Frank Pavich’s documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, looks at the fantasy of an ultimate, unlikely fanboy and asks what might’ve been. At the risk of committing geek heresy, I suspect we might be better off not knowing.
Before I voice my heretical thoughts about why an actual Dune movie by the avant garde Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky might have not have been the undisputed triumph foreseen by the luminaries in Pavich’s documentary, let’s talk about what a delight this movie is.
I had the pleasure to see this documentary as a part of the Cinefamily, a Los Angeles nonprofit film series. Before the screening, Cinefamily’s head honcho said one of the movie’s best qualities was simply the inspiring presence of Jodorowsky himself. He was right. Jodorowsky’s one of those mercurial livewires who somehow has the energy of the twentysomething well into his eighties. As he was rounding up designers and actors for his production of Dune — a novel he’d never read until he agreed to direct it — he said he was looking for “warriors” to join him on a mad quest.
Hear, hear. But I’m not sure an army of Imperial Sardukar could have made Jodorowsky’s vision work.
Me, I’m a huge fan of the novel, as well as an apologist for the much-maligned David Lynch movie (both the theatrical cut and the four-hour Alan Smithee version). Let me pause and emphasize: My affection for the Lynch movie has no bearing on my feelings about the imaginary Jodorowsky version. The Lynch movie is an inscrutable mess, but I always argue that it’s the work of an artist, with impeccable production values, a pitch-perfect tone, a great cast, and some unforgettable scenes.
But it is, as said, an inscrutable mess. My suspicion about a Jodorowsky Dune is that his movie would have also been an inscrutable mess. Or a Spielberg Dune. Or a Quentin Tarantino Dune. You can see where I’m going with this. The novel’s a dense, sprawling portrait of an intricately realized far-future society, with ancient feudal conflicts, trippy ideas about time and space, all told with an healthy selection of new vocabulary that can be tough to digest. I think the novel may very well be unfilmable in any compelling way. (There’s a lot to admire in the SyFy Channel’s miniseries, but without the kooky influence of a Lynch or a Jodorowsky, the material felt inert onscreen.)
Let’s go back to Jodorowsky’s quest to populate his production with warriors. While watching him catch one big fish after another — Mick Jagger as Feyd, Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen — I chuckled at how the director was surrounding himself with the actual characters from the novel, with himself as a figurative Duke Leto. He even hired a French martial-arts expert who looked like he could’ve been Gurney Halleck in another life. Jodorowsky also hired several eminent artists to design the different aspects of his take on Herbert’s onscreen worlds: Pink Floyd, Dan O’Bannon, H.R. Geiger, Moebius. (And let’s be clear: Their production design is breathtaking.)
So what’s my problem? Here comes my heretical opinion: I feel like maybe — just maybe — hiring so many different production designers would have resulted in a jigsaw-puzzle circus of a movie; a disjointed, hectic mess with a blinding rainbow of a color palette and a bloated budget.
Credit: Badass Digest.
There’s a noticeable lack of dissenting voices in this documentary. The filmmakers speak with no one who sounds a note of caution about Jodorowsky, his techniques, or his vision. No one suggests that Dune is unfilmable, or that Jodorowsky’s movie would have wound up being just as disastrous as Lynch’s. That’s not a mortal error to omit such perspectives — after all, this documentary is more concerned with wish-fulfillment and imaginative flights of fancy; not unlike Jodorowsky himself — but it might’ve been nice to hear one person make that point.
That said, does an onscreen Dune even need to be intelligible? Hey, I love the David Lynch version, so I obviously don’t think so. Jodorowsky said he wanted to make a movie that simulated the effects of psychedelic drugs. Fine by me. I honestly think making sense is overrated; that sometimes, it’s far more important how a movie makes you feel than what it says on a literal level.
Jodorowsky clearly felt the same way. And I wish we could’ve seen his vision.