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Saving Cinema Doesn’t Mean Saving Hollywood

Mirren Bodanis


Via Forbes

Dune: Part Two released on March 1st, 2024, to immediate smash success. It currently holds a 93% critic score on rotten tomatoes. "Denis Villeneuve's monumental adaptation expands its extraordinary world of shimmering strangeness. It's impossible to imagine anyone doing it better,” writes The Guardian chief film critic Peter Bradshaw. This extreme critical success is mirrored in its incredible box office performance. In its opening weekend, it grossed 82.5 million USD, surpassing Oppenheimer’s 82.4, and, as of April 5th, has grossed over 630 million USD worldwide, according to IMDb.

The success of Dune: Part Two has greatly pleased both moviewatchers and studio execs. The results from searching “dune part 2 video essay” are filled with titles like “Why Dune Part Two is a Sci-Fi MASTERPIECE,” “Dune Part 2 is a Monumental Achievement,” and “Dune 2 is a Wake-Up Call for Hollywood.” In the latter, popular film YouTuber captainmidnight expresses how we need more films like Dune, which combine large budgets with serious, auteur, “high-art” filmmaking craft, to “save hollywood'' from the endless stream of risk-free & sanitized sequels and spinoffs that dominate theaters. “These boring, squeaky-clean house styles have to go,” says captainmidnight. Dune: Part Two, and really both Dune films, I hope, mark a sea change in how studios think about these big budget projects. [...] Standing out from the crowd with a distinct, interesting visual style will be more important than ever if you want your movie’s box office returns to look more like Dune and less like Madam Web.” (Which bombed at the box office, making only 15 million in its opening weekend on an 80 million dollar budget.)

It does seem that, following Barbie and Oppenheimer, Dune marks a third big success in a trend of huge hollywood's studios giving auteur directors the reigns to make cinematically unique projects. It seems that popular media is suggesting that the days of endless product films of the MCU, DCU, and other interactive Disney media properties and their imitations are gone, and in are the days of real cinematic innovation. But what do we mean by “cinema” and “Hollywood” when we’re trying to keep them alive?

Despite critical success, the thematic progress of these movies has come under heavy criticism. In Barbie’s case, many have accused it of trying to sell feminism rather than advance it. Lovia Gyarkye, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, says that “[Gerwig] has successfully etched her signature into and drawn deeper themes out of a rigid framework, but the sacrifices to the story are clear. The muddied politics and flat emotional landing of Barbie are signs that the picture ultimately serves a brand.” Matel stock rose by a staggering 30% during the release of the film, and they have already commissioned another 45 films based on their IPs, according to Esquire.

In the case of Oppenheimer, despite the film's critical success, many have criticized its failure to represent the extreme domestic harm the film's events caused. Kate Gardner, writer for Physics World, explains that “The one glaring omission from the film is in fact 19,000 omissions – the number of people, mostly Indigenous, who lived near the Trinity test site in New Mexico. Oppenheimer implies the area was empty, side-stepping the thorny truth that local residents were not warned about the test at all.” In an article for the New York Times, Buu V. Nygren, president of the Navajo Nation, explains how during the nuclear arms race 94 million gallons of radioactive waste were poured into Puerco River, causing cancers, miscarriages, and deaths, all of which were glossed over by Hollywood. This was a meaningful omission for director Christopher Nolan, who himself described the film as aiming to depict Oppenheimer “trying to deal with the consequences of what he'd been involved with.”

Lastly, with Dune - even I, who’s favorite director has been and still is Villeneuve ever since I first saw Arrival 8 years ago, cannot deny the film’s problematic critique of colonialism, which fails to avoid many problematic colonial habits itself. Furva Shah, writing for Cosmopolitan, breaks down ways the film erases its Middle Eastern, North African and Muslim influences. “[Herbert’s original Dune book] was seen as a challenge to imperialism following the Algerian war of independence, with his editors even asking the author to tone down the ‘Muslim flavor’ of his book. Now, the latest adaptation, directed by Denis Villeneuve, seems to do just that,” writes Shah. “Despite the film's obvious inspirations, there are no leading actors of Middle Eastern or North African heritage.”

Although Hollywood may be progressing visually, it is worth questioning whether these films are “saving” cinema, or if they’re just a new way of selling us what we had before in an artsier package. Instead of turning to the same old white men to save Hollywood, or women-lead movies that sell toys for white men - every year, thousands of unique, smaller budget, innovative films -the kind we supposedly want to see more of- are released. So maybe it’s not Hollywood that needs to be saved to save cinema, but, rather, it must be destroyed, and we need to stop expecting hyper-capitalist billionaires to be the ones to show us who we can be.


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