Jodorowsky’s Dune (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

jodorowsky-s-dune 75_copyBut the reality of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is pure delight. I don’t expect to see a more thoroughly enjoyable movie this year, and I won’t be surprised if I don’t see a better film this year.



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If you look into the sometimes maddening history of movies that almost got made but just didn’t quite, such as Oliver Stone’s adaptation of American Psycho or David Gordon Green’s A Confederacy of Dunces in recent years, one that always seems to come up is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune project, circa 1975. I’m a longtime Jodorowsky nerd, and most of the extent of my knowledge about his near-miss Dune adaptation is that most of the team he assembled as production designers and special effects men and the like went on to do canonical work on Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic Alien after the Dune project fell apart. The new Frank Pavitch documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, makes what the reality of what the film would have been like much clearer; a great deal of the film’s 90-minute runtime reads like how a pitch from Jodorowsky to the moneymen must have felt in the mid-’70s.

The deal is that Jodorowsky’s Dune project came for him on the heels of his 1970 midnight movie staple El Topo (which counted John Lennon among its many fans, and the Lennon connection helped Jodo get further projects made) and his too-neglected 1973 classic The Holy Mountain, and predates the notoriously awful 1984 David Lynch film adaptation of the same source material, Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel. (Note that, had it been made, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have predated Star Wars.) Jodorowsky amassed what is definitely in hindsight one of the most impressive teams of filmmakers ever assembled for a film: Jodorowsky himself’s immense talent notwithstanding, he had everyone from Salvador Dalí to Orson Welles to Mick Jagger on board to act, Pink Floyd to do some of the music, H.R. Giger and French artist Mœbius and Missouri native Dan O’Bannon (who features heavily into one of Jodorowsky’s Dune’s funniest sequences) to do some of the production and set design, etc. Everything was basically done—apart from the assembled filmmakers, they storyboarded the shit out of the movie (as witnessed in a tome that Jodorowsky guides us through, which was sent out to the major studios 40 years ago in an attempt to get funding), the script was written, etc., and all they really needed was the money (or, well, more money; all that pre-production cost a ton) to get the film made, but that money just never came.

This probably sounds depressing, and the fact of the matter is that it is. In terms of films that never got made (as opposed to, say, Erich von Stroheim’s Greed or Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, both of which were made but subsequently butchered before their release), I can’t think of a more galling example than Jodorowsky’s Dune. But the reality of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is pure delight. I don’t expect to see a more thoroughly enjoyable movie this year, and I won’t be surprised if I don’t see a better film this year. Granted, they’re kind of preaching to the choir with this one, as like I said this subject has long interested me greatly, but anyone who has a remote interest in any of the above names, of film history, of science fiction, of learning from one’s mistakes, or of taking missed opportunities in stride should find plenty to like in this film.

Expect a few things to happen as a result of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune coming out: (1) A renewed interest in Jodorowsky’s work, especially El Topo and The Holy Mountain; (2) A lot of people clamoring for the release of the book of Dune storyboards that Jodo guides us through over the course of the movie; and (3) A lot, lot of people lamenting that Jodorowsky’s Dune never came to fruition. In a fashion typical of Jodorowsky’s maddening career (I’ve gone this long in this review without mentioning how Allen Klein sat on the rights for Jodo’s best movies for about three decades, thereby not letting anyone see the films), expect to be stymied on all three counts: both El Topo and The Holy Mountain are newly out of print in their physical media formats, for whatever reason, the book of Dune storyboards doesn’t exist beyond the copy Jodorowsky himself has and whatever might be in the archives of any old studio that didn’t throw it away decades ago, and Jodorowsky’s Dune won’t ever be made. But hey, at least we got Jodorowsky’s Dune out of it, which is about as good of a consolation prize as they come. | Pete Timmermann


[I’m fighting the urge to get super rambly on this review, as this is of course a topic I want to talk and talk and talk about. Here are two quick post-scripts for those of you who are interested, though. One, a note on how to pronounce “Jodorowsky”—I’ve listened to Jodo’s commentary tracks and twice seen him speak in person, albeit very briefly both times, and my memory is that he pronounces his name HOD-or-OW-skee. Over the course of Jodorowsky’s Dune, you hear people pronounce it that way plus two other ways—some say JOE-door-OW-skee, and others YOD-or-OW-skee. I maintain that the first syllable is pronounced “hod,” but even director Frank Pavitch, speaking after the film at the True/False Film Festival earlier this year, pronounced the first syllable with a hard “Joe” sound.

Second, in the aforementioned T/F Q&A, Pavitch pointed out that, while because of this film there has been plenty of recent demand in publishing the Jodorowsky’s Dune book after all these years, it might be a hard thing to make happen, given that the book tells the whole story of Dune and they no longer own the rights to tell that story. Hopefully the powers that be will find a way to make this happen anyway, though.]

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