FILM REVIEW: The Impossible Dream – “Jodorowksy’s Dune”
Alejandro Jodorowksy, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Nicholas Winding Refn, Amanda Lear, Richard Stanley
Directed by Frank Pavich
City Films/Sony Pictures Classics
The greatest movie never made.
That is the message director Frank Pavich wants to convey to us with his endlessly fascinating new documentary about Chilean-French auteur Alejandro Jodorowksy’s failed attempt at making a film version of Frank Herbert’s Dune. How grand would it have been to see Jodorowsky’s version of one of the most complex and entertaining science fiction novels of them all?
Jodorowksy’s vision for this movie was one of a spiritual nature: a desire to have the audience feel like they were on some hallucinogenic, psychedelic super trip without having to take drugs. As you can imagine, Hollywood studios were probably not going to be on board with this crazy idea. The thought that a weird, well-dressed hippy director was going to transcend Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and create a whole new type of space opera was something the executives and accountants behind the big desks were not inclined to get exited about (shit, they had issues with Coppola’s The Godfather, a movie that’s fucking My Little Pony Part II compared with the insanity and ambition of Jodo’s Dune).
Of course this film would not work if it didn’t have a commanding and eccentric presence at the center, and Jodorowksy fulfills that role in spades. The man exudes confidence so much so, that during an interview he commands his cat to be silent and the cat obeys without question. Yet, he does not come off as pretentious or full of himself; in fact he has a childlike wide-eyed quality to him. He views the whole world as filled to the brim with magic. Jodorowksy had already become somewhat of a famous auteur after directing the bat shit crazy western, El Topo – the first midnight movie – and the even stranger Holy Mountain. When asked what he wanted to do next he said simply, Dune. To him, the story was the perfect vehicle to make a mind-altering religious experience. Mind you, he believed this having never actually read the novel, although he was told that it was pretty good!
Having decided that he was going to go on this journey, he recruited a group of “spiritual warriors”. This small army included Dan O’Bannon (fresh off of John Carpenter’s Dark Star), H.R. Giger (Alien monster designer and creepy dude), Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles (seduced with the promise of exquisite food on demand) and so on. Sickest cast ever. The film was going to cost $19 million (which amounts to about $90 million today). That shit was not going to happen, especially in the pre-Star Wars era.
The Pre-Star Wars era. About that… Many of the folks being interviewed in the documentary believe that if Jodorowksy’s Dune had been made before Star Wars, the era of the blockbuster would have been completely different – that is, not filled with glorified product placement movies. It’s really not hard to imagine. It is obvious in the painstakingly designed storyboards that inspiration was drawn from the designs and drawings of super geniuses Mobieus and Chris Foss. When you see films such as Star Wars, The Fifth Element, Flash Gordon or Alien, for starters, you can see Jodorowksy’s finger prints all over them.
What would have happened then? Would general audiences have embraced monumentally weird and psychedelic experiences? Would movies going forward have become a natural evolution of the odd spectacle of Jodorowksy’s Dune? Probably not. That’s wishful thinking, but maybe. If Dune had beat Star Wars to the punch, perhaps we’d be watching a film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS instead of crap like the Transformer movies.
Towards the end of the film Jodorowksy expresses his anger and frustration at the fact that studios would not allow him to make his film. I’m frustrated too.