Director: Frank Pavich
Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Brontis Jodorowsky, H. R. Giger, Chris Foss, Michel Seydoux, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn, Drew McWeeny
Sony Pictures Classics | Snowfort Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 90 Minutes
Release Date: April 25, 2014
“What is to give light must endure burning.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Directed by Frank Pavich, Jodorowsky’s Dune chronicles director Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s unsuccessful attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel Dune in the ’70s. The documentary features interviews with the principal players involved in the failed ’70s adaptation as well as filmmakers and industry professionals who have been inspired by Jodorowsky’s legendary effort.
In 1973, film producer Arthur P. Jacobs optioned the film rights to Dune but died before a feature film could be developed. Two years later, the option fell into the hands of Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, known for avant-garde works like El Topo and Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky wanted to deliver a truly psychedelic experience with Dune – a film so mind-melting and illuminating, it would induce a hallucinogenic “trip” like LSD.
Jodorowsky enlisted brilliant artists like H. R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean “Moebius” Giraud for set and character design, and Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star) for special effects. The filmmaker also reached out to musicians like Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, and Magma to create otherworldly music for the film and recruited Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, David Carradine, and others for the cast.
The filmmaker wanted an entire cast and crew of “spiritual warriors” to make his picture – individuals whose talent and imagination could change the way people perceive the world. He took creative liberties with the source material, encouraging his collaborators to push themselves creatively and come up with ideas and designs the world had never seen before. Jodorowsky didn’t want to adapt a science fiction novel – he wanted to unite the entire consciousness of the world with cinema.
When Herbert visited Jodorowsky in 1976, he discovered that $2 million of the $9.5 million budget had already been spent in pre-production, and that Jodorowsky’s script would result in a 14-hour film. The logistics of writing, shooting, editing, and releasing a 14-hour film terrified major motion picture studios and the project ultimately collapsed under its own ambition. The film rights to Herbert’s novel lapsed until the early ’80s, when they were purchased by Dino DeLaurentiis, who produced the 1984 film Dune, directed by David Lynch.
Jodorowsky’s Dune doesn’t dwell on failure, but celebrates the ways in which the ambition and imagination of Dune planted seeds for other iconic films that came after it, including Star Wars and Alien. Foss, Moebius, and Giger would go on to create the incredible designs for O’Bannon’s Alien script while Jodorowsky moved on to films like Tusk (1980) and Santa Sangre (1989).
For cinephiles, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a thoughtful and bittersweet documentary about one of the greatest films never made. It’s a reminder that – for every film that makes it to the screen – there are countless others that disappear into Development Hell. If you’re a fan of Alien or Prometheus, it almost makes a great companion piece to the documentaries The Beast Within: Making Alien and The Furious Gods: Making Prometheus.
Pavich has created a documentary about the power of the creative spirit, and what it means to be a true visionary. The only question left unanswered is why not make Jodorowsky’s version of Dune today? With the success of Game of Thrones, I could easily see a Dune HBO series that uses the hours and hours of material already available to fulfill Jodorowsky’s mind-expanding vision. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before Dune gets the reboot treatment anyway – I mean Christ, Gremlins is getting remade – so why not do something bold and unique instead of another tedious, somber re-imagining.
At 85 years old, Jodorowsky is still just as ambitious and vibrant as he was in the ’70s. His childlike sense of wonder and the undying passion he still holds for the project is admirable. To see what could have been – to experience Jodorowsky’s Dune with his enthusiastic descriptions and the beautiful concept art by Foss, Moebius, and Giger is both exciting and endlessly inspiring.
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