Dune director Denis Villeneuve is NOT happy about his movie coming out on HBO Max. He tears his own production partners to shreds in a new editorial.
Last week, Warner Bros. announced that all 17 of its 2021 movies — including big releases like The Suicide Squad and The Matrix 4 — will release in theaters and on WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max at the same time. Depending on who you ask, this is an inevitable move that will help consumers at a time when going to the theater is dangerous or the death kneel of cinema. The filmmakers behind the movies are mostly in the latter camp, with folk like Christopher Nolan slamming WarnerMedia and its parent company AT&T for the decision. “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” he said.
Arguably Warner Bros.’ biggest 2021 movie is Dune. And now, director Denis Villeneuve has joined in the Warner-basing, writing an absolutely scathing editorial for Variety. “With this decision AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history,” he writes. “With HBO Max’s launch a failure thus far, AT&T decided to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.”
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.
And keep in mind: these are people WarnerMedia wants on its side — it wants them to keep making movies, and they’re calling HBO Max a “failure.” The PR people at WarnerMedia are probably crying over their desks right about now dealing with the blowback.
“Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of Dune’s scope and scale,” Villeneuve continued. “Warner Bros.’ decision means Dune won’t have the chance to perform financially in order to be viable and piracy will ultimately triumph. Warner Bros. might just have killed the Dune franchise. This one is for the fans. AT&T’s John Stankey said that the streaming horse left the barn. In truth, the horse left the barn for the slaughterhouse.”
So many fighting words, especially the bit about Warner Bros. possibly killing the Dune franchise. Dune, which Villeneuve calls “by far the best movie I’ve ever made,” adapts the first half of Frank Miller’s sci-fi classic. Clearly, Warner Bros. wants at least one more movie, with possible more to come, but with this move, it doesn’t sound like Villeneuve is too eager to make it. Is he making a threat here?
Finally, Villeneuve goes wide stumping for the theatrical experience. “Since the dawn of time, humans have deeply needed communal storytelling experiences. Cinema on the big screen is more than a business, it is an art form that brings people together, celebrating humanity, enhancing our empathy for one another — it’s one of the very last artistic, in-person collective experiences we share as human beings.” He calls on AT&T to reverse its decision, and concludes with, “Long live theatrical cinema!”
Whew! Villenueve be not pleased. Part of his anger comes from the fact that, like most (but not all) of the filmmakers involved, Villeneuve learned of AT&T’s decision from the news; no one contacted him beforehand to let him know this was happening, which seems to be a sticking point for a lot of agitated parties.
He also notes that he values public safety and sees the wisdom in delaying Dune so the country can get a hold of the coronavirus. At the moment, the movie is scheduled to come out in October of next year, which should hopefully be enough time for the vaccines to roll out and get the world back on its feet. And yet AT&T plans to release the movie to HBO Max anyway, which I think gives the lie to its assertion that this move is just about the virus; they want more people subscribed to HBO Max and think this is a way to do it, and clearly they’re willing to piss off their creative partners to get it done.
That said, I’m not as mad about the move as Villenueve. I definitely plan to see Dune on the big screen — if it’s good enough I’ll go back and see it again — but after that it might be cool to have the option to rewatch my favorite bits at home.
I don’t see this move destroying cinema the way some of these directors do, but it’s clearly ticking a lot of them off, which could be very bad for Warner Bros. if no one wants to work with the studio anymore.
UPDATE: Dune stars Josh Brolin (Gurney Halleck) and Jason Momoa (Duncan Idaho) have joined their director in defiance:
What do you make of this? Is Villeneuve throwing a public fit or does he have a point?