Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014) ***

PG-13, 90 min.
Director: Frank Pavich
Featuring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Diane O’Bannon, Jean-Paul Gibon, Nicolas Winding Refn, Brontis Jodorowsky, Gary Kurtz, Chris Foss, Amanda Lear

I always felt that David Lynch was a very strange choice to direct the 1984 sci-fi epic “Dune”, an adaptation of the lauded novel by Frank Herbert. Now, I’ve never read the book, but it would seem that anyone attempting to capitalize on the success of “Star Wars” would place Lynch’s name on the bottom of the list. Well, maybe not the bottom. I would think his name would be placed only above Alejandro Jodorowsky’s.

Of course, what Lynch produced was terrible and stunk of studio intervention. It’s no surprise that before the sci-fi craze hit with “Star Wars” those studios scoffed at the idea of a Jodorowsky directed effort. Jodorowsky is best known for the films “El Topo”, “The Holy Mountain” and “Santa Sangre”. To say these aren’t mainstream movies is to drastically redefine the term “understatement.” His films are visually stunning and resemble cinematic drug trips. In fact, he claims that his vision of “Dune” was an attempt to replicate an acid trip on screen. He had surprising success in Europe with his film “The Holy Mountain” and so his producer asked him to make his dream project. That was Herbert’s “Dune”, unread by Jodorowsky when he claimed it as his dream project.

Although I haven’t read the book, after seeing “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, I suspect the book might’ve been unfilmable by any other director, at least at that time. Today, Jodorowsky’s vision of “Dune” may just be the most influential movie never made. Alejandro assembled a remarkable team of filmmakers to realize his vision. In the documentary, he explains how he made appointments with many of the top designers and writers in Hollywood, but he would only hire people who felt right. Through his gut feelings he tapped three artists who had never designed for film before, H.R. Giger, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Chris Foss, whose spaceship designs can be seen in the current theatrical release “Guardians of the Galaxy”. He brought Dan O’Bannon on for the script, who impressed him with the ultra-low budget sci-fi flick “Dark Star”. If any of those names sound familiar to you, they constitute the majority of the creative team for the 1978 movie “Alien”, probably the most directly influenced film of Jodorowsky’s “Dune”.

Frank Pavich’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune” lays out the entire planned production, mostly in Jodorowsky’s own words. What it shows is an incredible passion for a project and an incredible collaboration of artists for something that never ultimately happened. The doc leaves the why of it somewhat empty. Gary Kurtz, a producer of the “Star Wars” movies, does point out that the studios felt such an idea was too much of a financial risk, although it would’ve been nice to get more insight into the business perspective of the production. Jodorowsky and his producer both quote $15 million as their projected production cost, which was a considerable amount of money to drop on a film in the 70s, but I’m guessing most studio executives took one look at their production book and saw much more money than that in it.

Still, there is a nice sequence near the end of the film where they juxtapose the Giraud’s storyboards against scenes from dozens of other science fiction films that came later and the full influence of this non-production is felt. Without Jodorowsky’s planning for a production that never happened, many iconic scenes might never have been conceived. It’s too bad about Lynch’s “Dune” though.

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