Jodorowsky’s Dune

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Jodorowky’s Dune tells one of the biggest “what-if?” stories in the history of cinema. In the mid-seventies, Chilean cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky was all set to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, but it never happened. Everything was remarkably planned out, but never executed. The film decides to dwell on the planning stages, and the film’s historical impact rather than its failure of production, making it a very inspirational film. The documentary itself is not doing anything too special, but the film its about seems pretty dang mind-blowing.

The story of Dune, or at least how its presented here (Jodorowsky apparently changed the novel extensively, and I’ve never read it myself), is that of an outer-space rebellion. A desert planet’s natural resource is a conscious-enhancing spice, making the planet a very desirable world to conquer. The Harkonnen’s are trying to do just that, and the young hero of the story, Paul, must sacrifice himself in order to stop them. Jodorowsky explains that he envisions the film to be conscious altering, like LSD or the spice in the story, and adds a sequence at the end where Paul’s consciousness travels into the minds of the planet’s inhabitants and the planet itself.

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Most of the film consists of testimonials of Jodorowsky himself and the artists he assembled to carry out his vision, film critics, and modern directors (such as Nicholas Winding Refn of Drive). It also shows the concept art for the film, and animates several sequences from the storyboard illustrations. They are understandably sketchy so you have to stretch your imagination a bit, but you can still get the essence of the scenes from them. One of the more spectacular scenes they illustrate out for us is the opening shot, which goes through the entire galaxy continuously (the film contends that it influenced a similar opening shot in Robert Zemeckis’ Contact).The paintings depicting the spaceships and buildings that would have been used in the film are more complete and therefore more satisfying.

The best part about the film is that you can sense the passion everyone put into this project, despite the fact it was never actually made. When you step back and think about it, it’s a crazy plan that never could have worked. Jodorowsky did have everything planned out and from what the film shows it looks pretty awesome, but also pretty insane. He’s got a bunch of unmanageable stars attached by verbal agreement only (Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, and Mick Jagger, among others), a lot of material that’s going to be hard to market to a mass audience, deviations from the source material which are going to get flack from half of the cult audience he can actually count on, and he’s going to need a huge budget to do all of these things. No way is Hollywood going  to back this thing. It’s a shame, but you can see where they’re coming from. Nevertheless, Jodorowsky by his sheer enthusiasm kind of has you believing at times that the film not only got made, but actually did change the movie industry and the entire world.

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An interesting part of the film comes in the aftermath. Everything has been hunky dory, until Hollywood gets around to rejecting the film. The project then gets bought by DeLaurentiis and David Lynch is set to direct. The rest is history, so to speak, and Lynch’s film is both a popular and critical failure, almost ending his career. The interesting thing is how the rest of them react to someone else making their film (or at least re-adapting the book they originally adapted).  Jodorowsky was reluctant to see it at first, but got pushed into and was eventually relieved that it was terrible. He actually admires Lynch and chalks up the films failure to studio interference (which is reportedly how it went down). Others have refused to see until this day. Jodorowsky then went on to develop a comic using much of the original art. Interestingly enough, he believes in the future of his project and hopes it will be made into an animated film some day, even after he is gone. His passion and dedication to his project is truly amazing, even if it is a bit crazy.

For me, this is the main takeaway of the film, even more so than the art and everything that was prepared for Dune. The story of how talented, dedicated people coming together to create a work of art that doesn’t just make money or entertain people, but seeks to change people both through the creation itself and the finished product. It’s amazing and wonderful to think that many actual films are like that, and Jodorowsky’s Dune argues that they still accomplished that without producing the film. Both the real art and the myth surrounding the film have still inspired people, and changed the lives of those who worked on them. Ultimately the documentary is an ode to the creative process, even if it fails to yield the expected results.

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“We will change the world!”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Rogerebert.com review
Variety review

5 responses to “Jodorowsky’s Dune

  1. Great, great review Hunter, I was really teetering on the edge of whether or not to see this, but I think I will give it a go now. I’m far too curious.

    • Thanks! I was on the fence about seeing it as well, but I eventually decided to go for it and I was happy I did! It’s a really good documentary for film nerds obviously, but besides just the history depicted it also has such a great enthusiasm for film. I would really recommend it. I had no knowledge of the source material at all but still found it fascinating.

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