As the dust continues to settle on the truly stratospheric news that Warner Bros. will shift all of its 2021 releases to HBO Max, the industry is still trying to come to terms with the wealth of content whose release cycle has been completely transformed. There are some films that you won’t be surprised about at all, from Tom & Jerry to Godzilla vs. Kong, but Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is arguably the biggest shock there. It’s also been the most contentious: the director himself has spoken out against the decision, claiming it’ll prevent the film from reaching its potential, and star Timothée Chalamet has covertly shown support for Legendary Pictures, the film’s producer, as they butt horns with Warner Bros. over the deal.
But all the commotion shouldn’t detract from the fact that Dune, regardless of its release format, is set to be one of 2021’s glimmering lights. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind the likes of Prisoners, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, it’s set to adapt the first half of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune, with a sequel planned to finish off the story. The film follows Paul Atriedes (Chalamet) – heir to the throne of Arrakis, a sand planet mined extensively for the precious drug Spice, used to prolong human life – as his home is torn away from him and he’s forced to fend for himself.
It’s not the first time the property has been adapted for the big screen: acclaimed director David Lynch attempted it in 1984, in a Star Wars-inflected epic starring Kyle McLachlan, Francesca Annis and Max von Sydow, which was met by negative reviews and bombed at the box office. Therefore, Villeneuve’s Dune really is make-or-break for a property that truly birthed the modern sci-fi genre – with George Lucas citing it as a key inspiration behind Star Wars.
Considering how crucial this film might be for the franchise, it’s in incredibly safe hands. Despite never really setting the box office alight with his work, Denis Villeneuve has fast become a critical darling. His latest offering, 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, is a perfect example of why Dune should be fantastic. Contextually, they’re very similar: re-imaginings of long-defunct sci-fi franchises (the original Blade Runner came out in 1982), taking all-star casts and crafting immersive, rich landscapes within which sprawling fantasy narratives unravel. The film received five Oscar nominations, winning Best Cinematography and Best Editing, and despite its box office troubles preventing it from becoming a franchise-reviver, it’s gone down in sci-fi canon as one of the best of the 21st century.
That’s not to suggest that he’s just a one-genre director: he’s had hits in the thriller genre with Prisoners, proof that he can get spectacular indie performances out of mainstream darlings like Hugh Jackman, and his work on Sicario also proves his penchant for thought-provoking action. Given Dune’s pandemic-related delay from December 2020 to October 2021, this means Villeneuve has even more time to ensure the film makes its mark on the sci-fi genre.
And simply put, there’s no reason that Dune can’t do exactly that. It seems Villeneuve has learnt from Blade Runner 2049’s financial pitfalls, stacking the cast with bankable stars like Timothée Chalamet, Josh Brolin and Zendaya. Equally, the wild reaction to the trailer – hitting almost 30 million views and receiving rave fan responses – suggests audiences are more than ready to get behind this film. Villeneuve himself will equally be hoping for its success: a sequel, yet to be greenlit, is set to cover the second half of Herbert’s novel. Although, the HBO Max news has cast doubt over whether the film’s box office performance will warrant further entries – much to the ire of Villeneuve, who helped write the film’s screenplay.
With ten months until its release, there’s plenty for fans of Dune to be optimistic about. Despite the frustration of its delay, it’ll surely only lead to a better end product, and a true auteur like Villeneuve will certainly use that extra time to tweak and perfect the film. If the spectacular first trailer is anything to go off, it’s already in excellent condition. The time between now and October is an exciting one: we’re certain to get more trailers, promotional pictures and sneak peeks. Regardless of whether we see it on the big screen or on streaming services, it’s set to be an incredible experience. Let’s just hope the HBO Max deal doesn’t prevent one of Hollywood’s best sci-fi directors from breathing new life into one of the genre’s most fabled franchises.
Words by Luke Hinton
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