‘Dune’ Director Denis Villeneuve Sparks Debate About Big Screen Experience: ‘It’s Not Just a Product. It’s Church.’

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. / Image credit by Chia Bella James

Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is gearing up for his latest project, “Dune,” which hits both theaters and HBO Max on Oct.22, and the director is disappointed that the pandemic has affected the film’s rollout.

In a new interview with Total Film, the Academy Award nominee said the pandemic is the “enemy of the cinema,” and spoke to the “tremendous pressure” that the film industry is under, while disagreeing about the film’s move to streaming.

Villeneuve was among the most vocal opponents of Warner Bros.’ decision to put its entire 2021 slate both in theaters and HBO Max for one month on the same day. In an open letter in Variety, he wrote that AT&T “Hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history. There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here.”

The director compared the experience of watching a film on a TV screen to that of lesser value. “The way it happened, I’m still not happy,” Villeneuve said in the Total interview. “Frankly, to watch ‘Dune’ on a television, the best way I can compare it is to drive a speedboat in your bathtub. For me, it’s ridiculous. It’s a movie that’s made as a tribute for the big-screen experience.”

Controversy over Villeneuve’s comments broke out on Twitter, with “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail, tweeting his disagreement. “LOVE Denis & think he’s one of the best directors out there, but disagree here. Saw 2001 on VHS & it changed my life. Most people will not have the luxury to see films in theaters, esp the classics. Doesn’t mean u shouldn’t see them & it doesn’t mean they’re not as powerful.”

“Rise of the Guardians” director Peter Ramsey had many thoughts, tweeting that although many people will watch films on TV, there’s still something almost church-like about seeing them in theaters.

Critic and writer Tomris Laffly also chimed in, stating she understands Villeneueve’s disdain. “Frankly, a filmmaker is ALLOWED to be upset that the movie he’s made for big screen will be streaming the same day it opens in theaters. The guy didn’t say ‘risk your life and go see it.’ He didn’t say ‘my movie matters more than the pandemic.’ He’s sad, I get it. This site’s dumb.”

Villeneuve said he is currently writing the second half of “Dune” and also said he is “very optimistic” it will move forward at Warner Bros. “Dune” has its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 3.