Sunday, April 14, 2024

Will “Dune: Part Two” Spice Up The Oscars And Eclipse The First Film’s Awards Season Success?

As “Dune: Part Two” captivates audiences worldwide—with the upcoming Oscar ceremony officially closing the 2023 movie year—one can’t help but look forward to what the 97th Academy Awards have in store for upcoming contenders. No film this early in the year has been a more welcome return to the cinemas than Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic that Oscar nerds and pundits can’t help but spur their prognosticating imaginations. As reviews and reactions continue to hit social media, and the box office dollars pour in, eclipsing the success of “Dune” (2021), it would lead one to wonder if “Dune: Part Two” will be able to match its predecessor’s Oscar success. “Dune” was an extraordinary film released in an unconventional period. Movie theaters slowly opened back up in 2021, many studios either held off their films for the following year (“Top Gun: Maverick” and “The Batman,” to name a few), and the movie landscape seemed barren in terms of a populist audience-friendly film that could crossover to awards favor.

In comes “Dune,” an adaption of the first half of Herbert’s classic novel that catapulted the box office and spotlighted an awards contender that would eventually dominate the below-the-line categories and make a play for top categories, such as Best Director and Adapted Screenplay. While garnering ten Oscar nominations to the delight of many, the startling omission of Denis Villeneuve in Best Director sent shockwaves, as it seemed all but assured he would be the runner-up to Jane Campion’s Best Director run for “The Power of the Dog” after receiving nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and the DGA. “Dune” would go on to win six Oscars (Albeit undercut by the Academy’s decision to off-air most of its technical categories separate from the live broadcast, in which three of its wins, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design, were casualties of this decision).

Thankfully, it doesn’t seem the Academy will revisit that decision as they return to the world of “Dune,” as “Dune: Part Two” has positioned itself as the first Oscar contender for the 2025 Academy Awards. And while the enthusiasm and passion from fans are through the roof—as many would love to see Villeneuve receive a much-deserved nomination (and possible win) for his construction of this spice-fueled world—I feel there should be some trepidation. Part of this originates from prior Best Picture-nominated sequels to highly successful first entries and how the Academy has shown some reluctance from immediately bestowing the same or higher number of nominations for those sequels (especially genre sequels) if they’re ongoing stories. “Dune: Part Two” leaves it open that the story of Paul Atreides will continue into “Dune: Messiah,” as Villeneuve has confirmed a third film is in the works. This leaves “Dune: Part Two” in a vulnerable position for awards voters feeling as if they’ve already awarded the franchise enough or can do so again later down the road when the final entry has been released, just as they did with “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” in 2003. To emphasize this point, I’ve decided to look back at two notorious examples of sequels that received Best Picture nominations from the Academy but failed to match the nominations received by their predecessors.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”Following the immense success of “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring,” Peter Jackson’s follow-up was hotly anticipated in continuing the narrative of J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy epic. “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” grossed nearly $900 million, netted thirteen Oscar nominations and four wins (Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects), so it would seem clear that “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” would continue this cultural dominance not just in financial success but awards potential. Similar to “Dune: Part Two,” Peter Jackson’s sequel promised more action and spectacle that would overwhelm fans of the first film, and “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” benefited from establishing its characters and narrative stakes in “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” and infusing the world of Middle Earth with the grand finale of Helm’s Deep, amidst other battles before it. After grossing over $900 million, “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” found itself in an incredible position to make a major play for awards recognition.

Yet, despite ten BAFTA nominations, as well as a Best Film nomination from the Globes, and Jackson receiving Best Director nominations from both organizations and the DGA, “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” would go on to receive only six Oscar nominations, with Jackson missing both in Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. There were acting nominations this time around, and a good chunk of its technical nominations went missing. “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” would win the Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing. Perhaps due to being released a year later, the Academy felt they either gave it the proper acclaim the first time around or that being a middle film in a trilogy doesn’t benefit when on the horizon, “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” would finish the series. Indeed it did, with “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” pulling a clean sweep of its eleven nominations, which included. Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and all of its technical categories. Andrew Lesine would not receive another nomination for Best Cinematography for either “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers” or “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King,” which could be a sign of what Greg Fraser’s fate might be for “Dune: Part Two” after winning the Oscar for “Dune.” There’s no denying “Dune: Part Two” will net itself a good amount of nominations, including Best Picture, but it could follow a similar fate to “The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers.”

“Avatar: The Way Of Water”While the “The Lord Of The Rings” films came out in subsequent years, it’s equally interesting to see how James Cameron’s decade-spanning “Avatar” franchise has endured despite the ever-changing theatrical landscape. “Avatar” exploded at the time of its release near the end of 2009, becoming a box office juggernaut that made it the highest-grossing film in history and won a slew of awards for its technical achievement in transporting audiences to the world of Pandora. Through its awards run, the film received eight BAFTA nominations, nine Critics’ Choice nominations, and four Golden Globes nominations (winning Best Drama and Best Director). “Avatar” culminated in being nominated for nine Oscar nominations, tying alongside its main competitor, “The Hurt Locker.” The film would win Oscars for Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography, as “The Hurt Locker” overpowered it in numerous categories, including Best Director and Best Picture.

