Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Frank Pavich
Writer: Frank Pavich
Producer: Frank Pavich, Stephen Scarlata
Stars: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, H.R. Giger, Jean-Paul Gibon, Brontis Jodorowsky
Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky recounts his ambitious conception of a project based on Frank Herbert’s “Dune” that was ultimately never filmed.
A cast featuring music icon Mick Jagger, surrealist painter Salvador Dali, and silver screen legend Orson Welles. A soundtrack from rock gods Pink Floyd. Concept designs envisioned by famed “Alien” creator H.R. Giger and French comics artist Moebius. “Hardware” director Richard Stanley succinctly describes filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unproduced sci-fi epic adapted from Frank Herbert’s classic novel “Dune” as “probably the greatest movie never made.”
Stanley expands on the impact of the imaginary film by adding, “it continues to influence us … despite the fact that it doesn’t exist.” Nicolas Winding Refn, director of “Drive,” goes on to wonder, “what if the first film of that nature had been ‘Dune’ and not ‘Star Wars?’ Would the whole mega-bucks blockbuster structure have been altered?” If Jodorowsky is to be believed, his version of “Dune” would have “change(d) the world” as “the most important picture in the history of humanity.”
On his road to becoming the patron saint of cult cinema, avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky laid the groundwork for his unique brand of psychotropic midnight movie appeal with unusual underground pictures such as “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain.” Impressed with Jodorowsky’s evolution as a cinematic artiste, producer Michel Seydoux approached the director in 1974 with an offer to create any project he wished as his next motion picture. Without hesitation, Jodorowsky exclaimed “Dune,” despite having never actually read the book.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is the story of an incredible two years of preproduction spent planning and preparing what was quite possibly the most outrageously ambitious science-fiction undertaking ever conceived up until that time. More than that, “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a thematic kaleidoscope about dedication, commitment, semi-structured lunacy, and the herculean effort it takes both mentally and spiritually to conceptualize art in a collaborative medium.
Jodorowsky possesses as much highly impassioned intensity for his unfinished dream 40 years after the fact as he did in 1974. Anyone with even the slightest inkling of artistic aspirations cannot help but find inspiration in the emotion exuded from someone this closely invested in turning wild fantasy into a wilder reality. Clearly, the crumbling of that promise he was so certain would come to fruition still haunts him even today.
For a documentary primarily comprised of talking head interviews, the surprisingly least interesting scenes are the animatic storyboards trying to provide a visual idea of what his film might have looked like had it gone before a camera. To paraphrase one of the interview subjects, in a perfect world, it would be preferable to simply have Jodorowsky explain his concepts to you personally. While watching penciled meteor rocks animate over a white page, you just want to go back to hearing more of Jodorowsky’s terrific tall tale anecdotes.
Jodorowsky details offbeat events from wooing Orson Welles with the promise of hiring Welles’ favorite Parisian chef as his personal cook to Salvador Dali requesting he be paid six figures an hour simply to boast being the highest paid actor in the world. Jodorowsky even still harbors some playful resentment over David Carradine downing $60 worth of his personal vitamin E pills. Some of it is too wild to believe it ever could have come together the way he had planned. Although as the saying goes, if it ain’t true, it ought to be.
Regarding just how deep his dedication to “Dune” ran, Jodorowsky offers, “if I need to cut my own arms in order to make that picture, I will cut my arms. I will do it.” And not just his arms. Casting Brontis Jodorowsky as the film’s young hero Paul Atreides had the director committing his own twelve-year-old son to training two hours a day, six days a week for two years in multiple martial arts disciplines. But Brontis doesn’t complain. No one else does either, for that matter.
With levels of nostalgia only modestly less enthusiastic than Jodorowsky’s, personalities associated with the project including H.R. Giger and Chris Foss recall their own involvement in “Dune.” They too have wonderful stories illustrating how Jodorowsky transcended the definition of a traditional director. In his undying devotion to “Dune,” Jodorowsky became a guru, a muse, and a true leader to the men and women who were his “spiritual warriors” in a quest to change filmmaking forever.
Whether or not that was ever a real possibility is a matter of debate. Pink Floyd, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and some silliness about Salvador Dali with a burning giraffe sound like an eclectic mix that would at least have been fascinating to watch as a glorious train wreck of epic proportions. But David Lynch’s “Dune” and 1980’s “Flash Gordon” tested similar waters with Queen, Max von Sydow, and Sting, and those movies were commercial flops. There’s a case to be made that “Jodorowsky’s Dune” can be a cautionary tale about ideas and intentions spiraling out of control when an unleashed auteur has no one telling him “no” until it is already too late.
However, the success of the documentary is that it makes you believe in Jodorowsky and in “Dune.” Jodorowsky’s reverence and frankness is so magnetic that more than just wishing you could see the movie he had in his mind, you wish you could have experienced the creative process alongside all of the incredible talent involved in his project.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune,” both the documentary and the project it remembers, is about the fearlessness to explore the limits of one’s own imagination. The fact that something that does not even exist has that kind of power to inspire is a remarkable achievement. That a tangible documentary can effectively illustrate such an intangible concept may be even more so.
Review Score: 90