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"Dune" director Denis Villeneuve on Thursday slammed the decision to debut all Warner Bros films via online streaming next year, accusing parent company AT&T of trashing his movie and the legacy of its historic studio with the unprecedented move.
The scathing article by Villeneuve published in industry bible Variety is the latest -- and arguably angriest -- in a series of Hollywood broadsides against AT&T over the decision.
The company's announcement last week that all 2021 movies would appear on streaming and in US theaters simultaneously sent shockwaves through the industry, where a "theatrical window" of around 90 days is traditionally observed.
AT&T insists its move was driven by the Covid-19 pandemic and is temporary, but critics from Hollywood unions and "Tenet" director Christopher Nolan to the theater chains themselves have accused it of maneuvering to prop up its recently launched HBO Max streaming service.
"With this decision AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history," wrote Villeneuve.
"There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here. It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion."
Villeneuve called HBO Max's launch "a failure thus far" and added: "Warner Bros. might just have killed the 'Dune' franchise."
The Canadian director described his adaptation of Frank Herbert's epic 1965 science fiction novel as "by far the best movie I've ever made."
He is the latest to attempt to portray the challenging story on the big screen, after David Lynch's widely panned 1984 movie of the same name.
The new film, starring Timothee Chalamet, was initially tipped to be one of this year's biggest theatrical events. But its release date, originally scheduled for November, was twice delayed due to coronavirus restrictions.
"The plan was that 'Dune' would open in theaters in October 2021, when vaccinations will be advanced and, hopefully, the virus behind us," wrote Villeneuve.
He added: "My team and I devoted more than three years of our lives to make it a unique big screen experience. Our movie's image and sound were meticulously designed to be seen in theaters."
Villeneuve predicted the move would mean his film "won't have the chance to perform financially in order to be viable and piracy will ultimately triumph."
Having already set "Wonder Woman 1984" for a Christmas Day release simultaneously on HBO Max and US theaters, Warner's bombshell decision last week also affects at least 17 titles including "The Matrix 4" and DC superhero sequel "The Suicide Squad."