AFI Fest 2013: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ is a Fascinating Look at the “Greatest Movie Never Made”

By November 15, 2013
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Jodorowsky's Dune 3

What if, two years before Star Wars debuted, a different film was released that fundamentally changed the way we look at science fiction movies forever? Would the age of blockbusters have ever happened? What would movies look like now? These are questions posed in Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary that reveals in exceptional detail the vision of director Alejandro Jodorowsky as he spent years trying to adapt Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi book “Dune.” Jodorowsky’s movie holds the distinction of being one of the only cult classic films that no one has ever actually seen, considering it was never made in the first place. But despite that pesky little fact, the failed movie profoundly affected Hollywood in ways that can still be seen on screens today.

I’ve never seen any of Jodorowsky’s films, but director Frank Pavich does a great job here making sure that you don’t need to come in with any knowledge of the man beforehand. We get a nice introduction to the Chilean-born filmmaker’s wild, nontraditional style through film clips of his totally insane-looking filmography, and film critics and filmmakers set the stage leading up to this Herculean undertaking in the mid 1970s to make his version of Dune (which would have, if made, bore little resemblance to the 1982 take on the story directed by David Lynch). Most of the documentary is made up of interviews of Jodorowsky walking us through the process of creating a massive, phone book-sized outline that showcases what the entire film would have been – every shot is storyboarded, every character is designed, and the entire screenplay is finished. Pavich even adds some animation to some of the storyboards to tease us, since this is as close as we’ll come to seeing his vision come to life.

Jodorowsky's Dune 4

And what a vision it would have been. Jodorowsky recruited a dream team of crew members (whom he refers to as “spiritual warriors”) including screenwriter and special effects whiz Dan O’Bannon, eventual Alien designer H.R. Giger, and comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, all of whom when on to influence the industry in a number of ways with work that was very similar to their concepts and contributions to this failed adaptation of Dune. (Those three in particular went on to work on Alien, and as one talking head critic in the film mentions, if they didn’t made Alien, then Blade Runnerwouldn’t exist and science fiction as we know it would be completely altered). Jodorowsky also managed to wrangle a cast that included Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, and Mick Jagger. Sadly, but perhaps predictably, American studios balked at all this and wouldn’t give the director the remaining five million dollars he needed to complete his movie.

Jodorowsky's Dune 2

Revealing other details would rob you of the fun of watching the documentary for yourself, but rest assured that the filmmaker is exceptionally entertaining even if, at times, he sounds a bit kooky. (He refers to his vision of Dune as “sacred” on numerous occasions.) But keep an eye out for a section of the film in which the concept art for Duneis superimposed against sci-fi films ranging from Flash Gordon to Prometheus, and you’ll see that even though Jodorowsky’s vision never came to life in the exact way he intended, it still had a massive influence in science fiction film history.

One could say that Jodorowsky’s Dune is just a documentary about the making of a film that was never completed, but that’s like saying last year’s documentary Room 237 is just about theories surrounding The Shining. There’s something deeper going on in both films, and while Room 237 is really a study about fan culture and obsession viewed through the prism of one film, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a movie that, more than anything else, makes the case for creativity. It’s a film about bravery, cowardice, ignorance, fear, passion, and breaking boundaries; in a way, it’s the ultimate “think outside the box” story. Until next time…

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at ScreenRant.com, FirstShowing.net, MySpace.com, GeekTyrant.com, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.