The 2022 release of “Avatar: The Way Of Water” matched the excitement and hype of fans and audiences alike, as its box office performance followed the performance of “Avatar,” many awards pundits and experts pegged the long-gestating sequel to make a significant player for the 2023 Academy Awards. Yet that’s not where it found itself. While “Avatar: The Way Of Water” was able to lock in a Best Picture nomination (not too hard with Best Picture allowing for ten nominees), it missed in several key categories, which included Best Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Song (it also suffered from Sound categories now being combined as one). Even its precursor run paled compared to the first film, netting only six Critics Choice Award nominations, two Golden Globes nominations, and two BAFTA nominations. It was only able to repeat its Visual Effects wins into Oscar night. James Cameron has made it known there will be numerous “Avatar” sequels, and perhaps that may have dissuaded voters from jumping immediately into awarding a film many felt was given its rightful acclaim twelve years ago. It’s hard to say if future installments of the franchise will net it the same awards and recognition as “Avatar,” but “Avatar: The Way Of Water’s” performance is fascinating to view as a preview of how “Dune: Part Two” may perform, especially with it being released this early in the year (which hasn’t prevented previous Oscar winners from being successful such as “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” “Get Out,” “Black Panther” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel“) and with how muted the awards slate might be with the Writers & Actors strike of 2023 pushing production schedules from projects able to complete.

“Dune: Part Two”So where do we find ourselves with “Dune: Part Two?” Best Picture seems like a guarantee, considering its critical and box office success has assured it a position to prime itself as an Oscar contender with broad audience appeal. And like all “The Lord Of The Rings” and “Avatar” films, Best Visual Effects seems like a secured win for it, as the competition might find itself happy to be nominated alongside the luscious landscapes and worlds of what Denis Villeneuve and his crew were able to create.

After that, it’s intriguing to see what other categories it can get nominated in. I am in the minority that doesn’t see Greig Fraser getting in for his amazing work this time around, mainly due to how similar his awards run might replicate Andrew Lesine’s run for his work on “The Lord Of The Rings.” After his win, it seemed the branch wasn’t too concerned with nominating him again, even when “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” secured nominations in every technical category for which “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” was nominated. Even when Fraser followed his Oscar win by displaying such immense, beautiful work in “The Batman” that garnered him nominations from ASC, BAFTA, and BSC, he was left off for more auteur-driven works in “Tár” and “Bardo.” Hans Zimmer may fit the mold of John Williams, where his immediate name recognition will signal to branch voters to nominate him, especially having won his second Oscar for his other-worldly, incredible score for “Dune.” Best Sound seems like a safer prediction, seeing how the previous examples managed to secure their sequel’s sound nominations due to the intricate and detailed work involved and the various types of mixing and editing present in this sprawling grand adventure. Best Production Design, Costume Design, Film Editing, and Makeup & Hairstyling will ultimately be decided by how the industry responds at the various guilds and if there is the same enthusiasm for the crafts later in the year as other contenders gain more traction.

Best Director is difficult to determine. As much as I (and many cinephiles) would love to see Villeneve’s name read on Oscar nomination morning, after his wrongful omission for the first film, the recency of Greta Gerwig missing for “Barbie” suggests the Director’s branch may repeat the same behavior and not go for such a populist choice. Some chalk up his miss for the first film as a case of being considered “safe,” thus allowing members to vote for other favorites. Sadly, this branch has demonstrated through prior history that there is less inclination to nominate directors behind genre/populist spectacles except in a few instances. Denis Villeneuve may have to hope (should the Best Director field turn out to be underwhelming this year) that his standing in the industry and being considered in the same breath as Christopher Nolan as someone who can blend art and commerce into his filmmaking will warrant a Best Director nomination, despite prior precedence. A Best Adapted Screenplay nomination may be more likely since this is adapting the second, more tricky half of the novel and how Villeneuve and co-writer Jon Spaihts stayed true to Herbert’s world and thematic undertones despite the challenges that lay before them. Either way, nothing should be taken for granted, no matter how deserved critics and audiences feel the work may be.

We must remember that almost an entire year of unseen contenders could easily pop up and perhaps steal some of “Dune: Part Two’s” thunder. Such big studio films could be Steve McQueen’s historical drama, “Blitz,” and sequels such as Todd Phillip’s “Joker: Folie à Deux,” Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator 2,” and George Miller’s “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” to name a few that could bite into the space epic’s Oscar potential. One thing is for sure, though, “Dune: Part Two” will be nominated at next year’s Academy Awards. It may not be for the same ten Oscar nominations the first film received, and it likely won’t be more than that. But just how many and which ones remain to be seen.

Have you seen “Dune: Part Two” yet? If so, what did you think? How do you feel it will perform with the Academy compared to the first film? Please us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and be sure to vote on your own 96th Academy Award winners ballot here and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

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