Release Date: March 21, 2014 (Limited)
Director: Frank Pavich
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10
In 1984, Universal Studios released David Lynch’s ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction literary classic Dune. It was certainly a flawed production that has its fair share of defenders, this viewer included, who despite the perplexing narrative found something to like about it. For a generation, the Sci-Fi channel mini-series didn’t air until 2000, this was the first true adaptation of the novel. The film also provided fans with an idea of how Star Wars Episode VI: Revenge of the Jedi could have turned out with Lynch at the helm. However, it turns out Lynch and company wasn’t the first to take a crack at Herbert’s novel. In fact, nearly a decade before one filmmaker was ready to bring Dune to the big screen in what promised to be the biggest sci-fi production since Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey. Frank Pavich’s highly entertaining documentary takes viewers behind the scenes of the film that never was, Jodorowsky’s Dune.
In the early 1970s, director Alejandro Jodorowsky attained cult status with his films El Topo and Holy Mountain. His style, stories and ambition won over film lovers across the globe. When asked what he wanted to make next he immediately said Dune. Jodorowsky set out to make the most ambitious science-fiction film ever made. In his own words he wanted to “create a prophet to change the young mind of all the world.” Jodorowsky set out to get the best artists and actors who will bring his vision of Dune to life. His many choices were brilliant and eyebrow-raising. Jodorowsky’s Dune takes viewers through the process from inception to casting to preproduction to the film ultimately falling into development hell.
Pavich’s film ranks amongst the best of the documentaries about failed or troubled productions. Heart of Darkness, Burden of Dreams and Lost in LaMancha are three go-to films when one wants to take a behind the scenes look at the making or unmaking of a film. Pavich allows his subject to just let go and it’s not difficult to get caught up in Jodorowky’s exuberance about the project. He draws you in as he talks about the story and what he wanted to do with it. The film looks at how Jodorowsky put together some of the top sci-fi artists to help visualize his film. It also looks at Jodorowsky’s casting process and how he filled the roles with names one would not immediately associate with the character. The fact that they said “yes” is not as amazing as how he got them to come on board. You can’t help but salivate at the thought of the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen as played by one particular actor. Of course, it looks at the expected downturn as the film faded into obscurity but not before Jodorowsky shares his opinions of Lynch’s film.
The film features numerous interviews, some of them from archived footage, with many of the people involved in the production. Jodorowsky being the master storyteller spins one fascinating yarn after another. The talking-head segments are never dull but prove to be enlightening and often quite funny. There are numerous animated sequences that give an idea of what scenes would have looked like. As simple as they were, Jodorowsky’s vision comes through. Paul Docherty and Alex Ricciardi did a fine job of editing all of the footage and interviews together into a solid chronological narrative.
This film is a fantastic look at the making of a big budget film and the pitfalls one may face as the production goes forward. One will likely find a newer appreciation for Jodorowsky as his excitement for the material is infectious and you will likely walk away frustrated by not being able to see what could have been. Who knows if the film could have turned out as good as he hoped or even be as good as Lynch’s version but it certainly would have been a trend setting, unique vision. His was a vision that has left its footprint on countless films to follow and believe it or not we may not have had some of the sci-fi classics we know and love today if not for this failed production. This is a fascinating, entertaining look at the greatest science-fiction film never made. If you’re a fan of Jodorowsky it’s a must see.