Jodorwowski’s Dune (Sony Pictures Classics)
Rated PG-13 for some violent and sexual images and drug references.
Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn, Diane O'Bannon, Christian Vander, Jean-Pierre Vignau.
Directed by Frank Pavich.
People who know me well - also know I’m a sci-fi geek, right down to my claim of seeing Star Wars (Episode IV – A New Hope) about 20 times during its original release in 1977. What many may not know is that before Star Wars (we geeks call those days “the boring times”), there were not many people interested in making sci-fi movies that were also good films fit for mainstream audiences. One of those people was Alejandro Jodorowski, a French-Chilean artist and director who made a few terrible films that must have been conceived during several acid trips back in the late 1960s and early 70s (El Topo, The Holy Mountain). It is the eccentric artist’s attempt to create a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune novel that is the subject of Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowski’s Dune.
The film explores Jodorowski’s early films and his philosophy, both of which contain a lot of mystical ideas and surrealism. Jodorowski is eventually given a $1 million budget to direct Herbert’s popular science fiction novel. Interviewees then tell about Jodorowski’s recruitment of his participants in the grand film that was supposed to become Dune, including Michel Sedoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Gary Kurtz and others. Many sci-fi film geeks will recognize some of those names, especially Kurtz and Giger. One name not mentioned is the late Dan O’Bannon, who, along with Kurtz and Foss would later go on to help create a few little sci-fi movies you may have heard of, like…I dunno… Star Wars, Alien, etc.
Most of the commentary is provided by Jodorowski himself, as he describes his vision and proselyting of collaborators willing to immerse themselves into his surrealist, psychedelic film cult. Some of those recruits included Salvador Dali, Orson Welles and Pink Floyd, to name a few. As the vision of Jodorowski’s Dune takes shape, it ventures further and further from the original Herbert text and into something like an LSD trip. The film that could have been is seen through concept art and storyboards, and if it made as Jodorowski intended, would have been 14 hours long.
From there, it turns out no studio exec (not consuming vast amounts of acid) would allow Jodorowski to make his opus, and the project died. Dino de Laurentis later picked up the option on the book, resulting in the atrocious 1984 version that is considered one of the biggest flops (and worst films) in history (a point Jodorowski takes more than a little glee in). Despite his failure, the legacy of Jodorowski’s Dune is seen in the consequent sci-fi films involving the eccentric director’s assembled team. Those movies shaped a generation of the film genre, including Giger’s vision in the Aliens franchise, some elements of the Star Wars saga and other landmark science fiction movies. If you are a real sci-fi geek, you will appreciate the significance.
Jodorowski’s Dune is an entertaining film – not because you walk away thinking what a great film Dune could have been – but because you can’t help but marvel at the audacity of a man so consumed by his own imagination. I don’t think I could have endured Jodoraowski’s version of Dune, but I’m glad people like him exist, if only to push the boundaries of imagination.