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A Crash Course on the Directorial Evolution of Denis Villeneuve

How did Denis Villeneuve get to ‘Dune’? Here’s a quick introduction to how the French-Canadian director found his creative voice.
Denis Villeneuve Directing Style
By  · Published on September 21st, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on how Canadian director Denis Villeneuve found his directorial voice and style.


Much like the known universe or a benign tumor, Denis Villeneuve just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

In the span of eight years, Villeneuve has directed seven films. And in terms of budget and scope, each one has been greater and more terrible than the last. Both Prisoners and Enemy were released in 2013; claustrophobic and labyrinthian thrillers about men attempting to divine sense out of their spiraling circumstances. Next, Sicario hit theaters, a simultaneously infernal and troublingly arm’s length portrait of cartel violence. In 2015, Villeneuve returned to science fiction with Arrival, which ambitiously brought Ted Chiang’s ostensibly “unfilmable” 1998 short story to the big screen. The following year, Blade Runner 2049 proved that big, bold legacy sequels are (if not profitable), absolutely possible.

Looking back, the thrust of Villeneuve’s career was always heading for something like Dune, which is about as big as you can get as far as adaptations of this ilk are concerned. It is the white whale of cinematic adaptations, proceeded by unmade and unsuccessful projects and a hardened reputation of being too unwieldy for the theatrical format. And yet, looking back, if anyone was going to pull it off, it was going to be Villeneuve.

In addition to this ravenous appetite for bigger and bigger projects, other characteristic elements of Villeneuve’s filmography have become more cohesive and calcified since his 1998 debut. The following video essay offers a more thorough look at the director’s thematic, visual, and narrative trajectory. Brace for brutalism, distant cinematography, and of course, the odd spider here and there:

Watch “How Denis Villeneuve Found His Voice”:


Who made this?

This video on how director Denis Villeneuve found his voice comes courtesy of The Discarded Image, a video essay channel created by Julian Palmer. The channel began with a deconstruction of how Steven Spielberg creates suspense with the beach scene in Jaws. It has steadily grown from there. You can check out The Discarded Image’s video essays here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).