Jodorowsky’s Dune

The list of legendary film projects that were never finished include versions of “Don Quixote” by Orson Welles and Terry Gilliam. The analogy between a Spanish pilgrim tilting at windmills and a filmmaker tussling with circumstances is embodied by a modern-day Don Quixote named Alejandro Jodorowsky.

A Chilean avant-garde artist-turned-director, Jodorowsky lured the Woodstock generation to midnight movies with his trippy films “El Topo” and “Holy Mountain.” In 1974, a French producer offered to fund a follow-up project. Jodorowsky chose an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel “Dune.” The director had never actually read the book, but he believed he could use it as a platform to launch a psycho-spiritual revolution.

For his epic quest, Jodorowsky assembled an army of “warriors,” most of whom he had never met before. They included the Swiss artist H.R. Giger to do character designs and St. Louisan Dan O’Bannon to handle the special effects. With his silver tongue, Jodorowsky enlisted a cast that included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Jodorowsky would star in the film with his son Brontis, who prepared by studying martial arts for several years. The soundtrack would be entrusted to an up-and-coming band called Pink Floyd.

Crucially, the director commissioned the French graphic novelist Moebius to do a storyboard version of the script. Copies of that thick manuscript were sent to the Hollywood studios. And although the movie was never made, one of the last surviving volumes is the alchemical recipe book that makes this marvelous documentary come alive.

While the wild-eyed, 84-year-old Jodorowsky describes his vision of a celluloid acid trip, documentarian Frank Pavich animates frames from the storyboards, allowing us to share the vision. Between the bluster and the sketches, the evidence suggests that Jodorowsky’s space opera about spice wars would have been far superior to the stilted “Dune” directed by David Lynch in 1984.

The irony is that Jodorowsky’s unmade “Dune” cast a spell on a generation of fanboys and filmmakers. Pavich makes a convincing case that the character designs and storyboards were incorporated into “Alien,” on which both Giger and O’Bannon worked, unrelated sci-fi flicks such as “The Terminator” and maybe even “Star Wars.”

With a mad captain at the helm, this documentary version of Jodorowsky’s “Dune” is probably more entertaining than what Hollywood would have done to it, with a clearer message: Our lives are like sands though an hourglass, so dream the impossible dream.

-JOE WILLIAMS, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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