While it appears that some film fans are excited by the prospect of WarnerMedia releasing the entire 2021 Warner Bros. film slate simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters, there are still a lot of folks that don’t agree with the move. Sadly, many of those people are the filmmakers that actually created the projects that are being sent straight to streaming, such as “Dune” director Denis Villeneuve.
In an incredibly upsetting op/ed written for Variety, Villeneuve explained why he’s not happy with the decision to send his film, “Dune,” along with more than a dozen other features to HBO Max the same day they arrive in theaters. And honestly, it’s hard to side with WB in this discussion after you read his story.
He begins by confirming what many people have reported—these filmmakers didn’t know that their features were being sent straight to streaming until it was reported in the news. Outside of director Patty Jenkins and the folks involved with “Wonder Woman 1984,” the people involved with the various other features were not consulted beforehand that their projects were essentially skipping theaters. And to Villeneuve, this resulted in WB becoming “hijacked.”
“With this decision, AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history,” said Villeneuve. “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.”
He added, “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 teamwork and Warner Bros. has declared they are no longer on the same team.”
These sentiments seem to echo the frustration shown by Christopher Nolan, another long-time collaborator with Warner Bros. At some point, you have to wonder if this decision is going to result in WB losing working relationships with some of the biggest filmmakers on the planet?
As for what this decision means to “Dune,” in particular, Villeneuve isn’t hopeful. He explained that he knows streaming is an important part of the industry right now, but the filmmaker doesn’t think a streaming service can fully support a $175 million blockbuster the same way a theater can. And because of this, he doesn’t think the “Dune” franchise is even possible anymore.
“But I want the audience to understand that streaming alone can’t sustain the film industry as we knew it before COVID,” he explained. “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.”
You really should read his entire editorial about the situation because it’s pretty enlightening. Worse than Christopher Nolan, what Villeneuve thinks about this decision comes from a director that is 100% affected by this decision. This isn’t someone who is looking from the outside in. And because of that, the frustration of an artist spending years of their life working on a project to essentially see it sent to “the slaughterhouse” is palpable and so hard-hitting.
For now, “Dune” is expected to arrive in theaters and HBO Max on October 21, 2021.