Movie Review - Jodorowsky's Dune
Updated: Mar 12, 2023
I thought of many different ways to open this review, but really, there’s only one way to do it, a quote from the man himself. “I don’t respect the source. I won’t respect the source! It’s like with a woman. If you respect her too much, you’ll never get anywhere. You have to tear the costume off and rape her. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m raping Dune. I’m raping Frank Herbert! But with love…with love.”
What do you say in response to that?
Shine on, you crazy bastard.
Now, let’s explain what Alejandro Jodorowsky means by what he said in a less rape-y way before the Internet Feminist Enlightenment Special Forces drop down from helicopters, put a black bag over my head and drag me off for reprogramming at the Estrogen Sensitivity and Indoctrination Center. If you remain a slave to the source material, you’re going to fail. Instead, you’ve got to get inside it and fuck with it just enough. What works in the source material’s medium might not…and often does not…work in a different medium, in this case book to film. And that brings us to Jodorowsky’s Dune…the documentary and its subject, quite possibly the greatest film never made.
1974. While films like 2001 and Planet of the Apes, both from 1968, were beginning to show that mature, big-budget science fiction films not only had an audience but could make studios a fair amount of money, the subject material was mostly at home in B-movies. Having watched the Apes franchise burn itself out in the span of 6 years, the major film studios were all too aware that science fiction was still a great risk. This wouldn’t change until the release of Star Wars in 1977.
But…this is 1974.
Having come off of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky acquired the rights to make a cinematic version of Frank Herbert’s Dune. But this wasn’t due to some allegiance to the book. He wasn’t a fan. In fact, he’d never read it. A friend of his had suggested it to him…and apparently that was enough. Sound crazy? Don’t worry…that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
And so he set off…as he put it…to assemble his “holy warriors”. First up was famous French comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Moebius would storyboard the film as Jodorowsky wrote the script. Illustrator Chris Foss and artist H. R. Giger also joined the production…with Foss designing the spaceships and Giger handling the production design of the Harkonnens. The story told in the documentary about how Dan O’Bannon was recruited to design the special effects is absolutely fantastic. I won’t spoil it. I’ll simply tell you how it starts: “This…is very special marijuana…”
The film tells about how the cast and crew were assembled…each story proving to be interesting, humorous and often both. Orson Welles as the Baron Harkonnen. David Carradine as the Duke Leto Atreides. Salvador Dali as the Emperor Shaddam IV. Mick Jagger as Feyd Routha. Udo Kier as Piter de Vries. And while Jodorowsky insists that many of his first meetings with these people were strictly by chance…well, who can say? But it’s like listening to the stories from a favorite grandfather or uncle, sure, you could call bullshit, but the story is sooooo good…why would you ruin it like that? Just ride the wave and love every moment of it!
And then there’s THE BOOK. Not the actual source material…Frank Herbert’s novel. No. Only 2 copies of THE BOOK exist…and I would give up any and every part of my body...end up like one of the heads in jars on Futurama…to have one of them. THE BOOK is comprised of storyboards for every shot in the film, the script and the design work…and it’s a MASSIVE tome. Seriously…you could get a hernia lifting this damn thing, and I’d wager it could kill a man if you bonk ‘em on the head with it. THE BOOK, as it is relayed not by just Jodorowsky but the other directors interviewed in the film, contains EVERYTHING one would need to make Jodorowsky’s vision of the film come to life…even if it were made after his death. Segments of this book are brought to life in the film through simple animation of the storyboards. And that’s when it hit me…animate this! Make this into a massive animated feature. And hell, no need to send it to the box office, go straight to DVD/Blu-ray. Well, I wasn’t the only one to have that bright idea…as Jodorowsky campaigns for that as well by the end of the film.
Again, I’m recounting the stories…likely not doing them any justice. That’s the fantastic thing about this film. Sure, it’s mostly nothing more than talking heads…but those telling the stories, ESPECIALLY Jodorowsky himself, are so enchanting…so enthralling that hell, I was convinced by the end of the film that they could’ve just filmed Jodorowsky telling me the story and showing me pictures from the book like how a kindergarten teacher would read a story and I still would have absolutely adored it. Another success of this film? I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen a single one of Jodorowsky’s films. I’ve always heard film snobs brag about seeing them, recommending them and poo-pooing anyone who thinks themselves a cinemaphile and yet had never seen one. And, in typical “fuck-you-you-hipster-douchebag” fashion, I ignored them. This movie, though…this movie makes me want to see his work. And I’m fully aware that once I start that journey, I’ll be on a voyage of the bat-shit insane.
I’ll wrap up with this point. Looking back at his body of work prior…did anyone think that Peter Jackson would go on to create the Lord of the Rings films and win an Oscar? Nope. Did anyone think that Richard Donner, who had only done episodes of TV shows and the horror film The Omen could create the classic Superman: The Movie? Probably not. Did anyone think that the same guy that did American Graffiti would kick off both the blockbuster and big-budget sci-fi trends in Hollywood with Star Wars in 1977? Not likely. But back in 1974, all of these things could’ve been pre-empted. Back then, a cadre of “holy warriors” were assembled to forge Dune. When that fell through, they scattered to the winds and we got films like Alien, Tron, Blade Runner and of course, Star Wars (and many more) from those that had once been assembled by a mad Chilean/French director. It’s a shame, because, like the old clichéd phrase goes, “It’s so crazy…it just might work.” The great thing about this documentary is that you’ll leave feeling that you know what…it would have.
And…so long as both the book and THE BOOK exists…it might yet.