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Jodorowsky's Dune (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Featuring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, H.R. Giger, Brontis Jodorowsky

Directed By: Frank Pavich

The Short Version

Behold the behind-the-scenes story of one of the weirdest movies that was never made.

I, for one, am glad that it wasn’t…

…but the documentary that demonstrates why is fascinating.

The participants tell their own tales; take with grains of salt according to your own judgment.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is an intriguing documentary worth any movie enthusiast’s time.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Who knows what’s really in there.  There might even be bits of tray.

Pairs Well With...


For when the spice must not flow.

“I wanted to make something sacred.  A film that gives LSD hallucinations without taking LSD.”

Once upon a time, an eccentric filmmaker began the process of bringing Frank Herbert’s “Dune” to the big screen.  No; not David Lynch.  Before him.

Behold the behind-the-scenes story of one of the weirdest movies that was never made.  Behold Jodorowsky’s Dune.

There are lots of motion pictures that “almost” get made but never actually do (or partly made and abandoned, or finished but never released), but rarely are the stories of these failures ever presented to the general public, even long after the fact.  Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt at Dune, however, is one of those legends that just won’t die, and even though it took forty years to bring that legend to the screen, it still makes for a fascinating story.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve never read Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”  Indeed, one of the most often-repeated comments from the people involved with the project is that they never had (and some still never have) read it, either.  The descent into filmmaking madness documented by Jodorowsky’s Dune is accessible to all cinema lovers who are curious about what happens when an eccentric auteur gets delusions of grandeur.

If you don’t think the phrase “delusions of grandeur” is fair, you haven’t seen this documentary yet.

The facts of the case are a mess, though director Frank Pavich and his editors do a remarkable job of turning them into a coherent – if not entirely reliable – narrative explaining what Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to do, how far he got with it, why he failed, and some of the aftermath.  The skew is very clearly is favor of Jodorowsky and his vision; however, in creating a documentary that would be accessible to all and [Pavich’s words] “not just for science fiction geeks,” Pavich and company have also allowed just enough objectivity to creep through to allow perceptive audiences to read between the lines and get to a little more truth than the spoken words are telling.  Indeed, I daresay that Pavich has made a better documentary of why Jodorowsky’s Dune failed than Jodorowsky would have made a film of Dune had he succeeded.

If anything is made unassailably clear by Jodorowsky’s Dune, it is that crafty or mad, Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of those artists who doesn’t believe in either compromising his vision or taking “no” for an answer.  Pavich does a very good job of demonstrating this all-important trait while presenting a capsule of Jodorowsky’s work prior to his attempt at Dune, which paved the path for the project under discussion.  He also clearly shows that Jodorowsky’s approach to adapting “Dune” was that “if you build enough of it, they will come and pay for the rest, because they will be impressed with what you’ve accomplished thus far.” 

Indeed, whether you ultimately judge Jodorowsky to be a genius, mad, or both, there can be no denying that he accomplished a lot with the pre-production seed money provided by French producer Michel Seydoux, and that he did so through raw charisma and sheer force of will.  Once he finally read the book and transformed Herbert’s story into his own screenplay, Jodorowsky recruited four incredibly talented artists to visualize his ideas.  For pre-visualizations of characters, starships, and visual effects, he recruited illustrator Chris Foss and young gent named Dan O’Bannon.  To create the dark look of the Harkonnens, he enticed visual artist H.R. Giger to make his first foray into motion picture work.  And to create start-to-finish storyboards of his screenplay, Jodorwsky enlisted the services of legendary comic artist Moebius.  These facts are unassailable, and these artists are truly the greatest of Jodorowsky’s champions.  The paintings and illustrations that viewers are allowed to see courtesy of Jodorowsky’s Dune are spectacular.

If those works were all the evidence presented by Jodorowsky’s Dune, one could truly believe that audiences really missed out on the greatest feature film never produced.  (In any case, it does leave one longing for companion books that do not, at this point, exist in general circulation.)

But they aren’t, which is why I’m glad that this forty-years-later documentary is the closest he ever got.

Jodorowsky goes on to discuss his efforts to recruit others to his cause, and the plausibility of those stories varies wildly.  The story of securing the services of David Carradine to play Duke Leto is easy enough to swallow; the story of convincing Orson Welles to play Baron Harkonnen by offering to hire the chef from Welles’ favorite Parisian restaurant to be an on-set cook is less so.  It’s hard not to be skeptical about who dismissed whom when Jodorowsky’s meeting with effects wizard Douglass Trumbull went nowhere; it’s frankly impossible to accept the “fairy tale princess” style story of how Jodorowsky met the eyes of Mick Jagger from across a gigantic ballroom, waited for Jagger- whom he’d never previously met – to walk through parting crowds toward him, and got an immediate “yes” to an offer to play the part of Feyd Rautha.  To call Jodorowsky and the group of admirers carefully assembled for this documentary “unreliable narrators” is, I think, more than fair.

Even if it is all true, there’s no way the resulting picture could have been anything but a budget-destroying mess, and the Hollywood executives to whom Jodorwsky sent his spectacular storyboards realized that.  But even assuming agreement with those executives, after going on the enthusiastic ride of the documentary’s first two acts, it’s impossible not to feel some of the emotional crush experienced by a group of artists who had spent more than two years of their lives preparing to make a movie that would never be. 

At least until one remembers just what Jodorowsky intended to do with the story of Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” which he describes with frankly disgusting terms and imagery that would make it easy for me to lose sympathy for him as an artist if I hadn’t already as a fan of the original work.  Jodorowsky’s vision, while epic in its own right, is not “Dune,” and changes it in so many fundamental ways that one could slap a different name on it and be forgiven for not noticing more than a few lifted items.  (In fact, Jodorowsky and Moebius later did exactly that, with a few more alterations, in graphic novel realm.)  Faith to the novel is not only something that Jodorowsky sets aside; he actively scorns it as a matter of declared principle.

So yes, I’m glad the movie was never made… but I’m also glad that the movie about how ‘the movie that was never made’ was made.

I’ll even forgive the ridiculous conceit at the end wherein it’s suggested that essentially every film made after Jodorowsky’s wasn’t was directly influenced by the effort.  The coming together of Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger to work on Alien is obvious, as is Giger’s later repurposing of art he made for Dune into work for Prometheus, but most of the rest of the examples presented are extreme stretches at best… though I will buy those before I’ll buy the Mick Jagger story.

Bottom line, even though I’m glad that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune was never made, I am equally glad that Jodorowsky’s Dune was.  It provides a fascinating insight into a world most people never get to see, and a study of eccentric charisma that absolutely demands to be seen to be believed… and/or disbelieved.  Whatever you decide, if you love movies on level that goes beyond just planting your butt in a seat and escaping for a couple of hours, Jodorwosky’s Dune is definitely worth your time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014

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