Jodorowsky’s Dune review

Jodorowsky's Dune is a stunning documentary that tells of Alejandro Jodorowsky's attempt to bring Frank Herbert's book to life.

Jodorowsky’s Dune. Just the title is evocative. Combining one of cinema’s noted visionaries (or madmen, depending on who you ask) with one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written, even just side-by-side in a title, will raise an eyebrow or two.

Devoted science fiction fans have heard the tales of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s legendarily ambitious, never-filmed version of Frank Herbert’s classic novel whispered for decades. The work done by Alien giants H.R. Giger and Dan O’Bannon. The storyboards by Jean “Moebius” Giraud. The soundtrack by Pink Floyd. The cast that would have included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvadore Dali. It’s all true…and it’s somehow even stranger than it sounds. Jodorowsky’s Dune, from NYHC director Frank Pavich, is not only an incredibly well-researched story of the wildest movie never made, but it’s the closest we’ll ever come to actually seeing Jodorowsky’s vision for Dune.

Watch a trailer here:

Frank Pavich interviewed everyone from Jodorowsky himself, who anchors the documentary with his his equal parts charismatic and shamanistic presence (plus a lively sense of humor), to director Nicolas Winding Refn, as well as nerd journalism mainstays like Badass Digest‘s Devin Faraci. The expected talking head footage is broken up with countless archival photographs, clips from films of the era (including some notable moments from El Topo and The Holy Mountain, to help the uninitiated understand just what an Alejandro Jodorowsky Dune might have become), an appropriately psychedelic score by Kurt Stenzel, and much more. It’s the “much more” that ultimately makes Jodorwosky’s Dune such a special experience.

Legendary comic book artist, Jean “Moebius” Giraud was assigned to design and storyboard much of Dune. This he did. Nearly 1,000 pages worth. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version of Dune does, in fact, exist, in the form of an immense, illustrated hardcover book (only a few copies are known to still exist), with every scene storyboarded by Moebius, plus additional costume and set designs.

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Syd Garon and Paul Griswold take Moebius’ storyboards (as well as designs from sci-fi artist Chris Foss) and animate them, launching Jodorowsky’s Dune into a realm of psychedelic nirvana, as easy on the eye (and probably a bit easier on the mind) as any feature film version of the story could hope to be. Note to the folks who may have some say about the fate of that book: you can get (even more) fabulously rich by creating high-quality reproductions of it. Every viewing of Jodorowsky’s Dune will create an appetite for collectors and completists to possess and pore over this tome. 

The film raises the question of whether Dune, as conceived by Frank Herbert, is really filmable at all. Jodorowsky himself repeatedly admits that he never even read the book. Among the countless priceless moments on display is Jodorowsky’s account of his first viewing of David Lynch’s ill-fated adaptation, which is told in such good humor that it’s impossible to not get caught up in the moment with him.

While saying that there’s “something for everybody” on display in Jodorowsky’s Dune is a bit of an oversimplification, there is certainly something to satisfy most highly-developed weirdos. Want some rare live footage of early ’70s Pink Floyd performing “Set The Controls For the Heart of the Sun?” It’s here. Some terrifying performance-rock from their fellow ’70s progsters Magma? That’s here, too. Salvador Dali demanding a burning giraffe appear on screen with him during his performance as the Emperor? Sure. Why the hell not, right?

Here, have another trailer…

While Jodorowsky’s Dune may look like a piece that aims squarely at very specific segments of nerd culture (whether cinematic or literary), don’t underestimate its wider appeal. A sequence that traces just how much of the work done on this unmade film eventually ended up in various forms in other famed science fiction films of the next decade or so should be the final proof of that. While it’s easy to get caught up in the spectactle and humor of the tale of this impossibly ambitious, faintly ridiculous film, there’s a sadness there, as well, for a movie that took years of several artists’ lives, all for work that would never see the light of day.

Impeccably researched, brilliantly edited, and an absolute joy to watch whether you’re a general cinema fan or a science fiction obsessive, Jodorowsky’s Dune will, as Jodorowsky himself is so fond of saying throughout, “open the mind.”

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This review originally ran on March 6th, 2014.


5 out of 5