Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Anticipating Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune”

By Johnny Sobczak 

​As we eagerly await the first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” I noticed that many people are barely mentioning the film in their early Oscar predictions as a contender for major awards. Why? It is one of the year’s most-anticipated films, and Villeneuve himself has become one of the most popular and renowned directors in the world over the last decade. He first got people’s attention with crime-thrillers like “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” but it was his jump to sci-fi that took his career to the next level. 2016’s “Arrival” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, while 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049” was nominated for five Oscars, with wins for visual effects and Roger Deakins’ cinematography. However, “Dune” is a big-budget adaptation of a strange and complex sci-fi novel that not even surrealist David Lynch could crack. It’s not your typical awards film… or is it? 

Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. gave Villeneuve the power to assemble a dream team in an attempt to make the impossible adaptation possible. From the all-star cast to the accomplished crew, “Dune” has as much firepower as any movie coming out this year. The film also lands at a time when the Academy has opened up more than ever to awarding popular and big-budget films, as well as genre pics. “Inception,” “Gravity,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian” and Villeneuve’s own “Arrival” were all nominated for Best Picture in the last decade. And it isn’t just the high-concept sci-fi films getting all the attention, either. “Black Panther” and “Joker” were both billion-dollar comic book movie juggernauts that combined for a whopping 18 nominations.

While now is the optimal time for “Dune” to achieve Oscar glory, there is even more historical context that dates back to 1978 and a little movie called “Star Wars.” George Lucas’ magnum opus was the first sci-fi epic to not just rewrite box office records and turn a space opera into a pop culture phenomenon, but break through with the Academy. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, and won six — Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound, and Visual Effects. More recently, “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” successfully introduced a massive fantasy world to audiences worldwide and earned 13 Oscar nominations, with four wins for Cinematography, Visual Effects, Makeup, and Original Score. If recent reports comparing Villeneuve’s latest to the Oscar-winning Peter Jackson trilogy are to be believed, “Dune” should be competitive in all of the same categories that these two behemoths were.

History shows reason to believe “Dune” can prosper with the Academy, but what about the people actually involved with the film? Director/writer/producer Denis Villeneuve cranked out six films across eight years in the 2010s – “Incendies,” “Enemy,” “Prisoners,” “Sicario,” “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” – and they combined for 18 Oscar nominations. The intellectual and socially relevant sci-fi pic “Arrival” was the peak with eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, which was Villeneuve’s first career Oscar nomination. A visionary like Villeneuve having more control as writer and producer of “Dune” boosts its chances across the board, especially considering who he is working with. Co-writer Eric Roth is a five-time nominee, winning for “Forrest Gump” and most recently being nominated for 2018’s “A Star Is Born.” Co-producer Mary Parent was nominated in 2016 for “The Revenant.”

Follow down the entire cast and crew list, and there is only more gold to be found. The ensemble is the most star-studded in recent memory and includes Oscar-nominee Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name“), Rebecca Ferguson (“Doctor Sleep“), Oscar Isaac (“Ex Machina“), Oscar-nominee Josh Brolin (“Inherent Vice“), Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (“No Country For Old Men”), Oscar-nominee Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”), Zendaya (“The Greatest Showman“), Dave Bautista (“Blade Runner 2049“), Stellan Skarsgård (“Out Stealing Horses“), David Dastmalchian (“Ant-Man“), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (“Rogue One“), and Stephen McKinley Henderson (“Lady Bird“). Delivering the film’s visual aesthetic are Oscar-nominated cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Lion” & “Rogue One”) and Oscar-nominated production designer Patrice Vermette (“Arrival”). Villeneuve is re-teaming with two-time Oscar-nominee Joe Walker (“12 Years a Slave” & “Arrival”), as well as the sound team from “Blade Runner 2049.” Sound mixer Mac Ruth has three Oscar nominations in the last five years, and supervising sound editors Theo Green and Mark A. Mangini have six Oscar nominations between them. Costume designer Jacqueline West is a three-time Oscar-nominee, and the effects are being brought to life by special effects supervisor Gerd Nefzer and visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert. The pair won Oscars for their work on “Blade Runner 2049,” with Lambert also winning for “First Man” in 2019. Oh, and the score is being composed by a guy named Hans Zimmer. You might have heard of him.

​“Dune” is being looked at by a lot of people as a huge risk. It is a $100 million+ bet on an incredibly dense sci-fi novel, the previous adaptations of which have all gloriously failed. It also comes at the most uneasy time in the history of the theatrical experience. There is no way to say for sure how positively audiences will respond to Villeneuve’s magnum opus and if we will get the second part of the saga, but I believe Villeneuve will make the world and story more accessible than it has ever been before. A combination of material and talent have come together to create the perfect storm for “Dune” to receive an incredibly positive reaction from critics and audiences alike. While many are doubting the film’s Oscar chances at this stage in the year due to the novel’s density and previously failed adaptations, I believe the industry will reward it handsomely after it releases worldwide on December 18, in the primetime of awards season. On paper, the right men and women have come together at the right time to deliver something truly special: pure escapist entertainment on a scale that we’re all craving after such a small and underwhelming 2020. Now, where is that trailer?

Are you excited for “Dune?” Do you think it will receive any Oscar nominations? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Johnny and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @JohnnySobczak

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