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Dune director Denis Villeneuve against HBO Max rollout: 'The future of cinema will be on the big screen'

By Josh Weiss

Warner Bros. recently shocked the world by entertainment by announcing dual rollouts for all of its 2021 movies. Projects like The Matrix 4, The Suicide Squad, and Godzilla vs. Kong will arrive on HBO Max the same day they open in theaters.

It's the exact same strategy for Wonder Woman 1984, which finally opens Christmas Day; and a direct response to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to ravage theaters around the world. Denis Villeneuve's modern adaptation of Dune is also on the 2021 schedule, but the filmmaker isn't exactly pleased with the way the studio is handling his passion project, which was pushed from December 2020 to October 2021.

"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," Villeneuve wrote in a lengthy op-ed for Variety. "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."

He went on to describe Dune as "by far the best movie" he's 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 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 ... 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."

Villeneuve, who plans to split Frank Herbert's massive source material into two features, isn't the only big-name director to speak out against WB. Christopher Nolan (Tenet) and Judd Apatow (The King of Staten Island), and Hollywood's Directors Guild have all criticized the studio's lack of tact in recent days.

"We've been trying to figure out the best way forward for the last eight months, since we first went into lockdown," Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, said earlier this week. "We have many movies which are ready to go, and they've been sitting on shelves. So we thought this was the most creative and win-win situation to bring them not only to theaters but simultaneously for 31 days on HBO Max."

She continued: "We're working through the system with our talent, with their agents. I think the more they see the visibility of how they will be paid, we're finding that people are understanding the economics. And this is unprecedented, so anything new is always a little bit difficult to work through for the first time."

Right now, Dune is slated for release in theaters and on HBO Max Oct. 1, 2021.