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Jodorowsky’s Dune

Watching and listening to the mesmerizing cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky spin his tale(about his failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s “Dune” to the big screen in the mid 1970’s), it’s easy to see how the studios almost backed him. In his mid 80’s now, Mr. Jodorowsky hypnotizes you with the story of his aborted mission, sporting the energy and vitality of a man a half a century younger. No matter that it becomes obvious, rather quickly, that he had little chance of actually pulling the ambitious project off. Orson Welles! Salvador Dali! Mick Jagger! Just three of the names that Alejandro had pegged for major roles in his space opera. Music by Pink Floyd! Design and special effects by H.R. Giger and Dan O’Bannon! That duo would create “Alien” for Ridley Scott in 1979. Would Jodorowsky actually have landed this “dream team” for this proposed gargantuan motion picture? Doubtful. But OH how he weaves his yarn! In fact, more than once during this vastly entertaining, 90-minute documentary, I found myself thinking that “Jodorowsky’s Dune” could’ve been a masterpiece—if it was twice as long, and simply titled “Jodorowsky”. He remains a fascinating and charismatic artist.

It would be unfair to divulge too much of the trajectory of this chronicle from director Frank Pavich, because part of the fun is experiencing the overwhelming detail and intricate pre-production regarding this “greatest film never made”. Of course, no less a directing talent than David Lynch was the first to eventually bring “Dune” to the cinemas in 1984, and Mr. Jodorowsky is vociferous in his praise for Mr. Lynch’s ability(be sure to read all about David Lynch’s “Dune”, in last month’s entry to my “Lynch Ledger”). He then proceeds to take obvious pleasure in that film’s critical drubbing and financial failure. And can you blame him, being that his own version was thwarted? Mr. Jodorowsky, whether you respect his work or not, is unquestionably an eccentric visionary—and quite possibly some sort of mad genius. It would be criminal for any film lover to not experience his 1970 “El Topo” at least once. That “acid western” became a midnight movie phenomenon years ahead of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. In fact, it’s been said that a completely enthralled John Lennon, convinced Beatles manager Allen Klein to distribute “El Topo” throughout the United States—and a legend was born.

How much influence did the scrubbed, mid-1970’s “Dune” project have on some future sci-fi classics that did see the light of day? It’s an intriguing question that’s somewhat answered by Jodorowsky supporters, who claim to recognize his influence in “Star Wars” and “Alien”, as well as decades later releases like 1997’s “Contact” and 1999’s “The Matrix”. The fact that Alejandro’s pre-production materials and artwork were sent to all of the major Hollywood studios, makes the possibility a compelling argument. And you’ll be provided with an array of examples, to help you decide for yourself. But I, for one, am of the opinion that Jodorowsky’s version of “Dune” is better off the way it ended up. How much would it have cost? How much “weirdness” would a mainstream audience accept? Did Jodorowsky even have a prayer of completing his vision, his way? It’s nice to dream. And “Jodorowsky’s Dune” succeeds as a marvelous fantasy.     Grade:  B




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