Dune‘s early reactions after its premiere at Venice Film Festival were largely positive, including a 6-minute standing ovation, but there were still a few key detractors in negative reviews. While those negative reviews hardly sour the overall reception, the response is what should have been expected from the material and filmmaker.
Dune has occupied an interesting place as one of the most anticipated films in 2021 for a variety of reasons. The cast and crew are all at the top of their game and the property promises the kind of big epic sci-fi storytelling audiences love, but the delays due to COVID-19 and divisive comments of director Denis Villeneuve about streaming vs the theatrical experience have overshadowed what may have otherwise been a much more positive marketing cycle in the final stretch to for the movie’s release.
After the first batch of reviews, they’re almost all positive, with an 85% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the handful of negative reviews all mention things that should have been expected hangups from a portion of the audience all along. The combination of Denis Villeneuve and Frank Herbert’s original source material are a pretty big indicator of the type of movie Dune is, and that’s a movie that doesn’t necessarily resonate with everyone.
Villeneuve is one of the most talented directors working today, but his style isn’t typical for mass appeal or more popcorn-friendly moviegoing. His last two movies, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, are prime examples of his approach. His focus is very tonal, relying on music and cinematography to tell the story over humor and exposition, which is more common for less risky low to mid-budget movies like Arrival than for bigger budget blockbusters like Blade Runner 2049 or Dune Combine that with Frank Herbert’s notoriously dense and often labeled “unfilmable” source material, and the product might be exactly what fans want, but it may not be as accessible or achieve the same kind of broad appeal (or box office draw) enjoyed by franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars.
This isn’t inherently a problem, as movies don’t all have to appeal to everyone, but as seen with Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, this artistic approach to big-budget movies doesn’t always yield massive box office hauls, which is especially an issue in the post-pandemic box office landscape, especially when Dune is only half the story and a sequel rides on the performance of this first installment. Ultimately, a few bad reviews aren’t going to hurt Dune, but the movie still needs a box office miracle when it arrives in theaters.