Ambition beyond Cinema – Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) Review

Jodorowsky's Dune Poster

Films sometimes appear to be the battleground for the struggle between artistic vision and financial feasibility. The medium allows so much freedom for experimentation, so much scope for imagination, but also the potential for huge profits and losses. As such, the production of any film is a balancing act between the creative forces and the people with the money, and this precarious situation means that lots of films just slip through the cracks and never make it to the big screen. Jodorowsky’s Dune charts the story of one such film. A film that was based on arguably one of the greatest science-fiction novels ever written, and helmed by a director who saw no limits to cinema.

In case you haven’t heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky (I hadn’t before seeing this!), allow me to give you some background info. Jodorowsky is a Chilean-French director known for his avant-garde approach to film-making. He deals particularly in surrealism, mysticism, and religious imagery, and his films often develop cult followings whilst leaving the majority of audiences scratching their heads¬†– El Topo? The Holy Mountain? Yeah, I haven’t seen them either. The novel, Dune, was written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965 to critical acclaim and awards recognition. It has stayed popular and is now considered sci-fi royalty. No pressure then, Mr. Would-be-Adapter.

But Jodorowsky is no ordinary director. The film consists mainly of an extended interview with the man himself as he talks us through the project, and he is what makes this documentary¬†fascinating. The way he retells the story of production is captivating and his passion for the film is so apparent that you can see a twinkle in his eyes like a Chilean Santa Claus every time he talks about the astounding images that he wanted to create. His wonderfully lyrical accent only adds to his charisma and I’m pretty sure I could have listened to him talk about this project for a whole day! It’s hard not to get caught up in someone’s infectious passion, and Jodorowsky makes you believe that this film, in his own words, “Could be fantastic, no?”

Pirate vessel concept art by Chris Foss.

Pirate vessel concept art by Chris Foss.

A brief word on the film-that-never-was, seeing as it is the apparent subject of the documentary. It is nothing short of incredible. Artist H.R. Giger (before his stint on Alien) was hired along with Chris Foss and Jean Giraud for design, and together with Jodorowsky they created some stunning images (see above!). The cast list is even more impressive, along with the fortuitous circumstances in which they agreed to be a part of this zany adventure. It included, David Carradine (Bill from Kill Bill), Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Orson Welles! You start to realise that a staggering amount of work went into this project, epitomised by the huge tome that Jodorowsky leafs through during the interview – it contains the whole film in storyboard form – all 14 hours of it! It was clearly something unique for its time and would remain so even today.

In the end, the costs of the film started to escalate even before shooting had begun and Hollywood studios were scared to fund a project of such vast scope. The project was shelved, but amazingly enough, the creative ideas first conceived on Jodorowsky’s Dune filtered through to many other projects and it’s helped to shape classic sic-fi cinema from the shadows. This documentary is simply a joy to watch, especially for a sci-fi or film fan, but even more so due to the way it manages to capture the boundless ambition of Jodorowsky in attempting to create his vision of Dune. He might seem a little bit bonkers – he wanted the film to be “like the coming of a god” and “a prophet”! – but you can’t help admire an artist who wants to push beyond the boundaries. It’s an enthralling documentary and a fitting testament to Jodorowsky’s cinematic dreams.

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