IF YOU KNOW anything about Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune, besides the fact that it’s kind of extra, it’s that the latest film adaptation has been highly anticipated for a long time. Pretty much ever since David Lynch released his own somewhat ill-fated version in 1984, fans have been asking for a bigger, better Dune film. It’s the white whale of sci-fi—a book so unfilmable everyone wants to try. Perhaps that’s why, when Warner Bros. announced in 2019 that Arrival director Denis Villeneuve would be the next to give it a shot, the general consensus was, “Well, if anyone can do it, he can.” The suspense was real.
Then Covid-19 happened, theaters shuttered, and what was supposed to be 2020’s most anticipated film became 2021’s most anticipated film. Then Warner Bros. announced that its entire slate of 2021 films—including Dune—would premiere on its streaming service, HBO Max, the same day they hit theaters. Villeneuve, a cinephile in every sense of the word, was livid, writing in Variety that the decision “might have just killed the Dune franchise” by not giving the film the opportunity to perform well at the box office. Today, the studio released the main trailer for the film—and it’s practically begging you to see it in a cinema.
From the utter massiveness of the sandworms to the geometrical impossibility of Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet’s combined cheekbones, this is a movie made for the biggest screen possible, preferably an Imax one. The spice-filled sands of Arrakis, the ships that look like cities, the stillsuits, the imposing floating figure of Baron Harkonnen—all of these things look ridiculous on small screens; it’s almost painful watching this trailer on a 15-inch MacBook. It’s a movie designed to get butts in theater seats. (Side note: Did any of the references above—or anything that happens in this trailer—make a lick of sense to people who haven’t read the book? It looks gorgeous, but, my God, it’s gotta be an uphill battle for those with no clue what “spice” is. See, it’s essentially a drug that allows pilots to navigate space travel; it also turns people’s eyes blue, and … You know what? Never mind.)
In that sense, this Dune trailer has achieved its purpose. The big upheaval that came from the Covid-19 theater closures was that it accelerated Hollywood’s transition to releasing movies on streaming services the same day they hit theaters. In addition to Warner Bros.’ move, Disney also started putting movies like Cruella on Disney+ on opening weekend. Disney proved this could be a somewhat successful model with Black Widow, which made more than $200 million its opening weekend. But whereas Disney charged $30 for Black Widow, Dune, unless something changes, will be free to anyone with an HBO Max login. To make an impact, it has to either sell a lot of theater tickets or significantly drive up HBO Max subscriptions—or both.
Based on this trailer, it’s gunning for the former. Dune comes out October 22, and so long as there’s not another spike in coronavirus infections (Get vaccinated, y’all! Do it for Dune!), the film will be playing on as many screens as possible. Following Black Widow’s release, the National Association of Theater Owners released a statement basically saying Disney left money on the table by putting the film on its streaming service. There’s no doubt some are afraid that putting Dune on HBO Max could do the same, but if this trailer is any indication, Villeneuve’s movie is here to shoot for the moon. Fear is the mind-killer.