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'Dune: Part Two' gives sci-fi-obsessed Silicon Valley a reason to have fun| GuyWhoKnowsThings


On Thursday night, in a top-floor atrium in downtown San Francisco, tech workers from Google, Slack, X and Mozilla mingled next to a pair of cardboard cutouts of Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya.

Facebook founder Dustin Moskovitz chatted while others sipped cocktails with clever names like the Fremen Mirage (gin, Campari coconut, sweet vermouth) and the Arrakis Palms (vanilla pear puree, gin, Fever-Tree tonic). Tim O'Reilly, a tech industry veteran, stopped by. Alex Stamos, former Facebook security chief, was also seen.

“Do you think they'll let me take home one of the strange buckets of popcorn with sandworms?” Someone in the crowd chuckled. The suggestively designed cubes had become a sensation on social networks.

All the techies were there to celebrate Silicon Valley's new obsession: “Dune: Part 2,” the latest film adapted from the science fiction saga written by Frank Herbert, which helped inspire many of them to become interested in technology. The film, which follows the 2021 installment “Dune”, sold approximately 81.5 million dollars in admissions in the United States and Canada over the weekend, the biggest opening for a Hollywood movie since “Barbie.”

The invitation-only private screening at the IMAX theater in downtown San Francisco was hosted by two former tech executives turned podcasters from “escape hatch”, a weekly program focused on science fiction and fantasy films. And it wasn't the only game in town.

Across Silicon Valley – from venture capital firms to tech executive circles – people had booked their own private screenings of the film, directed by Denis Villeneuve. On Thursday, the venture company 50 years invited founders, friends and investors to “come feed your imagination with stellar science fiction” in a theater takeover.

Founders Fund, a venture capital firm co-created by Peter Thiel, rented the Alamo Drafthouse theater in San Francisco's Mission district for the film's opening night on Friday, with an open bar and free food. Some people flew from all over the country to attend.

“If you're a venture capital firm and you don't host a private screening of Dune II, are you even a venture capital firm?” Ashlee Vance, a long-time technology journalist, wrote in a publish in X last month.

Even though tech companies have cut jobs and benefits in recent months, the tradition of a sci-fi movie premiere is still alive and well. Movies like “Star Wars“, “Dune” and “Ready player one”were precisely the things that helped spark the interest of technicians in the field of computing. No longer content to watch the future unfold on screen, employees at companies like Meta, Google, and Palantir have begun pulling directly from their favorite movies to create the products of tomorrow.

In Google's early days, the company routinely bought up entire theaters to watch the latest superhero movie. When “Blade Runner 2049” debuted in 2017, the boutique technology investment banking firm Code advisors rented out the Alamo Drafthouse for a private screening and had a Q&A with the film's antagonist, Jared Leto. Venture capital firms have repeated the practice for other futuristic films and series, including “The Martian“, “Arrival“and HBO”Western world.”

But “Dune” and “Dune: Part Two” hold a special place in the hearts and minds of Silicon Valley because of the breadth of the series. It doesn't hurt that “Dune” was born in san franciscowhere Herbert lived in the late 1950s while researching what became the science fiction novel series.

“It's one of the original world-building exercises in genre fiction, and here we're looking to build worlds,” said Jason Goldman, a former Twitter executive who teamed up with Matt Herrero, a tech friend, to create the “Escape Hatch.” ”Podcast during pandemic closures.

The “Dune: Part Two” viewing events also acted as a kind of safe space for techies to step away, however briefly, from the technological culture wars raging on and offline.

“Twenty years ago, most people in technology were idealists with utopian dreams,” said Tom Coates, a technology veteran, at the “Escape Hatch” cocktail party. “Clearly, that's no longer true: now, for many, it's mostly a job that has attracted a certain type of 'tech bro.' But I think it's interesting that we're not all here tonight to watch Ayn Rand's filmography.”

Goldman said part of Silicon Valley's allure with “Dune” could be due to characters like Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides, a messianic figure who leads an oppressed tribal group to rise up and defeat their evil overlords.

“What people want, what they always try to recreate, is that charismatic leader with the ability to see the future,” Goldman said. “Steve Jobs' hero worship is on par with Paul Atreides's fanatical praise.”

What wasn't clear was how many members of Silicon Valley's tech elite had absorbed the finer details of the source material. Herbert was deeply skeptical of man's technological progress, a perspective that framed his series.

“It's all based on a world where artificial intelligence has been completely eliminated,” said Cal Henderson, co-founder and CTO of Slack, who attended Thursday's party.

(That morning, Elon Musk had defendant OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, over claims that the company had put commercial interests before the future of humanity. “Meta doesn't even begin to describe it,” said another person at the party.)

Still, attendees were determined to have fun. One of them presented Herrero and Goldman with a custom-printed glossy poster for “Dune: Part Two,” with the hosts' faces photoshopped over those of the film's celebrities. The tables were filled with trays of Nebula Nebulae parfaits (spiced chocolate and vanilla mousse) and platters of Atreides Delicacies (rice noodles, harissa, sesame oil).

After the film, which lasted two hours and 46 minutes, ended, the group headed to a VIP room to record a live edition of the podcast about what they had just seen. The fun continued past midnight.

Shortly after, Goldman bought tickets to a Monday matinee screening of “Dune: Part Two.”

“I can't wait to see it again,” he said.




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