Way back when I got serious about doing reviews on this blog, I remember what my first choice for a review was: Frank Herbert’s Dune, a science fiction novel with an epic scale that still generates interest to this day. Eventually, I did watch some of David Lynch’s film adaptation, which does well on some levels and fails on others.
However, nothing could prepare me for the wonder that could’ve been the movie produced by Alejandro Jodorowsky. I recently sat down and watched a documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune, where I marveled at the science fiction legend that could’ve been talked about for generations.
The documentary charts the history of the Spanish filmmaker and his attempts to storyboard, cast, and produce a “spiritual” film adaptation of the novel by Frank Herbert in 1975. We hear from Jodorowsky’s own mouth about the grand vision he had for Dune, bringing in a surrealist’s touch to an already imaginative setting and a colorful cast of big-name celebrities, including David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dalí. But it was too big and too weird for Hollywood, so it was never realized.
By all accounts, there’s something about the proposed adaptation of Dune that I would’ve loved. Even though I’m a bit skeptical because of how much of a Surrealist Jodorowsky is, I would’ve liked a science fiction movie where the soundtrack is done by Pink Floyd, we have character designs by H.R. Giger (long before he did Alien), and it opens on a tracking shot that spans across the entire galaxy.
However, it’s the other elements that throw me. Every director’s allowed to play with the source material for the sake of making a good movie, but I wonder about some of Jodorowsky’s decisions (like having Duke Leto Atreides, the father of the main character, be castrasted and Paul is conceived from his father’s blood fertilizing his mother’s egg). Even Jodorowsky admits that his ending of his 14-hour film (meant to evoke Paul as a Messiah figure) doesn’t fit with Herbert’s original premise, but it does keep to his ultimate spiritual interpretation of the source material. It would’ve alienated some audiences, but we might have respected it for being so daring at the time.
As for the documentary itself, it’s quite a treat. Besides listening to the mad director expounding on his team of “spiritual warriors” and watching the way old producers’ and artists’ eyes light up when talking about the project, the documentary is visually stunning on its own. We get to see tidbits and glimpses of the Movie That Never Was, from Giger’s designs to a Mick Jagger-looking Feyd-Rautha. Some of the storyboards are animated in their own right, and thanks to the depth used by Jodorowsky and his artists in making them, it’s a little like watching the lost film itself.
Given the sheer scale of this film and its uber-surrealist director, it’s hard to see how Jodorowsky’s Dune would’ve ever gotten financed, let alone produced and distributed. But as the documentary points out, you can see its creative fingerprints everywhere from Star Wars to Alien to just about any big-budget science fiction film today. It was ambitious in all the right ways, driven more by visual poetry than clever marketing or trying to fit a particular genre. Like its namesake, watching the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is an experience, carrying you into the mind of the director and expanding your imagination in ways you never thought possible.
Bibliography: Jodorowsky’s Dune. Directed by Frank Pavich. Produced by Frank Pavich, Stephen Scarlata, and Travis Stephens. City Film; Snowfort Pictures. Sony Pictures Classics. Original screening: May 18, 2013.