Death of Dune? Directors Speak Out In Defense of Theatrical Cinema

Denis Villeneuve, the acclaimed director of the soon-to-be released first installment (out of two) of Dune has published an essay slamming the Warner Bros. decision to release the new film to stream at the same day as it opens in theaters. In his essay, Denis laments the streaming release date, warning that Warner Bros. might have “killed” his Dune before it can even get started.

Villeneuve argues that the studio decision to release the movie to stream immediately  was not a decision made to positively impact audiences or the craft, but instead as a boardroom decision to help keep struggling HBO Max afloat. He contends that Warner Bros. and parent company AT&T have obliterated trust between the age-old relationship of studio and director, stating:

Warner Bros.’ sudden reversal from being a legacy home for filmmakers to the new era of complete disregard draws a clear line for me. Filmmaking is a collaboration, reliant on the mutual trust of team work and Warner Bros. has declared they are no longer on the same team.

According to Villeneuve, this streaming release date will result in Dune missing out on large amounts of profit, which will, according to the director, effectively terminate any chance for the second part of Dune to be filmed. He accuses Warner Bros. of submarining the entire winter and early season blockbuster lineup in an effort to raise interest for the debt-ridden and flailing HBO streaming service.

And he’s not alone: industry heavyweight Christopher Nolan was equally frustrated with the hybrid (streaming same day as cinema) releases, even though his blockbuster action flick Tenet was not really affected by the changes to release dates. His recent NPR interview leveled a clear and concise plea to the studios to consider all the industry professionals affected by these decisions to immediately stream movies. He declines to outright accuse Warner Bros of “selling out” the rest of the industry in order to promote HBO Max, but he definitely makes the argument that there is a group of silent victims in the rush to stream for short-term monetary benefits.  

Change can happen slowly and almost imperceptibly. Change can also be a violent upheaval. It certainly appears that the new normal for Hollywood is happening in the latter, and some heavyweights are pushing back against that change. Some are convinced the Covid-related shutdowns have caused the death of American cinematic theater experience, and life must, er, find a way by streaming (apologies to Ian Malcolm). Some, like Villeneuve and Nolan, are making the argument that selling our souls to streaming services now is causing the death, rather, murder of cinema, and with a hard right turn and a smartish cease-and-desist of these hybrid release dates, we can restore the public cinematic theater experience in the waning hours of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All in all, it seems that Dune will be a micro to the industry macro. Will the inability of the heralded Dune to perform at cinemas be the first domino in a series of dominoes falling, each labeled with streaming service caused fatality? Matrix 4, Wonder Woman 1984… the list continues as the public watches and wonders: Will cinema survive? Villeneuve thinks so:

I strongly believe the future of cinema will be on the big screen, no matter what any Wall Street dilettante says.


Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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