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I Saw ‘Dune 2’ at 3:15 a.m.: Inside the Nearly Sold-Out, All-Night Screening in 70mm Imax

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“I have a story for you. You might kill me.”

These are words no writer wants to hear from their editor, and yet on Thursday at 3:04 p.m. they came ringing in my ear like a death knell.

“So there’s a screening of ‘Dune: Part Two’ at 3:15 in the morning,” he said. I see where this is going. “Wouldn’t it be fun if you went?”

That’s when the dread set in. Not because I had just agreed to pull an all-nighter on the planet Arrakis but because that meant I had to spend the rest of my afternoon watching the first “Dune,” which, for whatever reason, I managed to avoid in the two and a half years since its release. I went home and got to work.

I thought about how I would approach this cruel assignment. Should I force myself to sleep at 9 p.m. and set an alarm for 2:30 a.m.? Treat the AMC plush rocker as a cradle and accept early on that there is no way my eyes will stay open throughout the film? My girlfriend offered me some of her prescription Adderall to stay awake, which I considered before — don’t laugh at me — Googling “Does Adderall give you a bad comedown?” The first result was a helpline number.

So, after several failed attempts at falling asleep before the movie, I surrendered and drank a coffee an hour before showtime. I grabbed an Uber and arrived at the AMC Lincoln Square in the dead of night, where I lined up with around 200 other freaks and/or insomniacs to witness Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi spectacle in glorious 70mm Imax on America’s second-biggest movie screen.

It was mainly dudes. And besides one guy dressed in bedazzled cowboy boots and draped in sparkling chains, the dress code was schlubby-casual. After all, this isn’t “Barbie.” (Though one older gentleman showed his studio spirit with a Warner Bros. bomber jacket, a nod to the company footing the bill for Villeneuve’s vision.)

While in line, I chatted up a trio of friends in their 20s who had trekked 45 minutes from New Jersey. They saw the first “Dune” just a few days ago at a fan screening and bought “Part Two” tickets for 3:15 a.m. because essentially every other 70mm Imax showing was sold out. 

That was a common theme. At this ungodly hour, people came to this place not for magic but because they procrastinated. Chris (26) and Kristina (23), a couple who drove in from Long Island, didn’t sabotage their Friday and spend their afternoon power-napping because they wanted to — it was their only option. Same goes for 22-year-old Victor, who camped out in an NYU library until 2 a.m. to avoid commuting back and forth to Jersey City. Emily, a 21-year-old film student at Pace clutching two Dasani bottles, was here because she was “bullied into it” by her friends.

For all its star power — the film’s cast is an elite roster of hotties and heartthrobs — not one of the dozen or so people I talked to even mentioned Timmy Chalamet, Zendaya or Austin Butler. Rather, the caffeinated fanaticism seemed entirely centered on the film’s specialty format. Move over Florence Pugh, we came for the 70mm Imax.

For 31-year-old filmmaker Orges Bakalli, it was simple math: “It’s ‘Dune.’ It’s Imax. It’s 70mm. This is the screen.” Standing at the back of the concessions line, which even at 3:30 a.m. continued to snake beyond the stanchions, Bakalli smiled. “Cinema is back, baby!”

Amy, a 19-year-old assistant manager scanning tickets, told me before the movie started that her shift typically ends around 3 a.m., reminding me that AMC isn’t normally a 24-hour establishment.

“Usually our last showtimes are around 11 or 12, but for ‘Dune’ we added one more because we knew people would come for it,” said Amy, who clocked in at 5:45 p.m. and planned to head home around 5 a.m. “To be honest, the next time I have this type of shift I need to have enough food and enough energy.”

It was only 3:40 a.m. and my eyelids were already swelling, so I purchased a massive Diet Coke. Much to my dismay, AMC had already sold out of those fuckable popcorn buckets

Inside the theater, people were pumped. The room was about 80% full, but I found a pocket of empty seats to inhabit. As a brand-new Nicole Kidman ad hypnotized the audience, one guy screamed, “I LOVE YOU, MOMMY!” Not even the title card reading “Dune: Part Two” prompted that level of enthusiasm.

About 45 minutes into the movie, I thought for sure I was toast. Those gorgeous desert sand dunes reminded me of pillows, and I questioned what life choices I made that led me here, to seat H35. But then I saw a guy nod off two rows ahead of me, and I thought about how annoying it would be to have to see this movie again just to catch the parts I missed. I’m not weak like him, I thought, inhaling my Diet Coke. And, to even my own surprise, I powered through, savoring Paul Atreides’ larger-than-life odyssey all the way until the credits rolled at 6:18 a.m.

On the escalator down, I caught up with the three friends from New Jersey. “What are your plans this morning?” I asked, and they told me they were going to walk west to watch the sunrise over the Hudson. I didn’t have the heart (read: brain cells) to tell them the sun rises in the east.

Emily and her friends were heading to the Flame Diner for breakfast, one of them mentally preparing for her NYU rehearsal at noon. Me? I got an Uber home. I had other business to attend to.

When I exited AMC, deliriously tired, the sun was smiling down Broadway. A smattering of people emerged from the subway, walking with purpose up and down the street. It was tomorrow, and these people were living in the future. I couldn’t wait to slither like a sandworm into bed.