Saturday, July 12, 2014


Last night I finally got to see a documentary I had been looking forward to since I had first heard about it: JODOROWSKY'S DUNE, directed by Frank Pavich.

In the mid-1970s, surrealist film director Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to make an adaptation of Frank Herbert's famed science-fiction novel Dune. I knew about this project from an article featured in Cinefantastique magazine back in the 1980s. This documentary shows how expansive Jodorowsky's vision for the film was. Jodorowsky put together a team of artists and designers, including H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean (Moebius) Giraud, and assembled a huge book containing the entire screenplay of the film in storyboard form, along with various pre-production drawings and costume designs. The book is a stunning piece of work, and it is really the star of this documentary--I don't know why Jodorowsky just doesn't reproduce the book and sell it as a limited edition keepsake.

Jodorowsky also hired Dan O'Bannon to do the FX (after seeing a screening of O'Bannon's work in DARK STAR). The special effects, if they had been attempted, would have been way beyond anything ever accomplished at the time. Jodorowsky also had plans to use different rock groups for different segments of the film's music--one of the groups he approached was Pink Floyd.

The cast would have included such names as Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger. The role of the main hero, young Paul, was going to be played by Jodorowsky's son (who was being trained in martial arts seven days a week to prepare for the role).

Frank Pavich goes to the storyboards time and again to give the viewer a rough approximation of what this never-made movie might have looked like. Pavich has had some of the storyboards and drawings animated, and these, combined with the Vangelis-like music of Kurt Stenzel, give off a genuinely creepy atmosphere.

While I watching JODOROWSKY'S DUNE, I was impressed by Jodorowsky's plans....but at the same time I kept saying to myself, "There's NO WAY this guy would have been able to pull this off." You have to remember that this was the mid-1970s, before STAR WARS had been made. To get his version of DUNE off the ground Jodorowsky would have needed major financing from a major studio--and I highly doubt any Hollywood company would have wanted to work with someone like Jodorowsky on such a major project. Jodorowsky was (and is) a true avant-garde maverick, a director who is as far from the mainstream as you can get. The documentary seems to imply that it is a shame someone as wildly creative as Jodorowsky did not get his work finished. I honestly believe that Jodorowsky might not ever have finished it--or even if he did, it would have never lived up to what he was trying to accomplish.

At the end of the documentary Jodorowsky ashamedly expresses his happiness that David Lynch's 1984 version of DUNE was a flop. But one of the reasons Lynch's DUNE wasn't successful was that many saw it as just too weird. Jodorowsky's DUNE, if it had been made, would have been twenty times weirder. Alejandro Jodorowsky makes David Lynch look normal.

The intriguing thing about "unfinished" or "unmade" films is that we can never be disappointed in them. Talk to anyone who has made or worked on a film, large or small, and they will tell you that no matter how you prepare and organize, changes and compromises have to be made along the way. Jodorowsky's attitude of "art and vision above all" is a respectable one, but it's hard to see how that would have worked when dealing with a major feature film. Jodorowsky's version of DUNE would probably work best as a graphic novel instead of a movie. Still, this is a fascinating documentary, and I especially recommend it to those who are creative artists themselves.

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