How Dune’s Director Helped with Marvel’s Eternals


Eternals, Marvel’s ambitious ensemble entry (check out our advance review), hits theaters this weekend for a pandemic-era performance that’s hard to predict. Notwithstanding the fact that the film—based on Jack Kirby’s 1976-launched high-concept comic title—stands as the most thematically unique film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it also happens to be the biggest film of indie director Chloé Zhao’s career. Thankfully, she had some help from another director in Denis Villeneuve, who has experience with films on this scale, notably from the just-released, sequel-confirmed epic, Dune. In fact, Zhao reveals just how integral Villeneuve’s help became.

On the cusp of Eternals’ wide release, Beijing-born director Zhao faces a watershed moment in her still-burgeoning career with a potential worldwide commercial breakthrough (or flop). She’s currently riding momentum from the sudden springboard success earlier this year of a Best Director Oscar win for her small-scale character-driven drama, Nomadland, which also even took the Best Picture prize. Yet, Eternals was a task that would have intimidated more-experienced filmmakers, much less an up-and-comer with only three feature films (including the eventual Oscar-winner) on her directorial CV. Consequently, the blockbuster guidance she received from Villeneuve proved invaluable. It’s an aspect that, as Zhao tells THR, makes the closely-set releases of Eternals and Villeneuve’s Dune into a rather poetic outcome.

“I gotta say that I’m a big fan of Denis; he’s a friend,” lauds Zhao. “We got pushed and shifted because of the pandemic. We got pulled apart and now we’re back together again at the same time. Even when I was working on IMAX for Eternals, I asked him if it was okay for me to watch Dune. I knew he did incredible things in IMAX, so I knew I could learn from him. He was so generous; he was like, ‘Yes.’ He also gave me other references to look at. So, I actually find a lot of strength in our films coming out at the same time and to have a colleague who I respect and love and to be able to go through this together and to hug each other at Venice [International Film Festival] when Dune came out. He even sent me a message last night, so it all feels very empowering.”

While Villeneuve has never tackled a Marvel movie himself, his sage advice does come from handling high-profile pictures such as 2013 breakthrough drama Prisoners, 2015 crime drama Sicario, 2016 sci-fi drama Arrival (which yielded a Best Director Oscar nod) and, most pertinently, 2017 sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049, which—like its 1982 predecessor—was a commercial failure, but maintains a fanbase. Of course, Dune would prove to be his biggest test yet, tasking the director to field a massively grandiose, exterior-heavy production that hopped from locations in Budapest, Hungary to Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates to bring to life Frank Herbert’s oft-attempted, but never quite successfully-adapted arid 1965 sci-fi novel. However, for all those accolades, his choice of guiding blockbuster-attempting indie helmer Zhao on her Eternals experience is curious, considering comments he recently made about the artistic merit of Marvel movies.  

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