Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky's DuneSynopsis: In 1974, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose films EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN launched and ultimately defined the midnight movie phenomenon, began work on his most ambitious project yet. Starring his own 12 year old son Brontis alongside Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, featuring music by Pink Floyd and art by some of the most provocative talents of the era, including H.R. Giger and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel DUNE was poised to change cinema forever.

For two years, Jodo and his team of “spiritual warriors” worked night and day on the massive task of creating the fabulous world of DUNE: over 3,000 storyboards, numerous paintings, incredible costumes, and an outrageous, moving and powerful script. In the words of Jodorowsky’s producer, Michel Seydoux, “It should have been enough. But it wasn’t.”

Through interviews with legends and luminaries including H.R. Giger (artist, ALIEN), Gary Kurtz (producer, STAR WARS) and Nicolas Winding Refn (director, DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES), and an intimate and honest conversation with Jodorowsky filmed over the course of three years, director Pavich’s film – featuring never-before-seen realizations of Jodo’s mind-blowing psychedelic space opera (animated by Emmy Award nominated
Syd Garon) – finally unearths the full saga of ‘The Greatest Movie Never Made’.

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Jodorowsky’s Dune 8.25

eyelights: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s infectious personality. the unfathomable ambition of the project. their amazing luck at gathering a cast and crew.
eyesores: the ambiguous timeline. the tenuous attempt to find connection between Jodorowsky’s vision and subsequent Hollywood films.

“The greatest science fiction movie never made”

When people think of the of the motion picture ‘Dune’, everyone thinks of David Lynch’s ill-fated production from 1984 (often while rolling their eyes, or dying inside a little bit). Until now, however, few knew about Chilean cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempts to translate Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic to the silver screen.

‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ is a documentary on the astonishing development of this eventually-aborted film project. It tells its story via interviews with the many participants who are still alive, and is firmly supported by countless storyboards and other artwork (such as character and spacecraft designs commissioned at the time).

The centrifugal force of both the original production and this film, of course, is Jodorowsky himself.

The man claims to have wanted to make a movie that would be “a prophet”, a movie that was like an LSD hallucination, but without the LSD. He wanted to make a film that would change the way the world thought. One wonders how much is lost in translation, but the essence remains that Jodorowsky was extremely ambitious in his aim.

Amusingly, most of the key people involved with the film either had never heard of Dune before, or had not read it. Even Jodorowsky was new to the book, having had it recommended to him by a friend. He proceeded to make his own very different version of the story – so it was probably a good thing that the others didn’t know any better.

The film rides on Jodorowsky’s infectious storytelling ability. He was extremely animated, and remained comfortable in any language he spoke (even if it was imperfect). He would make sound effects and gesticulate wildly as he passionately told his tale. He was simply fascinating, riveting; I could have listened to him for hours on end.

His charisma is such that it’s clear why he was able to convince all of these people to join him on this insane trip.

We laughed many times throughout the film, astonished as we were by the sheer luck by which he met some of his collaborators, or the unbelievability of his ambition. And the single-mindedness with which he wanted to attain his vision: he would turn down the most brilliant people, because he felt that they weren’t his so-called “spiritual warriors”.

In the end, he got writer Dan O’Bannon (‘Dark Star’, ‘Alien’, ‘The Return of the Living Dead’), legendary French artist Moebius, British science fiction illustrator Chris Foss, highly-influential painter and sculptor H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, …the list goes on. He also got art rock band Magma and was in talks to get Pink Floyd too.

The stories behind many of these are ridiculous. For instance, to get Dali, he agreed to pay him $100,000 per on-screen minute. He arranged to hire Welles’ favourite chef to cook all his meals to convince him. And he made his son train for six hours a day, seven days a week, for two years to become the lead, Paul. Not portray. BECOME. Outrageous stuff.

Jodorowsky and Moebius put together a huge set of storyboards, effectively doing the whole movie in drawings. This was collected with other artwork, short texts and notes into a massive hardbound volume, which he used as his script, and which he presented to the studios to get the financing. It’s an amazing piece of work, in and of itself.

But it wasn’t enough to secure the financing that they needed to get the project off the ground. They were close, but not close enough.

After the collapse of the project, Dan O’Bannon ended up working on ‘Alien‘. Coincidentally, he brought Moebius and Giger along with him. As the film states, if not for having worked together on ‘Dune’, ‘Alien’ as we know it might never have existed. If ‘Alien’ hadn’t existed, then many other films (including ‘Blade Runner‘ and, by extension, ‘The Matrix’) would not have existed either.

The documentary stumbles in trying to establish ‘Dune’s influence in cinema:  it shows us their drawings and then compares them to scenes from a bunch of films, including ‘Flash Gordon’, ‘Prometheus’ and many others. But these were tenuous connections at best; one could easily argue that they were coincidences or that the ideas were so broad that they would easily resurface elsewhere.

Another thing bugged me. The participants state that Pink Floyd were mixing ‘Dark Side’ when they met. Except that it was released in March of 1973. The way the story is told, Jodorowsky tackled this after ‘The Holy Mountain’, which was released in May of 1973. On top of that, it seemed like much time flew by before he contacted the Floyd. So what really happened?

Sometimes one gets the impression that the story behind this Dune is partly made up, or at least enhanced by Jodorowsky to make the tale more fascinating. Of course, it’s quite possible that it’s merely a question of recall: after 40 years, one’s memory likely would repaint and shift many facts, whether one wants it to or not. It’s likely not intentional.

Either way, though, it makes for an utterly engrossing story. Could this be the creation of a modern fable, of a legend that wasn’t? Only time will tell. But it remains that this is likely one of the most amazing and influential films that never was. The raw imagination, passion, ambition and talent that went into its creation is awe-inspiring. I would really love to see this ‘Dune’.

Either way, Jodorowsky is adamant that it wasn’t a wasted effort; he says that you always have to reach for your dreams – even if they’re out of reach. And, as Jodorowsky said, with CGI, it would be possible to recreate it now; the blueprint is there, in that huge phone book-size script that they put together collectively.

One can always hope. One can always dream.

Post scriptum: And what did Jodorowsky think of David Lynch’s ‘Dune’? He didn’t want to see it, but his sons forced him to go. He was gleeful at seeing just how awful it was (although he was immediately apologetic about his reaction). He added that if anyone could have been able to make the movie Lynch would have – he was the only one at the time who could pull it off. So he speculates that the resulting disaster was all the studio’s fault, not Lynch’s. He’s probably right.

Date of viewing: April 20, 2014

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