There was a moment a few months ago where it felt possible Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming film, Dune, would be released only in theatres. Oh sure, it was one of Warner Bros.’ big 2021 releases that was announced to debut both on HBO Max and in theatres — but even in comparison to Godzilla vs. Kong or The Suicide Squad, Dune somehow felt immune. Destined for the big screen.
That won’t be the case though. The film is currently on track to be released on HBO Max and in theatres on October 22, just as planned. It’s a strategy many filmmakers feel conflicted about and you can now add the director of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 to the list.
“First of all, the enemy of cinema is the pandemic. That’s the thing. We understand that the cinema industry is under tremendous pressure right now. That I get,” Villeneuve told Total Film. “The way it happened, I’m still not happy. Frankly, to watch Dune on a television, the best way I can compare it is to drive a speedboat in your bathtub. For me, it’s ridiculous. It’s a movie that has been made as a tribute to the big-screen experience.”
“A speedboat in your bathtub” is just perfect imagery. And, on one hand, Villeneuve has a point. From the trailers alone it’s obvious he’s crafted a film shot with the best cameras, scored with the best music, meant to be seen and experienced on the biggest screen possible with the best sound imaginable.
Most people will have the option to experience it that way, if they so choose. But even if we weren’t still dealing with “the enemy of cinema” that is the covid-19 pandemic, under the best circumstances only a tiny fraction of the people who will watch Dune will see it that way. Many, many more will see it on TV, on Blu-ray, on an aeroplane, or on their phone while at the gym than will ever get that first run, A+ experience.
The sad truth of filmmaking is that eventually, all movies become as tiny as possible, and Dune, like the rest of Warner Bros.’ 2021 schedule, is just getting a head start.