Sure, it’s not exactly a visually inspired image, but it highlights the film’s all-star ensemble.
No, this new theatrical one-sheet isn’t going to win awards for poster art. Yes, if you go online you’ll see folks not-incorrectly complaining about the somewhat generic “floating head” collage, as the image looks like a handful of separate screenshots sewn together. As far as poster art goes, it’s no The Rocketeer. And in terms of teasing a specific arc, it’s not quite the first teaser for The Phantom Menace. But as a piece of marketing, this new Dune poster is exactly what it needs to be.
Simply put, the film offers up plenty of empty space to suggest a sense of scale and scope, with the blue-ish grey sky towering over the piercing orange sand. Otherwise, it’s a piece of marketing that highlights the film’s biggest asset, namely its stacked all-star cast. You’ve got a cast roll-call above with 13 names listed, and eight of those actors get face time on the poster. I don’t know how much most general audiences know about (or care about) Frank Herbert’s Dune, but I do know that there may be an audience for a big-scale fantasy adventure featuring a bunch of “Oh, I know and like them!” actors.
Timothée Chalamet takes center stage as the film’s proverbial Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter (yes, yes, I know Dune came first), with his heroic (?) father (Oscar Isaac) and his love interest/partner-in-crime (Zendaya) on the left. I’m not sure if Javier Bardem is being positioned as the bad guy or the sage mentor, but that’s the impression being left. Oh, and not only is this a partial facial headcount of the film’s big stars (#justice4DaveBautista), but it’s an implicit promise that the film won’t just be a metaphorical sausage fest, and that the film will have more in terms of female characters beyond “love interest.”
Again, nothing groundbreaking here, but it wasn’t so long ago that most big movies would consider themselves “progressive” for having even two female characters worthy of poster inclusion. Oh, and you have a full-body shot of Paul Atreides looking serious and contemplative, along with the release date (October 22) and the “in theaters and on HBO Max” confirmation. It’s a bland poster but it’s intended to convert the disinterested or unaware, not preach the already feverishly excited. It sells the scope, the scale, the diversity of its core cast and the sheer number of known actors making up its initial roll-call.
It’s no secret that I’m concerned about Dune becoming the next John Carter, namely an expensive adaptation of a comparatively cult sci-fi property which ends up looking (to general audiences) like a rip-off of the many more recent/more popular films and shows that merely followed in its wake. Audiences don’t show up for “new to you” adaptations as much as they did even a decade ago, so the idea of a never-before-seen fantasy world is only part of the sale. A bigger part, arguably the key part, is the notion of lots of actors you like and hopefully a marquee character (Katniss Everdeen, Venom, Freddie Mercury) in an otherwise appealing movie.
So, yeah, WB is selling Dune via its many movie stars and the implicit promise of big-scale adventure, in that order. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune will premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 3, but it won’t open theatrically until October 22. It was supposed to open on October 2 (same weekend as Gravity, Gone Girl and Joker), but Sony moved Hotel Transylvania: Transformania there and WB wanted some space between itself and No Time to Die on October 8. Truth be told, the best thing for Dune might be for Sony to panic and move Spider-Man: No Way Home into 2022.
I have no reason to think that would happen, but if so Warner the opportunity to push The Matrix 4 into 2022 (or, hell, move it into October) and then position Dune (as intended in 2020) as the year-end, must-see fantasy spectacular. I still maintain that WB selling it as this year’s Lord of the Rings/Avatar/Star Wars is the best shot for commercial success. That choice was snatched from them due to Covid, so I’m more than a little sympathetic. Nonetheless, right now WB has just over two months to convince folks who don’t know or care about Dune to show up in theaters.
And right now, the best way to sell an unknown is to highlight what is known, in this case the actors and actresses appearing onscreen. Here’s hoping Dune doesn’t become the next John Carter ($272 million on a $250 million budget), or, better comparison, Blade Runner 2049 ($252 million on a $155 million budget). But with the casual moviegoers showing up for Jackass Forever and the art house crowd racing to The French Dispatch, well, fingers-crossed.