This isn’t just going to be a review of the documentary but also a rambling piece about my love for Dune.
As you might be able to guess, I’m a massive fan of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. Not so much of the expansion of the universe by his son Brian Herbert, who managed the impressive feat of killing the greatest science-fiction franchise with the way he chose to end the main series with. But the less said about those literary abominations, the better.
In any case, as a Dune fan, I obviously have also seen David Lynch’s Dune. And it sucks. Hard. But it sucks in a way that is very near and dear to my heart. I simply cannot bring myself to hate that movie, be it the nigh incomprehensible theatrical version, or the disowned three hour, much more accessible television version now credited to Alan Smithee. They’re both colossal failures of epic proportions that have about as many problems as they have iconic moments in them. Not to mention that as an adaptation, it misses the mark by a considerable margin.
This is however where the deranged vision of Alejandro Jodorowsky comes in. Jodorowsky’s Dune is a journey through his first few movies that then centers on the failure the get his adaptation of Dune off the ground. And it’s not for a lack of trying either. The humongous tome shown in the documentary containing the whole movie drawn out in storyboards as well as countless illustrations of spaceships, characters, locations, etc. is a work of art in its own right and I dearly hope that it gets released someday so I may hold it in my own hands and experience the psychedelic nature of this unproduced masterpiece.
Outside of that, it chronicles the herculean task of securing the most awesome and preposterous cast and crew ever envisioned for a movie. Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine and Mick Jagger as actors along with legendary artists Moebius, Chris Foss and H. R. Giger doing concept and production designs as well as Dan O’Bannon for the special effects and you have the ingredients for the most glorious piece of kitschy science-fiction ever made. The way the documentary presents this movie, it appears like it would’ve been more than just that, it would’ve bordered on a religious experience. And it would’ve sucked. Hard. But again, in a way that I probably couldn’t bring myself to not love in some way.
You see, even just hearing about the ambition of this project is more than enough to conclude that it would’ve been a massive failure. Jodorowsky’s movies aren’t easily digestible at the best of times and I doubt that, even though it promised to become a cultural icon in some way, it could in all sincerity be called any good. But it would’ve been a hell of a ride to sit through.
See, from where I stand, I feel that none of the efforts to bring Dune to the big screen will ever yield a satisfactory result. People claim that many things are unfilmable, famously The Lord Of The Rings or Watchmen, both turned into great cinematic results when attempted by people who have respect for the material and the freedom to follow their creative vision.
But Dune is an entirely different beast. It’s not just a small science-fiction story, it’s basically Joseph Campbell’s Man With A Thousand Faces, A Song Of Ice and Fire and a variety of anthropological, geological, economic and political textbooks rolled into one single novel. It’s about so many different things and there’s subtext in every single paragraph of the novel that turning it into one cohesive movie is damn near impossible.
And that’s just the first book of the series. My favorite entry in the series is actually the fourth book God-Emperor Of Dune, because it’s the centerpiece the entire series rotates around. It’s a complete deconstruction of absolutely everything in the series, it takes the Campbellian monomyth and turns and twists it inside out so it becomes unrecognizable.
And it does so in the poetic words of Frank Herbert, an author who always chose his words very carefully and as a result wrote captivating stories that could make even the more ludicrous aspects of the story and the technology seem sensible.
Admirable attempts have been made to adapt the series more faithfully with the television miniseries produced for the first and second book, but even they failed to grasp the subtleties of Herbert’s writing. And in all honesty, I don’t believe Dune will ever be turned into a good movie. However, I think it could be turned into a great TV show à la Game Of Thrones, since that format would suit the nature of the novels far better and allow for enough breathing room for it to explore all the concepts Herbert touched upon with his writings.
Is Jodorowsky’s Dune worth watching? Absolutely! Even if you haven’t read the novels or watched the other adaptations, it’s a captivating piece that chronicles one of the biggest missed opportunities in film history. So many terrible by-the-numbers movies get made every year and so many horrible blockbusters go so far over budget that they never turn a profit and here we have one of the most creative pieces of cinema ever proposed to anyone and everybody who had the power and money to go ahead and actually produce it lacked the balls to do so. But the film lives on in the imagination of people who know about it and still have a sliver of hope that something this grand will ever be produced during their lifetimes.