In 1975, Alejandro Jodorowsky — a Chilean/French avant-garde filmmaker best known for such cult movies as 1970’s El Topo and 1973’s The Holy Mountain — tried to turn Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 sci-fi novel Dune into a movie. But while the film never got made, the story of this spectacular failure is chronicled in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which Sony Pictures Home Entertainment are releasing as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. But this is small consolation because while the doc is engrossing, what Jodorowsky had planned for Dune would’ve been quite spectacular.
Directed by Frank Pavich, who previously made the 1999 music doc N.Y.H.C., Jodorowsky’s Dune plays out like a great, ninety-minute-long making-of featurette. But what makes it far more interesting than most featurettes — besides the fact that the movie didn’t get made — is that it really goes in depth on what Jodorowsky had planned for the film by presenting much of the concept art that was created by H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean “Moebius” Giraud. They even animated some of the storyboards.
There’s also Jodorowsky himself, an endlessly entertaining character who didn’t just want to make a sci-fi flick, he wanted to make, as he puts it, “something deeper,” a mind-altering experience in cinematic form. At one point, for instance, he meets with Douglas Trumbull, who did the special effects for 2001, but finds him to be too vain and “not a spiritual person. He have nothing to do in the creation of a film who was a prophet.”
“Prophet” being an apt term since, as we learn watching Jodorowsky’s Dune, the movie became influential even without being made. Not only did it inspire things in such movies as 1980’s Flash Gordon and 1987’s Masters Of The Universe, among others, but it also led to Alien, which was scripted and co-written by Dan O’Bannon — who was going to do the special effects for Dune — had Foss and Giraud as concept artists, and, most notably, Giger designing the title character.
Dune concept art by H.R. Giger, Courtesy of H.R. Giger/Sony Pictures Classics
What’s also crazy about Jodorowsky’s version of Dune is the proposed cast — which included Orson Welles, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, and Salvador Dali — while Pink Floyd and Magma were going to do the music. But what’s sad about Jodorowsky’s Dune, as a documentary, is that none of these people, save for a guy from Magma, are in it. Granted, Dali, Carradine, and Welles are all gone, and there’s no indication as to whether Pavich tried to interview Jagger, Carradine, Kier, or anyone in Pink Floyd and was turned down, but the documentary still seems a little shallow without them.
Only a little, though, since Jodorowsky could carry the whole thing by himself. Though it does help that Jodorowsky’s Dune features interviews with Giger and Foss, as well as audio of O’Bannon, who’s also gone, talking about working with Jodorowsky.
The other problem with Jodorowsky’s Dune is that because Jodorowsky speaks in a mix of Spanish and heavily-accented English, and many of the other people in the movie speak French, this has an abundance of subtitles. But because these subtitles are white type, they’re sometimes hard to read, since that they often appear over images are also white or light colored. Which seems like something that could easily be remedied by making them yellow or some other color that would stand out against a light background.
Ultimately, what you realize from watching Jodorowsky’s Dune is that the movie was doomed from the get-go. But not because, as Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn mistakenly asserts, “[Hollywood] was afraid of him [Jodorowsky]. They were afraid of his imagination, they were afraid of his mind, and they were afraid of what it would do to them.” No, it’s because, at the time, Jodorowsky’s proposed version of Dune wasn’t economically feasible. Maybe after Star Wars it might’ve been, but not in 1975.
Left to right: Alejandro Jodorowsky and Jean Moebius Giraud, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
As for whether you should buy the Jodorowsky’s Dune Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, that’s a bit trickier. Personally, seeing this movie once was enough, but I would say the same about most documentaries, and in fact most movies in general. That said, with Jodorowsky being so entertaining, just on his own, Jodorowsky’s Dune is entertaining in much the same way 2002’s The Kid Stays In The Picture was thanks to the equally enigmatic and engaging Robert Evans.
That said, if you are a fan of Jodorowsky’s Dune, the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack does come with nine deleted scenes, which clock in at a hearty forty-six minutes. For the most part, they’re just more of Jodorowsky talking, sometimes ranting, occasionally while storyboards or concept art is shown, which makes them well worth watching. The thing is, while I understand why some of them were cut for the movie’s theatrical release, I don’t know why some of them weren’t restored for this version. Sure, none have important information that would alter your opinion of Jodorowsky or what happened to his Dune, but they are interesting enough to warrant a slightly longer cut of the movie.
Though what’s odd about the deleted scenes is that they forgot to include subtitles for producer Michel Seydoux, who speaks French, and Jodorowsky. Which may not seem like a big deal, since you can just turn them on yourself. But if you watch these scenes individually, you have to turn them on every time, which is kind of annoying.
The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Jodorowsky’s Dune also, thankfully, includes the original trailer for this documentary. Which may not seem like a big deal, but as someone who likes watching a movie’s trailer before they watch the movie — and, more often than not, doesn’t get to do that — its inclusion was a welcome surprise.
The inclusion of the trailer does, however, make what’s missing from the Jodorowsky’s Dune Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that much more glaring. With only two copies known to still exist, it would’ve been great if this disc had included a digital version of the book Jodorowsky has of all the concept art, drawings, and storyboards. Or, at the very least, a gallery of the art shown in the film, so people don’t have to constantly pause the film to get a good look at them.
Ultimately, Jodorowsky’s Dune is engaging because Alejandro Jodorowsky is an entertaining guy and his take on Frank Herbert’s Dune was unique, not because the movie’s failure to get made was interesting; it isn’t, it was just simple economics. That we got this documentary instead is small consolation, but unto itself, it’s pretty cool.