Who better to bring Frank Herbert’s novel to the screen than a filmmaker who sees himself as a messiah? Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014) Review

It’s difficult to watch “Jodorowsky’s Dune” and not come to the conclusion that, on balance, it’s probably a good thing that this motion picture adaptation of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ didn’t actually get made. Had it been made, it would have no doubt been a psychedelic, surrealist masterwork; a curate’s egg of titanic proportions which would have bestrode cinema and sci-fi for generations but at a terrible, terrible cost.

Frank Pavich’s fascinating documentary is less a dispassionate examination of the historical facts and more a wonderfully candid exploration of the creative process at its most liberated and ambitious with famed cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky as our guide and evangelist. This is no critical examination of the excesses and indulgences which raised Jodorowsky’s would-be film to dizzying heights of creativity just as it sent it hurtling away from any semblance of reality. Instead, it’s a lionisation of the man and his process, firmly pursuing a narrative that he was a misunderstood genius, decades ahead of his time.

However you might react to his oeuvre, there’s no denying the magnetism of the man himself, a wonderful concoction of infectious, bright enthusiasm and a profoundly spiritual belief in the purity of art for art’s sake. His passion for his life’s work and for this project, in particular, saturates the frame, and clearly rubbed off on the eclectic team he assembled around himself. Amongst the self-aggrandizing and sermonising, there are wonderful stories of the casting for this would-be ground-breaking epic, particularly the ultimately successful courtships of both Salvador Dali and Orson Welles who signed on after succumbing to Jodorowsky’s innovative and eccentric solicitations. Bizarre and beyond avant-garde, Jodorowsky’s idiosyncratic interpretation of Frank Herbert’s celebrated sci-fi novel would have been absolutely batshit crazy. Definitely ‘out there’ and undeniably a work of art but a great or entertaining movie? Um…

Regardless of the outcome, the creative process is fascinating to see, and there are welcome contributions and insights from some of the artists who were instrumental in realising Jodorowsky’s ultimate vision and those who have been inspired by his work. As it progresses, you start to see the real importance of the movie and why this documentary should be of interest to every sci-fi movie buff around the world. Jodorowsky’s team included the celebrated artist Chris Foss, writer Dan O’Bannon and legendary designer H R Giger. One thing the documentary shows is that H R Giger was a man of singular vision, and he managed to spin that single vision out into a very successful design career. It’s hardly a coincidence that Giger, Foss and O’Bannon all went on to work on Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, and it’s in his doomed project’s legacy that Jodorowsky’s true power and influence starts to become apparent. Having storyboarded the film in minute detail and supplied every major studio with a copy in an attempt to sell the film, all his efforts came to nought and the production was abandoned. But in death, his Dune seems to have seeded many, many other films. The documentary provides a fascinating and compelling montage of pictures from the epically detailed “Dune” storyboard and compares them to shots from films which were made years later and ultimately came to define the Sci-Fi genre.

In the documentary, Jodorowsky proclaims: ‘My ambition with Dune was tremendous. So, what I wanted was to create a prophet. I want to create a prophet… to change the young minds of all the world. For me, Dune will be the coming of a god. Artistical, cinematographical god. For me, it was not to make a picture. It was something deeper. I wanted to make something sacred, free, with new perspective.’

Arguably he succeeded, in a way he probably never would have thought possible. He did, in fact, create a Sci-Fi messiah which ‘died’ so that many, many others could live. He certainly helped nurture and hone the talents which would give us “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “Alien” and even “Guardians Of The Galaxy” to name but a few. In light of that, we can probably forgive him his moment of gleeful schadenfreude at what happened to David Lynch’s attempt to make Dune just a few years later.