‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ – the epic never made on Max

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) is probably not “the greatest science film never made,” as the movie poster tagline insists, but this journey through the most improbable screen epic embarked upon in the seventies isn’t really about mourning what could have been.

Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of the aggressively trippy cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain, is a spellbinder of a storyteller and it’s not hard to get caught up in the vision he spins of his dream adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, which he and his producer, Michel Seydoux, managed to option in the 1970s. With his artistic idealism and beaming smile (the man lights up with creative energy whenever he starts describing his vision of the film), Jodorowsky’s enthusiasm is intoxicating. It’s no wonder he attracted such a passionately loyal and dedicated team of collaborators—his “warriors,” as he called them—along the way, including artists Jean “Moebius” Girard, H.R. Giger, and Chris Foss, special effects designer Dan O’Bannon, and actors Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dali.

Filmmaker Frank Pavich gets caught up in the dreams of the Jodorowsky and his warriors, and gives a spotlight to the hyperbole of commentators like Richard Stanley and Nicolas Winding Refn, filmmakers who proclaim the project is some kind of lost masterpiece so visionary that Hollywood was scared of the possibilities. But he also gives voice to the more measured response of the Hollywood studios via producer Gary Kurtz.

Any practical look at the project finds a rickety foundation built on promises rather than contracts, a budget insufficient to meet the scope of Jodorowsky’s ideas, and elaborate special effects beyond anything Hollywood would accomplish for years to come. And that doesn’t even address Jodorowsky’s utter dismissal of studio concerns of his ability to create a commercial film for the millions of dollars he was asking for. He was ready to make a 12-hour epic if that’s what his muse demanded.



What’s most interesting is not that the project failed to get made but that it got as far as it did and Jodorowsky and Pavich let us revel in the conceptual art, costume and character designs, storyboards, musical concepts, and other elements that Jodorowsky pulled together for his presentation. He gives us an art movie of a space opera with a spiritual message and a mad poetry to its execution. And rather than treat this as a wake for a stillborn film (as many of the interview subjects do), Jodorowsky celebrates the entire endeavor as a creative effort in its own right, which inspired ideas that he used in other projects.

It’s unlikely that Jodorowsky could have brought to the screen anything resembling the grand vision he shares with us given his resources and the technology of the era. Yet it is exciting to imagine, and that imagination is what powers the film: the sense of artistic freedom, idealism, freewheeling creativity at work in the preparation, and the excitement he raised in his warriors, inspiring them to imagine beyond what had been done before. That is a work of art in its own right.

Rated PG-13

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Jodorowsky’s Dune [Blu-ray + DVD]

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The Blu-ray+DVD Combo also includes 46 minutes of deleted scenes, or rather expanded sections that explore elements of the project in more detail than the finished film allows.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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