into crowded social situations still poses a real and dangerous health risk. The studios, meanwhile, still have material to release and overhead to fix, and after months of delaying projects that had already been delayed, the agreement between Warners and HBO Max seemed as good a compromise as both sides could hope for.
Anyone who prefers the movie experience would have the chance to participate in this way, at their own risk and expense. And people who are uncomfortable with this option, for one reason or another, would have the option of staying at home at their disposal. It is certainly not traditional, nor does it satisfy the filmmakers’ desire to preserve the rich community phenomenon of going to the cinema – or the ability to leverage cutting-edge audiovisual technology for the benefit of films – but these days, sacrifices are being made to left and right. At least that compromise is relatively benign for everyone.
This feeling, however, does not erase the case of Villeneuve. Dune is an epic in every sense of the word. It boasts an all-star cast, starring Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and Oscar Isaac. The visual effects are majestic in the trailer, rendered in immersive photorealism by the cinematography of DP Greig Fraser (Rogue One). Eric Roth co-wrote this adaptation – he himself is no stranger to adapting an extensive narrative for the screen, having done so with the American epic and 1994 Best Picture winner Forrest Gump. IP has an extensive genealogy, explored in depth by Movies With Mikey in their eponymous YouTube Show.
Engaging with this giant in any less cinematic way seems, understandably, insufficient. As Denis said in the aforementioned interview: “Frankly, to watch Dune on television, the best way to compare is to riding a boat in your bathtub. To me it’s ridiculous. ” Perhaps Villeneuve suspects that the motivations of Warner Bros. to release Dune in this way are not entirely out of concern for public health.
If the studio has a bomb in their hands, the WB can try to liquidate it quickly and quietly to avoid their losses – and it’s possible they believe Dune is such a bomb. After all, the 1984 version failed, and Denis, in the previous release, Blade Runner 2049, failed to recoup his box office budget, despite his critical brilliance. Whatever the reason, Villeneuve will continue to mourn Dune’s fate, as spectators everywhere mourn the compromises in their own lives during these tumultuous times.