Sunday, June 16

‘Dune: Part Two’ Gives Sci-Fi-Obsessed Silicon Valley a Reason to Party

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

Dustin Moskovitz, a Facebook founder, chatted as others sipped from cannily named cocktails like the Fremen Mirage (gin, coconut Campari, sweet vermouth) and the Arrakis Palms (vanilla pear purée, gin, Fever-Tree tonic). Tim O’Reilly, a tech industry veteran, dropped by. Alex Stamos, the former head of security at Facebook, was also spotted.

“Do you think they’ll let me take home one of the freaky sandworm popcorn buckets?” someone in the crowd tittered. The suggestively designed buckets had become a sensation across social media.

The techies were all there to celebrate Silicon Valley’s newest obsession: “Dune: Part 2,” the latest movie adapted from the Frank Herbert-authored science-fiction saga, which helped inspire many of them to become interested in technology. The film, which follows the 2021 installment “Dune,” sold an estimated $81.5 million in tickets in the United States and Canada over the weekend, the biggest opening for a Hollywood film since “Barbie.”

The invitation-only private screening at the IMAX theater in downtown San Francisco was hosted by two former tech executives turned podcasters of “Escape Hatch,” a weekly show focused on sci-fi and fantasy films. And it was not 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 movie, directed by Denis Villeneuve. On Thursday, the venture firm 50 Years invited founders, friends and investors to “come fuel your imagination with stellar science fiction” in a theater takeover.

Founders Fund, a venture capital firm cocreated by Peter Thiel, rented out 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 in from across the country to attend.

“If you’re a VC firm and you’re not hosting a private Dune II screening, are you even a VC firm?” Ashlee Vance, a longtime technology journalist, wrote in a post on X last month.

Even as tech companies have cut jobs and perks in recent months, the tradition of the sci-fi movie premier remains alive and well. Films like “Star Wars,” “Dune” and “Ready Player One” were the very things that helped stir techies’ interest in the field of computer science. No longer content with only watching the future unfold onscreen, employees at companies like Meta, Google and Palantir have started plucking directly from their favorite movies to build the products of tomorrow.

In Google’s early days, the company routinely bought out entire theaters to see the latest superhero flick. When “Blade Runner 2049” debuted in 2017, the boutique tech investment banking firm Code Advisors rented out the Alamo Drafthouse for a private screening and had a Q. and 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’s “Westworld.”

But “Dune” and “Dune: Part Two” hold a special place in Silicon Valley hearts and minds because of the series’ expansiveness. It doesn’t hurt that “Dune” was born in San Francisco, where Mr. Herbert lived in the late 1950s as he researched what became the series of sci-fi novels.

“It is one of the original world-building exercises in genre fiction, and we’re all about world-building here,” said Jason Goldman, a former Twitter executive who joined Matt Herrero, a techie friend, to create the “Escape Hatch” podcast during the pandemic lockdowns.

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

“Twenty years ago, most people coming into tech were idealists with utopian dreams,” said Tom Coates, a tech veteran, at the “Escape Hatch” cocktail party. “That’s clearly not true anymore — now for many it’s much more just a job, and one that has attracted a certain type of ‘tech bro.’ But I think it’s interesting that we’re not all here tonight to watch the Ayn Rand filmography.”

Mr. Goldman said part of Silicon Valley Valley’s enchantment with “Dune” could be due to characters like Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, a messianic figure who leads a downtrodden tribal group into rising up and defeating their evil overlords.

“What people want, what they’re always trying to recreate, is that charismatic leader with the ability to see into the future,” Mr. Goldman said. “The hero worship of Steve Jobs is right up there with the fanatical praise of Paul Atreides.”

What was not clear was how many of Silicon Valley’s tech elite had absorbed the finer points of the source material. Mr. Herbert was deeply skeptical of man’s technological progress, a perspective that framed his series.

“It’s all based on a world in which artificial intelligence has been wiped out entirely,” said Cal Henderson, the co-founder and chief technical officer of Slack, who attended the Thursday party.

(That morning, Elon Musk had sued 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,” another person at the party said.)

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

After the movie, which ran two hours and 46 minutes, ended, the group headed into a V.I.P. room to record a live edition of the podcast on what they had just seen. The geeking out continued past midnight.

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

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