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USA 2014
Directed by
Frank Pavich
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

Jodorowsky's Dune

Synopsis: The untold story of one of science fiction cinema’s most legendary unmade films, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s vision of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Dune is a notorious film amongst science fiction fans. Twenty years ago David Lynch took enormous liberties with the source material and delivered a version that’s both visually stunning and narratively lacklustre. But before his glorious trainwreck arrived, another attempt came close to being realised, by a director just as notoriously eccentric.  Here, Jodorowsky himself narrates the story of how his vision almost came to be, and what it would have been like. And I have no doubt it would have been just as controversial amongst fans. As Jodorowsky talks about the story he wanted to tell, you can’t help but think he’s a madman. He wanted to create the cinematic equivalent of an LSD trip, and make the film into a religious experience that, in his words would herald the arrival of a cinematographical god. His ambition was enormous, to say the least. Sadly the best we’ve got of this ambition is a wonderful documentary in which he tells us about what might have been.

What’s equally fascinating is who else Jodorowsky managed to bring together in the pursuit of his vision. Frank Pavich structures his film a bit like a heist movie, as the principals identify their roles and then gather to take their mark. Jodorowsky needed concept artists, so he found Moebius (Jean Giraud), Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. And when Jorodorowsky hires his special effects supervisor, things become very interesting. After a disastrous meeting with Douglas Trumbull, he sees John Carpenter’s Dark Star and decides to hire co-writer, editor and production designer Dan O’Bannon as his effects guy. O’Bannon is probably better known as the writer of Alien.

And it’s here that you realise the huge importance of this failed movie project. Because while Jodorowsky may have fallen away from the cinematic limelight, behind the scenes his efforts gave birth to modern science fiction cinema. O’Bannon wrote Alien, and then Giger designed the creature. Moebius also worked as a concept artist on Alien, and his graphic novel The Airtight Garage was a key design influence on Ridley Scott’s next film, Blade Runner, which arguably defined the look of science fiction cinema for decades to come. Foss may not have risen to the same level of prominence, but you can see his design work in the recent Guardians Of The Galaxy, and there are plenty of films that owe his work a debt even if he didn’t work directly on them. Pretty much any science fiction paperback of the 1960s and 70s features his art. The influence this design team had on modern science fiction cinema is simply awesome.

But that’s not all there is going on. Jodorowsky himself is a fascinating person, and his enthusiasm for the project remains incredibly infectious. The stories of how he courted Salvador Dali to play the Emperor and the ruthless way he trained his son to play the central role of Paul Atreides are kind of jaw-dropping.

By the end of Jodorowsky’s Dune, you’ll be heartbroken that they came so close to making the film but couldn’t quite get it across the line. The only consolation is that we have this fascinating documentary to keep the legenf alive.




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