Published on April 15th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Jodorowsky’s Dune is about “the greatest movie never made,” Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated, but amazingly conceived 70s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece.
I’m a huge fan of Dune, both the 1965 Frank Herbert book and the 1984 David Lynch film (there were also a couple of Sci-fi Channel mini-series that are half-decent), though it’s not a property that can be easily recommended. As a slow-witted teenager, I had to see the movie three times and read the book twice before I fully understood the material. It’s dense, containing a universe of characters and some pretty colossal themes from godhood to agriculture. As well, David Lynch’s film is like watching the first season of The Wire — it doesn’t slow down to explain the definition of terms like ‘carryall’ or ‘Bene Gesserit.’ In fact, Herbert’s book is impenetrable enough to warrant a glossary of terms in the back. Not too many people are willing to study a piece of entertainment in order to ‘get it’ and I can’t blame them. But to me, it’s worth it. It draws you into a universe so real that you feel like you’re a part of it, even as fantastical as it is.
The recent documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune sets out to show us, “the greatest movie never made,” a film version of Herbert’s book as envisioned by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky is famous for a handful of cult hits, like El Topo and The Holy Mountain, movies jam packed with psychedelic surrealism, stoner mysticism, and attacks on religious hypocrisy. In the mid-70s, with a financial backer securing most of the money, Jodorowsky started putting a team together to make his epic adaptation of Dune. Had the movie come together, it would have starred the likes of Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles and featured music by bands like Pink Floyd and Magma.
It’s no spoiler that the movie never got made — and while I’ll let this documentary explain all the reasons why, let’s just say they probably make more sense than Jodorowsky would ever admit (in fact, he shakes with tremors of anger when talking about the studios). But the preparation was so massive on the film, and the team he put together was so brilliant, that this movie that never came to be changed the course of film, especially science fiction. To give you an idea of how far reaching it became, four core members of his team were Moebius, Chris Foss, H.R. Giger, and Dan O’Bannon, without whom, we would not have the striking visuals and story behind Alien.
It’s hard for me to separate myself from being a Dune fan to be more subjective about this doc, but I would have to say that Jodorowsky’s Dune will appeal well beyond fans of the story of Paul Atreides. It’s not just a movie about how one man tried to make a film — it’s the tale of how a dreamer set out to grab hold of his vision by the shirt collar and bend it to his will. Through talking heads and animations based on the storyboard and designs, the movie captures a wonderful, bittersweet camaraderie and the lovely ghosts of what might have been. At the centre of it all, Jodorowsky himself is a thrill to behold, funny and exuberant as he regales us with this lost tale of quixotic creativity.
Ah, to live in an alternate universe, where Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune was made and released. How would it have changed film history then? Having come out before Star Wars, would Dune have changed the idea of the blockbuster as the film pontificates it might have? Seeing as Lynch’s Dune was a huge bomb (because of the breadth of the material), and the fact that Jodorowsky’s version could have been anywhere from four to 20 hours long, it stands to reason that Jodorowsky’s Dune probably wouldn’t have faired any better. We might just have one more insane midnight cult film on our hands. It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s really fun to dream about it. And Jodorowsky’s Dune (the documentary, I mean) does just that. It’s a little film that is well worth seeing for anyone who ever cared enough to take a chance on creating anything, only to fail, which I’m sure, is most of us.
(And please, Jodorowsky — release your Dune book as a coffee table book or graphic novel).