On a day when Disney appeared bound and determined to suck up every molecule of oxygen in the entire entertainment ecosystem, at least one man was still willing to say a few words about the company’s rivals over at Warner Bros.: Dune director Denis Villeneuve. Of course, the words he were saying were less “adulation and support,” and more “Go fuck yourself, you corporate shills,” but still: Talking’s talking, right?
To get specific, Villeneuve penned an editorial in Variety this afternoon, blasting seven kinds of shit out of his ostensible partners at the studio over their treatment of his sci-fi epic, one of 16 films included in the company’s ambitious and controversial plans to release its 2021 slate of films simultaneously in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service. Villeneuve makes no secret of his ire, either, noting right out the gate that he heard about the new distribution plans for his movie in the news, and not, say, by getting a call from Warner Bros. executives, as one might expect from one of the studio’s most high-profile directors. The Arrival director then goes on to blast Warner Bros.’ owners at AT&T, accusing them of deciding “to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.”
Villeneuve’s comments mirror those of Christopher Nolan, movie theater advocate par excellence, who managed to force his Tenet into theaters this year pretty much through force of personal will (and box office receipts). Like Nolan, Villeneuve declared HBO Max’s launch a failure, and bemoaned the overnight loss of Warner Bros.’ reputation as a talent-focused studio with the move. “Warner Bros.’ sudden reversal from being a legacy home for filmmakers to the new era of complete disregard draws a clear line for me,” Villeneuve wrote. “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.”
Then Villeneuve got poetic: Pushing back against AT&T’s John Stankey and his assurances that “the streaming horse left the barn,” Villeneuve fired back with “In truth, the horse left the barn for the slaughterhouse.”
In his essay, Villeneuve emphasizes the importance of public safety, and says he would have been happy for Dune to be delayed until the fall of 2021, when, hopefully, widespread vaccination will have quelled the spread of COVID-19. Now, though, “Warner Bros. might just have killed the Dune franchise”—although it’s not wholly clear whether Villeneuve intends that as a threat, or just his reflection of what the streaming release will do his film’s critical reception and financial viability. (“Piracy will ultimately triumph,” he glumly notes.) Dune is currently set to cover roughly half of the material in Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, with a direct continuation (and possible sequels) to follow—but, then: Who knows?
All in all, a fiery, contentious broadside from a director widely seen as a rapid up-and-comer for the major studios, taking direct aim at a company he’s currently working intimately with. Villeneuve ends by calling for Warner Bros. to reverse the decision, before waxing rhapsodic about the communal theater experience, then signing off with a clear signal of intent: “Long live theatrical cinema!”