Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014)
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, H. R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Nicolas Winding Refn, Devin Faraci, Brontis Jodorowsky
Directed by: Frank Pavich
Synopsis: Avant-Garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky planned and heavily involved himself with a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. This documentary shows us the hows and whys surrounding it’s grand designs, storyboards, musical direction and casting choices as well as the ultimate failing of the project that never even started production.
What work(s): I’m sure 99.99% of you readers out there have never seen a Jodorowsky feature film. I’m sure most of you have never even heard of Jodorowsky. For a great quick glimpse into the surrealist filmmaker’s style watch this trailer for The Holy Mountain:
Still with me? Did that trailer give you an idea of how weird and wonderful this Jodorowsky is? OK. So this documentary shows how awesome and fantastic his version of Dune could’ve been—had it been made with the technology and special effects of 2014 and not 1974. The film shows his storyboards, drawings, the conceptual art of Moebius and H.R. Giger and it blows the mind that he thought this film could’ve been made in the mid-70s. Star Wars was a feat of technological movie making advancement and that was light years behind what Jodorowsky dreamed he could have achieved with his version of Dune. So besides seeing all these wonderful and beautiful storyboards and hearing what the casting was going to be, all in entertaining broken English (Jodorowsky basically bribes Orson Welles with fine French cuisine to star in the film) we all watch in astonishment and can only laugh at the hubris, pomposity and pretentiousness of this filmmaker who thought he was going to “change the world” with this silly little sci-fi flick. So on the one hand we see a glimpse of what could’ve been with Dune (especially somewhat compared to what David Lynch gave us in 1984) and on the other hand we’re boggled by this crazy French/Chilean/Ukrainian’s rants of how his film was sabotaged by Hollywood and parts of his visions stolen for other great sci-fi movies in the following years.
What fail(s): The real issue I have with this documentary is how we’re constantly being told how great this epic sci-fi movie would’ve been had it been made. Well, shucks I guess. Seriously, what a bunch of bullshit. I actually held off writing this review a few months back because I wanted to watch a Jodorowsky movie and I picked his surrealist western El Topo which features his young 8-year-old son naked most of the film. I would’ve loved this film or at the very least appreciated it more had I been in my late teens/early 20s when I was more into avant-garde filmmaking. Sadly, I more or less hated it and can only imagine what a train wreck his Dune would’ve been. Actually, I know what a train wreck it would’ve been since he claimed he wanted to make it 15 hours long. (not a typo—fifteen!) and that at the time he wanted to make Dune he said “I didn’t read Dune, but I have a friend who say to me that it was fantastic!” Would you see a book adaptation movie made by a wacky visual director if he never read the book? That’s like if Stanley Kubrick wanted to make Jaws without reading it and also wanted to make it 15 hours long. Part of me says that’s genius and will be awesome but seriously who’s going to believe that this is going to work?
The documentary is basically pointless in that it’s trying to illuminate a filmmaker with mediocre success and try to paint him as this genius that wanted to make a completely unfilmable movie and enlighten us with what could’ve been. That’s like saying I could’ve invented an iPhone or wrote the song “Let It Go” but gosh darnit, someone beat me to it. There just wasn’t enough naysayers and critics of Jodorowsky in this documentary to make it less biased towards what a great film his Dune could’ve been and that most of his visual elements and concepts were stolen for other great movies. And towards the end, Jodorowsky actually criticizes Lynch’s Dune for making a lousy movie. While he’s right in a way, that’s still the pot calling the kettle black. This is basically a sore loser’s movie.
The other aspect that didn’t help me think Jodorowsky’s “offer [to you] the most important picture in the history of the humanity!” was going to work was that it’s DUNE! I’m sorry, I know there’s a ton of Dune fans out there and I realize that it’s basically the best selling science fiction novel of all time but to me I have zero interest in the book or any film adaptations. My only exposure to Dune was Lynch’s 1984 version and despite it having that reputation of being a colossal failure, I still hate the idea of the story and won’t bother reading the novel anyway. It’s quite possible that Jodorowsky could’ve pulled a Kubrick with The Shining and made a completely different version from Herbert’s book, maybe one people would’ve found better in a way. But again, we have zero proof of that.
Overall: While Jodorowsky was shopping his storyboards around trying to acquire funding for his epic masterpiece, almost every major Hollywood studio saw enough of his great ideas and concepts and it’s no stretch to say that sure some of his visuals ended up being integral to other sci-fi movie’s successes like Star Wars, Blade Runner and especially Alien. I don’t disagree but shame on him for making such an extensive and detailed storyboard book (it’s a huge book—coffee table sized, no not a coffee table size book but a book the size of a coffee table!) and showing the competition your ideas. If he was smarter I guess he should’ve copyrighted his work. I’m assuming he didn’t otherwise he’d be up to his eyebrows in lawsuits and winning! But I somewhat admire Jodorowsky in a way. He has balls, great vision and tremendous enthusiasm for art and filmmaking and wish there were more crack-pots out there like him. Is he a genius? That’s completely subjective and I feel this documentary wasn’t objective enough in telling this story. I kinda liked this documentary but I don’t know if I liked it for the right reasons. I found it fascinating at how crazy Jodorowsky was and his ill-conceived notions of trying to undertake such a hefty production. It was akin to watching a documentary about Ed Wood and his dreams and visions and how much he failed as a skilled artist. But I don’t think this documentary was going for that. I truly believe this documentary was trying to show how Jodorowsky is a visual genius and that he was short-changed and sabotaged to making his epic masterpiece. This documentary needed more level-headed and down-to-earth producers or filmmakers criticizing Jodorowsky and explaining why his visuals wouldn’t work and why his Dune was destined to fail and then it would be higher scored by me.
My problem with reviewing this documentary is that I feel I’m criticizing Jodorowsky and his Dune more than the documentary itself. For that I am bit guilty. But I give the documentary credit in making me feel this passionate about knocking Jodorowsky’s ideas and pretentiousness. So in a way this documentary is worth a watch just based on that.
Score: 5 “touches of madness” (out of 10)