“Jodorowsky’s Dune” (film review)

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)

jodorowskys_dune_ver3Director:  Frank Pavich


Pure madness attempting to translate Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel into a feature length movie in the first place. The production was bound to be difficult, the special effects alone pushing mid-1970’s film technology to its very limits (and probably beyond). This is pre-“Star Wars” remember, pre-digital. Which means big, elaborate sets, no green screen; utilizing rear projection, hand-painted mattes. Real exotic locations, using a real human cast and crew.

Very expensive.

And on top of that, it’s complete, utter, incomprehensible madness to put a maverick like Alejandro Jodorowsky at the helm of such a daunting project. A quick glance at A.J.’s small, unique body of work is all one needs to realize we are dealing with a singular and, let’s be honest, irrational talent. A mind with a surrealist bent, an aesthetic that embraces the bizarre and baroque.

Mr. Pavich’s documentary ably depicts the extensive pre-production efforts undertaken to convince potential backers that “Dune”, the movie, was a viable project, with enormous commercial potential. A storyboard was constructed, each shot in Jodorowsky’s script meticulously described, the sketches accompanied by beautifully rendered, color reproductions of costumes and scenes from the movie by top flight artists and designers like Chris Foss, H.R. Giger and Moebius.

Unfortunately for “Dune”‘s courageous and naive French producer, Michel Seydoux, the folks in Hollywood had seen some of Jodorowsky’s work or, at least, heard enough about him to know he wasn’t likely to deliver a movie North American audiences would turn out in droves to see. While they were impressed by Seydoux’s presentation, it was clear that Jodorowsky’s affiliation with “Dune” was a deal breaker and, in the end, the single biggest reason why this incarnation of “Dune” never made it to the big screen. The writer-director couldn’t even provide the money men with any idea of how long the finished film would be—to this day Jodorowsky doesn’t seem to know.

Is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” one of the great “lost” films of cinema? I have my doubts. A.J. readily admits that his take on “Dune” was vastly different than Frank Herbert’s Dune. At one point I believe he talks about “raping” the book, in favor of his personal, spiritual vision. What would Herbert have said to that? How would science fiction’s notoriously prickly fans have responded? Not favorably is my guess.

And if the film had somehow gone ahead, the production would’ve been drastically scaled back, the special effects slipshod, the whole thing painted with the broadest possible strokes. I think it would have ended up resembling a slightly higher end “Flash Gordon” (complete with tawdry rock ‘n roll soundtrack).

Mr. Pavich’s documentary posits an interesting “if only”, but my hunch is this is one movie that is better off for remaining unproduced. As Jodorowsky and Feydoux point out, a number of their creative collaborators (Giger, Moebius, Dan O’Bannon) went on to bigger and better things, Jodorowsky’s “Dune” continuing to cast a long, peculiar shadow on fantastic films for decades to come.

Perhaps that’s sufficient.

ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
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