Hot on the heels of Christopher Nolan blasting Warner Bros for releasing its entire 2021 slate to streaming via HBO Max, comes another brutal attack from Dune director Denis Villeneuve.
Dune was to be a crowning glory in Warner Bros’ 2020 slate, but the pic was bumped to 2021 once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Villeneuve is very, very unhappy that his movie is now going to premiere on the small screen. Here’s the no-holds-barred letter that he penned for trade paper Variety…
I learned in the news that Warner Bros. has decided to release “Dune” on HBO Max at the same time as our theatrical release, using prominent images from our movie to promote their streaming service. With this decision AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history. There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here. It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion. Therefore, even though “Dune” is about cinema and audiences, AT&T is about its own survival on Wall Street. 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.
Streaming services are a positive and powerful addition to the movie and TV ecosystems. But I want the audience to understand that streaming alone can’t sustain the film industry as we knew it before COVID. Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of “Dune’s” scope and scale. 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.
Public safety comes first. Nobody argues with that. Which is why when it became apparent the winter would bring a second wave of the pandemic, I understood and supported the decision to delay “Dune’s” opening by almost a year. The plan was that “Dune” would open in theaters in October 2021, when vaccinations will be advanced and, hopefully, the virus behind us. Science tells us that everything should be back to a new normal next fall.
“Dune” is by far the best movie I’ve ever made. My team and I devoted more than three years of our lives to make it a unique big screen experience. Our movie’s image and sound were meticulously designed to be seen in theaters.
I’m speaking on my own behalf, though I stand in solidarity with the sixteen other filmmakers who now face the same fate. Please know I am with you and that together we are strong. The artists are the ones who create movies and series.
I strongly believe the future of cinema will be on the big screen, no matter what any Wall Street dilettante says. 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.
Once the pandemic is over, theaters will be filled again with film lovers. That is my strong belief. Not because the movie industry needs it, but because we humans need cinema, as a collective experience.
So, just as I have both a fiduciary and creative responsibility to fulfill as the filmmaker, I call on AT&T to act swiftly with the same responsibility, respect and regard to protect this vital cultural medium. Economic impact to stakeholders is only one aspect of corporate social responsibility. Finding ways to enhance culture is another. The moviegoing experience is like no other. In those darkened theaters films capture our history, educate us, fuel our imagination and lift and inspire our collective spirit. It is our legacy.
Long live theatrical cinema!