Jodorowsky’s Dune is a nearly flawless documentary that chronicles in loving detail Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mystical and philosophical journey to see his vision for his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” realized during the mid-’70s. Long before George Lucas astonished the world with his fusion of repurposed Republic serials, foreign films and B movies as the space opera Star Wars, Jodorowsky’s Dune, if executed as conceived, would have been, to this day, cinema’s greatest achievement in speculative fiction filmmaking.
The epic tale of Jodorowsky’s journey, directed brilliantly by Frank Pavich, retold in chronological sequence, entertains and delights the viewer with the account of Jodorowsky’s years-long struggle to bring his highly personal adaptation of Herbert’s ground-breaking speculative fiction novel to the silver screen. The documentary features conversations with nearly every one of Jodorowsky’s collaborators (who had not passed away by the time Pavich filmed the interviews), several decades after Jodorowsky, unable to secure funding, had no choice but to abandon his dream project. But it is Pavich’s question and answer sessions with Jodorowsky — who, though in his eighties, was still vibrant, energetic and deeply passionate — that gives shape to the doc, and it is Jodorowsky’s vast, visibly overpowering love for his unmade film that forms the doc’s vital, pulsating soul.
Each interviewee contributes at least one shocking, hilarious, or mind-boggling anecdote to the telling of the tale, not the least of which is Jodorowsky’s own recollection of his attempts to cast Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV; there was no possible way for the production to meet Dali’s outrageous salary demands, until Jodorowsky hit upon the idea of coercing Dali into agreeing to be paid per minute of screen time, a solution which would satisfy both the production’s need to keep costs low, as well as Dali’s desire to be the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
Jodorowsky was acutely aware his reputation for visuals and narratives that defied anything as pedestrian as comprehension, or understanding, might cause Hollywood studio executives to be somewhat less than agreeable towards his pitch. To assuage their fears, Jodorowsky assembled a jaw-dropping team of creators as the “spiritual warriors” for his film…, French artist and cartoonist, Jean “Moebius” Giraud; Swiss surrealist painter, H.R. Giger; British science fiction illustrator Chris Foss; and American film screenwriter, director, visual effects supervisor (and a personal hero), Dan O’Bannon.
Jodorowsky’s creative team assembled several dozen pre-production books to present to the empty suits that controlled the production money, each book roughly the width and thickness of the Gutenberg Bible, and about half its height. Of course, pre-Star Wars, not a single Hollywood studio chose to front the cash necessary to fund what would have been the most revolutionary science fiction film ever envisioned.
Crushed, Jodorowsky disbanded his team…, only to see a vastly inferior version of Herbert’s novel produced, and to know that nearly all of the ideas, concepts and themes his spiritual warriors had hand-crafted so lovingly were either co-opted, or stolen outright for use in other films. However, as heartbreaking as it was for Jodorowsky to see years of his life turned to ashes there were triumphs, as well…, O’Bannon, Giger and Foss went on to do incredible, indelible work in Ridley Scott’s Alien and, if there were no Alien, Blade Runner would not exist. If there were no Blade Runner, well…, we would live in a very different world today.
A remarkable film of rare eloquence, beautifully shot and immaculately edited, Jodorowsky’s Dune illuminates exquisitely the sheer joy and the sweet delights of purely artistic creation. In a very real sense, Jodorowsky’s Dune — a very nearly perfect documentary that informs, uplifts and inspires — exists beyond criticism, leaving the viewer filled with a sense of awe, and a sense of wonder, long after the film is over.
BOTTOM LINE: Jodorowsky’s Dune is an extraordinary film, the kind which lovers of cinema owe to themselves to see; the sort which, upon the privilege of viewing, leaves one breathless, and with a madly racing heart. If you love cinema, if you love art, then Jodorowsky’s Dune is a must-see film, and a must-own disc.