I have always been happy to admit that David Lynch’s (or Alan Smithee’s) Dune is something of a guilty pleasure of mine and that its source novel, Frank Herbert’s epic hard sci-fi myth, is one of my all time favourite books (in a non-guilty way). Between these two though lies another version of the story that long remained shrouded in mystery and had become something of a legend in itself among sci-fi and film fans the story of which is told in Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.
The film sets the scene by introducing director, and undeniable auteur, Alejandro Jodorowsky, explaining his career as a theatre director working in the avant-garde and then a film director famed for “the first cult film” El Topo and the grandly surreal The Holy Mountain.
Not only does this introduce us to ‘Jodo’s’ career but to the man himself. Interviewed here at the age of 84 he is more lively, animated and enthusiastic about his work than almost any other filmmaker I can think of and displays such a genuine passion it easily explains how he found funding and collaborators for his far from mainstream work.
It is his energy that carries the story of the film from his impulsive declaration of making Dune into a film to its sadly almost inevitable ‘death’ at the hands of understandably reluctant (and if the film is to be believed simply confused) Hollywood studios.
At only 90 minutes I couldn’t help but think there is potentially much deeper this movie could go, but it flies along at a pace set by Jodorowsky and embellished by interviews with his collaborators (in his words “spiritual warriors”) and partially animated sequences mixing photographs with the storyboard artwork of Moebius and the concept art of Chris Foss and HR Giger.
Those few names give an idea of quite how impressive Jodorowsky’s list of collaborators was and as the film goes on this list grows and grows to include Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Orson Welles as actors and Pink Floyd as musicians. Each of these comes with a story from the director about how they were brought into the project, along with those who fell by the wayside, including special effects legend Douglas Trumbull who was ‘not spiritual’ enough.
All of this could leave Jodorowsky coming across as something of a crackpot but his enthusiasm, combined with the slightly eccentric nature of the source material itself, somehow makes it seem perfectly suitable – even when he is talking about how he prepared his son for the role of Paul Muad’dib Atreides it makes a kind of sense.
While the main body of the film charts the pre-production of the movie that was never to be its epilogue puts things into a kind of current perspective. While the movie is clearly made with the view that Jodorowsky’s vision should have been completed and so is somewhat biased, the evidence it produces for just how influential this unmade work has been in compelling.
Of course a majority of the pre-production crew worked on Alien, most famously Dan O’Bannon and HR Giger, but there is clear evidence of visual ideas from Dune cropping up in The Terminator, Cannon Films’ Masters of the Universe (yes I was surprised by that one as well), Blade Runner, The Matrix and Prometheus, amongst others.
As previously stated Jodorowsky’s Dune is clearly onside with the director but none-the-less tells its story in a fascinating and vibrant fashion that brings it to life in a way even the best making-ofs rarely do.
Not only that but, it leaves things on a vaguely positive note as Jodorowsky comments that with all the work they did, if someone wanted to make an animated version of his movie the ground work is already done, and I for one would love to see it – despite the fact it would clearly be one of the strangest things ever committed to celluloid.