Film Review – Jodorowsky’s Dune
Early into Jodorowsky’s Dune we are introduced to a book. The size of this book is impressive, and what it holds might even be more so. Behind the concept art for a spaceship, which adorns the cover, is the untold version of a movie that has only ever really been known as urban myth. It’s a story of legend that has been talked about among film and science fiction aficionados for the last few decades. A myriad of speculations and rumors, stories of famous bands, artists and actors, all have made whisperings and conjectures a thing of giddy excitement. A dream of what could have been.
The story follows in the wake of director/writer Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult success with midnight movie pioneers El Topo and Holy Mountain. Faced with the question of what to do next and a promise of the sky’s the limit, Jodorowsky picked Frank Herbert’s seminal science-fiction novel, Dune. Jodorowsky claims he hadn’t read the book at the time he picked it even though he never tells us really why, illustrating a bit of the eccentric quirkiness that defines the intense and jovial magician. In what becomes a parable of ambition and overreaching, we learn that sometimes something that’s too good to be true can be just that.
Director Frank Pavich presents this story of a movie that almost was with a concern for the top heavy aspects of why this project was so potentially wild. From bands like Pink Floyd and Magma to concept artists like H.R. Giger and Syd Mead, and a cast that included Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger, Jodorowsky’s vision for this sci-fi epic of messiahs and environmentalism was nothing short of unbridled imagination. It’s then, here in the exuberant details of enthusiasm, that we learn the vision for the scale of the failed movie could be more exciting than what might’ve actually been. A story with this much urban myth behind it, seems poised for a certain level of disappointment.
And that’s where the crux of things lie, there’s a bit too much urban myth as spectacle to really get at the meat of what occurred. As Jodorowsky explains one grand vision after another with stories like asking Mick Jagger to be in the film, who’s only response is yes, or how amazing the sets and costume designs were going to be, it’s a bit easy to see where things fell apart. With such a focus placed on the epic vision of it all and almost nothing on the practicality of that vision as actuality it becomes easy to see how such a movie was never made. A lot is thrown out about how ahead of his time Jodorowsky was, and how Hollywood just didn’t get him, which all may be true, but there’s a reasonable justification for how something so expensive would be approached with trepidation and hesitation at a surrealist, cult filmmaker and his relatively unknown crew wanting to create what perceivably could’ve been the biggest film ever made at that time.
Fortunately there’s a great deal of entertainment in the ideas of what could’ve been and how that plays out inside one’s own imagination. It also helps that Jodorowsky has such an exuding presence, full of enthusiasm and desire for creative expression, that despite his egotistical stature, is a pleasure to just listen to. Things get a little out of hand towards the end when influence of the failed movie is attributed in liberal doses of ownership to countless films that have been made since. Claiming accountability coming from the giant book that was designed to not only show what the movie was to be, but how it would be made, the filmmakers cite some influences that seem reaching at best. It’s a nice idea that further romanticizes the failure of production as being not attempted in vain. The downside is this narrows the focus beyond telling us why the movie was going to be wholly awesome and instead tells us that it just was, because look at that book, and look how excited Jodorowsky is. Given that this is the closest we’re likely to get to this unrealized “masterpiece”, at least until somebody takes Jodorowsky’s suggestion of animating the production book, it’s a welcome, interesting, and fun look at how urban myth, potential, and actualization are sometimes greater than the sum of their parts.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0cJNR8HEw0&w=560&h=315]