Wow. I mean, seriously — just wow.
For a movie about a movie that never was, it just doesn’t get any more jaw-droppingly awesome than director Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures — image and sound quality both superb, no real extras offered to speak of), an in-depth accounting of, quite likely, the greatest film never made. And if that’s me giving away my hand too early and causing you to skip the rest of this review now that you know the final verdict, so be it. As long as you’re heading off to buy or rent or (legally, of course) download this thing immediately, I don’t mind in the least.
Most readers of this site are probably well familiar with the work of visionary Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky already — films like Fando Y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre are uniquely surreal visual and thematic feasts for both the eyes and the mind that will forever change the way you look at what movies can not just accomplish, but be, and I trust they need no real introduction around these parts. But his greatest, most sprawling, most immersive, and most reality-bending work probably never made it to the screen at all. I’m speaking, of course, about his aborted effort to adapt Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction novel Dune for the acid-heads and other seekers of higher consciousness in the mid 1970s. And damn, is it a shame this thing never got made — but the reasons why it didn’t make for an absolutely fascinating flick all by themselves.
To Pavich’s credit, though, there’s a lot more to Jodorowsky’s Dune than a simple lamentation of what didn’t pan out, and his film is at its best when attempting to piece together, by way of both personal reminiscences and the displaying of actual, unearthed artifacts, what was going to be. Jodorowsky himself seems as keenly “tuned in” to the subject as he was back in 1974 when the whole ball got rolling, and hearing him talk about how we was attempting to assemble an army of “spiritual warriors” who could bring to the project the je ne sais quoi he was looking for, as opposed to the sort of dry tacticians who could get the film “in the can,” is flat-out amazing. And what an army he was building : David Carradine, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, and Orson Welles among his actors. Jean “Moebius” Giraud on storyboards. H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, and Chris Foss on designs, sets, and special effects. Pink Floyd scoring the soundtrack. This one was going to have it all.
Until it had nothing. We’ve heard the expression “too big to fail” in relation to banks and other financial institutions all to often lately, but the overwhelming sense one gets from leaning about Jodorowsky’s nipped-in-the-bud project is that it was too big to succeed — hell, maybe too big to ever even happen. Which, of course, is what ultimately came to pass (or didn’t come to pass, as the case may be). Still — watching Moebius’ preliminary sketches animated here for the first time, we do, perhaps, get a fleeting glimpse of what might have been, and that’s pretty damn amazing in and of itself.
When taking in Jodorowsky’s Dune one never gets a sense of tragedy, though, even if the project’s fate is known from the outset. Rather, this film is testament to the awe-inspiring might of imagination, and proves the old adage that it’s better to dream big and come up short than never to dream at all. Preparations for the film positively infected every aspect of the director’s life, even down to how he was raising his son, Brontis (who was to star as Paul Atreides), and we come to understand that our guy Alejandro is one of those people for whom no separation exists between the artist and his art. How he hasn’t gone completely bonkers I have no idea — or maybe he has and just hides it well during interviews?
Dune eventually made it to the big screen, of course, courtesy of another maverick cinematic visionary you might have heard of named David Lynch, and while I absolutely love that film, I dearly wish this one had been made, as well. Or instead, Whatever the case may be.
As a matter of fact, I’m looking over at my DVD shelves right now and wishing Jodorowsky’s Dune was there. It’s not, of course, and that makes me kinda sad. But Jodorowsky’s Dune is, and that makes me very happy indeed.