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Jodorowsky's Dune

2013 | 90 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Jodorowsky's Dune


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Theatrical release date

 07 March, 2014

Country of origin

 United States



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Jodorowsky's Dune Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 3, 2013

Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

The eccentric creator of cult smashes “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” had another obsession in his life: Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi/fantasy book, “Dune.” Of course, Alejandro Jodorowsky had never actually read the novel when, in 1975, he began plans to tackle one of the most sophisticated narratives around, but that little detail wasn’t about to stop a most determined, passionate filmmaker from bringing the labyrinthine story to the screen. A lack of studio funding eventually killed the project, which is resuscitated to a certain degree in “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a sublime documentary that asks the renowned helmer, proud artist, and part-time madman to walk the audience through his vision for the greatest cinematic epic that never came to be.

Finding his soulful rhythm in avant-garde theater during the 1960s, Jodorowsky elected to take his tastes to the big screen, directing features that challenged viewers with their immersion in abstraction, causing unrest wherever they were played. 1970 gave birth to “El Topo,” the original midnight movie smash that gave Jodorowsky a platform for his artistic vision, which soon fed into 1973’s “The Holy Mountain,” an exhaustively interpretational feature that also proved remarkably profitable, attracting the attention of producer Michel Seydoux, who desperately wanted to be involved with anything Jodorowsky was planning.

Jodorowsky wanted “Dune,” and he was granted the rights, soon taking off into his own world to write the script, trying to manage as much of Herbert’s original work without actually investing in a meticulous read. To Jodorowsky, the opportunity to make “Dune” provided an opening to create his version of a prophet, feeling godly electricity as he set out to turn the saga of Paul Atreides into a baptism of universal consciousness for the audience, hoping to replicate an LSD trip without the chemical foundation. To the director, “Dune” was the culmination of his life’s work, handed material that could find a large, receptive audience eager to have their minds melted.

To construct “Dune,” Jodorowsky needed “spiritual warriors,” industry professionals who trusted in the director’s elaborate vision, helping his reach his goal. Enter special effects artist Dan O’Bannon and conceptual designers H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who dropped everything, moved to Paris, and began sculpting the look and enormity of the epic. All that effort, those paintings, storyboards (3,000 of them), and character designs were packaged in a thick book used to sell the movie to studios, trusting the sheer scale of pre-production planning would be enough for outsiders to risk money on a disobedient filmmaker. Those books are all that remains of “Dune,” gifting director Frank Pavich a wondrous visual map to follow as he tracks the development of the project, from the twinkle in Jodorowsky’s eye to the opening of David Lynch’s take on Herbert’s work, which crashed at the box office in 1984. Jodorowsky doesn’t hide his glee when recalling its failure.

As the title promises, the star of the show is Jodorowsky, now an 84-year-old man who performs emphatically for Pavich’s camera, tickled with the opportunity to share his vision with the world after watching the project drop dead in 1976. A natural performer (often starring in his own films), Jodorowsky guides the audience through the high and lows of the “Dune” pre-production time frame, including an ill-fated interview with arrogant special effects master Douglas Trumbull, the browbeating of son Brontis into years of training for his starring role as Paul, and his struggle to nail down an accurate prediction of the feature’s run time, with the helmer’s estimate ranging from 12 to 24 hours in length. The studios demanded 90 minutes.

The true highlights of the documentary arrive with talk of casting, hearing Jodorowsky share stories of his various pursuits, including a seduction of Salvatore Dali, who demanded $100,000 an hour to play the Emperor of the Known Universe. To cast Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen, Jodorowsky promised the iconic actor a private French chef to meet his gluttonous demands, while Mick Jagger was ready and willing to tart himself up as Feyd-Rautha just to be in Jodorowsky’s orbit for a moment. For music purposes, the director sought out different bands to provide the soundtrack for the Herbert universe, including Pink Floyd, who angered the helmer when they greeted Jodorowsky while munching on Big Macs.

Scanning through the artwork and script passages, it’s clear that “Dune” was on track to be a special type of blockbuster, and one that would go into production before “Star Wars.” The insanity of the project is amazing to behold, with this “raping of Frank Herbert” even building a sequence around the conception of Paul, with castrated father Leto offering wife Jessica a single drop of blood, which transforms into semen used to bring the future Kwisatz Haderach to life. Wow. The way Jodorowsky describes his film is riveting, observing a man who still hasn’t shaken the excitement of the enterprise, even after its debilitating cancelation. To add a little background chatter, appreciation from the likes of Richard Stanley (director of “Hardware”) and Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) is included, with the pair in awe over what was intended.

Hearing about “Dune” in this documentary makes one wish that Jodorowsky was able to follow through and create his magnum opus, just to see what in the world he would’ve ultimately surrendered when faced with financial and technical demands. “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is the next best thing, especially when there’s so much visual evidence to help picture what might have been. It’s an outstanding feature, and must-see for film nerds everywhere.

Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Richard Stanley
Director: Frank Pavich

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