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Movie Review: 'Jodorowsky's Dune' (2014)

Jodorowsky's Dune


'Alien'. 'Star Wars'.'The Terminator.' What do these classic sci-fi films have in common? They were all influenced by by a movie that never actually existed, except for the vivid storyboards shopped around to all the major Hollywood studios.

The concept art from Jodorowsky's failed 'Dune' adaptation as chronicled in new documentary; 'Jodorowsky's Dune'
The concept art from Jodorowsky's failed 'Dune' adaptation as chronicled in new documentary; 'Jodorowsky's Dune'
Alejandro Jodorowsky waxes poetic on the grand plans for his adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel 'Dune'
'Jodorowsky's' Dune review
Alejandro Jodorowsky preparing for 'Dune', the film that never was.

That aborted project would be a cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert's best selling science fiction novel 'Dune.' It was a passion project of Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky, the auteur behind unhinged, beautiful films like 'El Topo' and 'The Holy Mountain.' And the fascinating documentary 'Jodorowsky's Dune' shows how his pet project slipped through his fingers.

Jodorowsky is an engaging interviewee, forthright and wild-eyed, a mad scientist whose vision exceeded his grasp (he states that his goal was “a film that would give you hallucinations without drugs.”)

Jodorowsky secured the rights to the novel in 1974, and began his crazy quilt scheme to make the science fiction blockbuster of his dreams. He assembled a dream team of collaborators (or as he called them, "Spiritual Warriors"). Among them included screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, comic book and storyboard artist Moebius, surrealist artists Salvador Dali and H.R. Giger, and filmmaker/actor Orson Welles.

But as the documentary reveals, Jodorowsky's vision for the project was so grandiose and overreaching, that it seemed an insurmountable effort. His concepts proved too difficult to pull off in an era with primitive special effects, and his schemes for securing his cast and crew (he wooed Welles by offering to have his favorite restaurant cater his food each meal, and promised Dali $100,000 per minute of his screen time) foresaw a film that would stretch the confines of Hollywood budgets.

Nevertheless he sent his storyboards to every major studio. All were wowed by his concepts, but were uncomfortable with his freewheeling, iconoclastic approach, and declined to participate.

But there's the rub; because those storyboards, and the talent involved influenced countless iconic sci-fi films that followed. O'Bannon and Giger would go on to create 'Alien' with director Ridley Scott. And many of Jodorowsky's concepts were borrowed for films like 'Flash Gordon', 'Star Wars', 'Contact' and 'The Terminator.''

Director Frank Pavich cleverly animates many of those storyboards, giving strong indications of how ambitious and marvelous Jodorowsky's project could have become, instead of the sloppy 1984 adaptation by David Lynch that was an infamous flop (which pleased Jodorowsky as he recounts with glee).

While 'Dune' never came to pass, the sci-fi cinema we know and love today would be barren without its influence. It's an invisible imprint upon the genre; too ambitious to be made, but too vivid to be forgotten.

'Jodorowsky's Dune' is rated PG-13 and runs 90 minutes.

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