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JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (review)

Review by Todd Sokolove
Directed by Frank Pavich
Animation by Syd Garon
Featuring HR Giger, Gary Kurtz, 
Nicolas Winding, Alejandro Jodorowsky

Arguably, one of the most challenging books of the 60s to adapt into a feature film is Frank Herbert’s magnum opus Dune.

Beloved by millions for nearly fifty years, and re-read probably by half of those fans, the Hugo Award winning science fiction novel spawned numerous sequels and spin-offs.  But the film adaptations that managed to make their way to the big and small screen, respectively, continue to be universally dismissed.

The first, was a massively panned over-blown Hollywood flop directed by a hands-tied David Lynch.  The latest was a [then] Sci-Fi Channel miniseries event met with high ratings, but generally lukewarm reception.

But the first true attempt at an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune is the stuff of legend.

Much talked about in cinematic circles is the lengthy, frustrating attempt to bring the book to the movies.  Optioned in 1973 by producer Arthur P. Jacobs (Planet of the Apes), who died before he could even develop the project, it’s widely known that midnight movie Godfather Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) picked up the rights two years later and failed to get a single studio willing share his vision.

That vision has remained mostly a mystery, with the specifics behind the project only shared marginally, if you were looking for them.  Until now.

Jodorowsky’s Dune expansively outlines the never-made movie through interviews, concept art, Story boards, costume sketches and script excerpts.  It’s the quintessential account of the project, almost as satisfying as the film itself would have been.

But the documentary goes deeper than just being a typical side story from Hollywood’s past.  Director Frank Pavich naturally captures insight from Alejandro Jodorowsky himself on his career, his philosophy of art and its relationship with film, and most importantly, his passion for bringing Dune to screen as an experience unlike anything ever seen.

Instead, the “failed” Dune is a masterful example of not for lack of trying.

The stranger-than-fiction casting choices involved Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvadore Dali.  Each one had been engaged by the director to come on board, to which this documentary unveils in hysterical detail.  The jaw-dropping doesn’t end there.  H.R. Giger was brought in to conceptualize key architecture and concepts, Pink Floyd was romanced into scoring the music, Moebius (aka Jean Giraud) created the entire production in storyboards, and certainly not least, Dan O’Bannon spent years working on the visual effects.



Jodo, as he’s affectionately referred to by his friends clearly went full-on obsessed marrying the story to his vision, which only grew from there.  I got the impression that, even at age 84, Jodo has that same true passion for what the movie could have been.

But I also get the impression that there isn’t a ton of regret over this lost project. It’s revealed that the director channeled a lot of his passion for Dune into other projects, namely comics.  And luckily for us, the documentary reunited the director with his producer Michel Seydoux for the first time in years, resulting in the soon to be released autobiographical movie The Dance of Reality.

The biggest payoff of the documentary is towards the end of the film, when you realize just how much this unfilmed project directly and indirectly influenced the “groundbreaking” films that would come, from Star Wars to Prometheus.

At the very least, there wouldn’t have been Alien, the way we know it, if not for the relationship jump-started between Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger.  

Then again, there probably wouldn’t have been David Lynch’s Dune either.

Talk about a trade-off.

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