The captivating documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” concerns itself with the failed attempt to turn Science-Fiction author Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name into a film. The most intriguing aspect of the movie is learning about how the avant-garde, Chilean born, director, Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) went about assembling the talent that he did during his two years of pre-production – – people he refers to as his spiritual warriors. Storyboards were created by French graphic artist Moebius; conceptual art was designed by Academy Award winner, H.R. Giger, who went on to design the creature in “Alien.” Special effects were going to be brought to the screen by the late Dan O’Bannon, whose work Jodorowsky had seen on John Carpenter’s film “Dark Star.” O’Bannon, like Giger, would also go on to work on “Alien,” writing the screenplay for the first film in the series, as well as work on computer animation and graphic displays on “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” The soundtrack for the movie would have primarily contained the music of Pink Floyd. The cast was as eclectic as they come and would have featured, among others, Oscar winner, Orson Welles (Citizen Kane). He agreed to be in the film, after Jodorowsky informed the famous auteur that all of his meals, during filming, would be cooked by a French chef from a restaurant that Welles loved and frequented. Additionally, Rolling Stones iconic front man, Mick Jagger, and eccentric artist Salvador Dali, also agreed to take roles in the movie. (As an aside: Dali would only do the film if he was paid $100,000 per hour of work, which would have made him, at the time, – the early 1970’s – the highest paid actor in Hollywood. Figuring out that Dali’s actual screen time would amount to less than five minutes, Jodorowsky struck a deal with the artist to pay him $100,000 per minute of actual screen time.)
The documentary premiered on May 18, 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival. Director Frank Pavich provides the viewer behind the scenes details; specifically focusing on how Jodorowsky was able to get the agreement of such a diverse group of talent to participate in his movie. Additionally, the viewer is given a glimpse into what the film might have looked like had it been able to come together. This is done through digitally animating some of the over three thousand storyboards. The book containing every aspect of the film down to the last detail, of which very few copies exist, was used at the time by the movie’s would be producer, Michael Seydoux, in hopes that it would help sell the film. One interesting tidbit that came out during the course of the film’s 90 minute runtime, is that prior to wanting to direct “Dune,” Jodorowsky hadn’t read the book.
Speaking in heavily accented English, a viewer can’t help but get caught up in the sheer infectious passion the director has for a film, decades later, that was never produced. Looking through a nostalgic lens at his younger self, Jodorowsky felt he was capable of meeting any challenge in order to see his vision fulfilled. Not for a second did I feel he was coming across as arrogant or conceited. He is a man who has a larger than life personality and exudes confidence in his abilities, that is for sure, but at the same time, according to the other people interviewed, who worked during pre-production, he made them feel like they could complete any task put in front of them. He did this by validating their work with compliments, and offering specific suggestions to gear their creative efforts toward exactly what he wanted. What Jodorowsky ultimately wanted was to make a film, according to the director’s own words, that would make the viewer feel like they had taken LSD, without out having taken the actual narcotic. (As an aside: Jodorowsky cast his son Brontis as the hero of the movie. He had him train with a martial arts master, seven days a week, six hours a day, for two years, in preparation for his role).
Minimal time is spent on talking about why the film was never produced with Jodorowsky as the director. The reasons are twofold: Major studios were scared off by the proposed runtime of the film. I can’t say I blame them. Executives wanted Jodorowsky to deliver a film that was under two hours. The director felt he couldn’t make the movie, the way he saw it play out in his mind, unless he had approximately fifteen hours to work with. Leaving that unheard of time frame aside, which would have turned off even the most ardent lover of film, Hollywood executives were also not enthralled with the intricate concept of the movie. The theme of the movie was unlike anything that had ever before been brought to the screen by a major studio. There was no comparison film against which to measure its potential success. As previously mentioned, all of the effects and specific shots that Jodorowsky wanted to use were detailed down to exact specifications on the storyboards presented to the executives. The trouble was, those particular effects were years away from becoming a reality and part of mainstream big budget cinema.
When Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated director David Lynch’s (Blue Velvet) version of Dune was released in 1984, it was a commercial and critical failure. Regardless of Jodowrowsky’s unbridled enthusiasm for his work, I can’t see him having received a better outcome. I applaud his passion, and his overwhelming desire to achieve his goal of making the film, but as much as I love movies, I wouldn’t have the stamina to sit through fifteen hours of anything. Nor do I think, the film would have made any money. There is no doubt in my mind, given the sheer enormity of the special effects he desired at the time the film would have been made, that he would have gone way over budget. Nonetheless, if you love science fiction cinema, or consider yourself a student of film history, then this documentary is must see viewing for you.