“Jodorowsky’s Dune”

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I’ve talked about David Lynch’s Dune movie and the Sci-Fi Channel’s Dune miniseries, but the most ambitious Dune adaptation never made it off the page. Jodorowsky’s Dune chronicles Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring Dune to the big screen during the 1970s. He failed, but, as the documentary argues, that failure had an enormous on science fiction in cinema. It’s certainly a fascinating look at what might have been, even if I’m not convinced a Jodorowsky Dune would have been faithful to the novel.  

Jodorowsky’s Dune presents an amazing amount of material about this “almost-movie” from over 40 years ago. But make no mistake, this is Jodorowsky’s Dune, rather than Jodorowsky’s DuneAlejandro Jodorowsky is the focus of the documentary. The documentary spends more time discussing Jodorowsky’s previous films than Frank Herbert’s novel nominally the subject of the film. Fortunately, as an interview subject, Jodorowsky is absolutely charming in an “old-school” European way. I could listen to him ramble for hours. He certainly had a passion for this film, if not the source material.

The documentary does an excellent job bringing this unfinished film to life. Jodorowsky managed to save hundreds of pieces of concept art from the production. If nothing else, Jodorowsky knew how to recruit talent. Several of the artists he hired, including H.R. Giger and Dan O’Bannon, have since become science-fiction legends. Much of the concept artwork, scripts, and other material from Jodorowsky’s Dune can be found on the Dune: Behind the Scenes website.

Kind of resembles Giger's Alien... (by H.R. Giger)
Kind of resembles Giger’s Alien…
(by H.R. Giger)

To be clear, I’m thoroughly convinced that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have butchered the novel. Jodorowsky does not come across as particularly interested in Herbert’s story. He admitted to not having read the book before agreeing to do the film and, like Lynch, clearly didn’t understand key aspects of the story (Herbert warned against charismatic leaders and would have objected to turning Paul into a Christ-like figure). Jodorowsky told the interviewer that his film would have “changed the world” and uplifted public consciousnesses, but I have a hard time imagining how it could have done so (Star Wars comes closest to having that affect on the public). Jodorowsky also tended to fixate on quirky ideas for Dune that probably would have broken the budget, such as hiring Salvador Dali to play Emperor Shaddam for the outrageous sum of $100,000 a minute.

Along these lines, I wish the documentary had spent more time interviewing scholars and authors who are intimately familiar with Frank Herbert’s Dune to get their takes. For example, what does Brian Herbert think about Jodorowsky’s plans for Dune? For that matter, what did Frank Herbert – who was alive at the time – think about Jodorowsky’s Dune?

I highly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in the history of science fiction in cinema. It’s an intriguing look into the process of making a complex film and the personalities involved. Personally, I’m glad Jodorowsky’s Dune never escaped development hell, but I’m also glad Jodorowsky’s Dune exists.

My journey through Dune continues next week with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s Houses of Dune series…

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