Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary on a failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune to the silver screen in the 1970’s. It’s a brilliant film, told in storyboards and extensive interviews. Even if you’ve only seen David Lynch’s effort (or worse, the SyFy Channel miniseries) and not read the book(s), you really have to watch this movie.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is a Chilean filmmaker and writer, known best for his bizarre cult films El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. He’s also hysterical to watch in this documentary: his enthusiasm for a project decades dead jumps out of the screen, as does his anger and dismay at what happened to it. In amusing detail he described the hoops he had to jump through to cast Orson Welles as the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and legendary artist Salvador Dali as the Emperor of the Known Universe, Shaddam IV, for example, as well as special effects wizard Dan O’Bannon and the awesomely talented artist Jean Giraud (known as Mœbius).
If Jodorowsky was brilliant, what stole the show were Mœbius’s storyboards. Meticulously sketched, the Dune storyboard book is thicker than three Manhattan phone books stapled together. What Jodorowsky had in mind for the visuals was incredible: it would have revolutionized cinema science fiction at least a year before Star Wars came out. Legendary artist H.R. Giger‘s work for the visuals was also displayed, as was the art of science fiction illustrator Chris Foss. Looking at the art for the unmade film is a terribly heartbreaking experience in imagining what could’ve been.
Nevertheless, if Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune had been made, it would have been a gigantic, artsy mess that had little to do with the original subject matter. Fans of the book would have been horrified at what Jodorowsky had done to it (at one point in the film, Jodorowsky himself says that he would have raped the novel, like he was raping Frank Herbert himself). At one point, he’d intended to make the movie about 12 hours long. So it’s no wonder they weren’t able to get financial backing from the big studios: it would have been a massive money pit that everyone except the art house crowd would have loathed.
Even so, it made an awesome documentary after the fact. Five out of five stars.