This last year has seen roughly 200 arguments break out, often when directors were irresponsibly allowed near microphones, about the sanctity and purity of the theatrical experience. Said arguments—and their underpinning issues about the rise of streaming services, the increasingly corporate point of view of the film industry, and the still-present threat of COVID-19— have led to breaks with major studios by their most prominent directors, lawsuits, and a lot of very unhappy filmmakers doing their best to advocate on behalf of their work in a world where the safety of its preferred presentation is still very much in question.
Dune’s Denis Villeneuve has been one of the more vocal voices in these ongoing arguments, unhappy as he is that his sweeping, visually arresting adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel is going to get shoved onto teensy smartphone screens when it goes day-and-date on HBO Max. He’s now recruited Eternals director (and recent Oscar winner) Chloé Zhao into his insurrection, with the two pledging to form a sort of IMAX blood pact in a recent Harper’s Bazaar dialogue between the pair.
“I’m not saying movies made for streaming are not cinema,” Villeneuve started with, hopefully dodging at least a few of the tomatoes that have gotten chucked at Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins in recent weeks. “But the complete cinema experience is meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I’m starting to think that I would love to create a band of sisters and brothers who will swear with their blood to just go full IMAX and impose a window of time so the movie can live at first on big screens only. And not just big Hollywood movies but documentaries or auteur and all spectrum of cinema.” Zhao’s response? “Hand me the knife and the pen and I will sign that.”
It’s all actually pretty sweet, as far as metaphorical blood pacts go, coming as it does amidst a piece that is a full-on love fest between the two directors. Villeneuve describes himself as Zhao’s “biggest fan,” dating back to her 2017 film The Rider, and praising her for her “ insane skill to be able to approach life” in her films. Zhao returns the compliment, admitting that, when she was pitching Marvel on making Eternals, she used stills from Villeneuve’s films to attempt to express the visual feeling she was going for. (Which does make Villeneuve’s one big question, “I wonder how you can invite life in a Marvel movie,” a little funny, but it doesn’t appear to have dimmed the effusive mood.)
Elsewhere, Zhao and Villeneuve both wax poetic on the theatrical experience itself, with Zhao stating that, “To dream, you have to be in a dark cave, like going back to the time when we’re around the campfire. You have to be in a space where you are not distracted by everything around you.” Then they, probably inevitably, discuss Star Wars, with Villeneuve dropping a little self-effacing fanboyism in at the end: “I never talk about Star Wars,” he notes, after expressing his memories of seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time. “I want to look like an intellectual director, but I’m not. The truth is, I am a deep fan.”