by Robert Barlow
When Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky set out in 1975 to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, he had one goal – to change the world. Even though a single frame of film was never actually shot, Jodorowsky not only met his goal, but influenced a generation of filmmakers who would shape the world of science fiction as we know it today.
The amazing story of how this all happened is told in director Frank Pavich’s new documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, which is only playing at The Little Theatre until tomorrow. The documentary chronicles how Jodorowsky, whose films El Topo and The Holy Mountain launched and ultimately defined the midnight movie phenomenon, began work on his most ambitious project.
Jodorowsky assembled a team of “spiritual warriors” to achieve his goal. The team included Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd, Dan O’Bannon, HR Giger and Jean 'Moebius' Giraud. This group of creative artists banded together, not only in full support of Jodorowsky’s vision, but in a deeper spiritual view of the world as well.
A large and meticulously crafted book was created, which featured perhaps the most elaborate pre-production phase of any movie ever conceived. Costume and makeup designs, planetary systems and worlds, camera movements and storyboards for every single shot were sketched out. All that was left was to get a green light and funding to actually shoot the picture – but that never happened. Every movie studio, although loving what they saw, passed on the project.
The way Jodorowsky handles this rejection is the heart and soul of what makes Jodorowsky’s Dune so inspiring. Only once in the documentary does Jodorowsky allow anger to overwhelm him and that point occurs when he discusses the eventual film adaptation of Dune made by director David Lynch.
Near the end of the documentary, Jodorowsky’s legacy is evident as shots from films including Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner and Contact are compared to sketches from the pre-production book created by Jodorowsky and his team. In most instances, the shots are identical. In Alien, members of Jodorowsky’s team including O’Bannon and Giger, went on to write the screenplay for the film and win an Academy Award for visual effects.
After watching and experiencing Jodorowsky’s Dune, I can easily say that it is the best documentary ever made about a film that was never made. During a Q&A session via Skype with director Frank Pavich, after a screening of the film on Saturday, April 26, Pavich talked about the spiritual aura that surrounds Jodorowsky and every one that comes in contact with him. That aura is infectious. It came through the screen, and I left the theater feeling more inspired I have in a very long time.
Robert Barlow is currently finishing his degree at St. John Fisher College. He left college early to write for Messenger Post newspapers, covering everything from murder trials and town government to film festivals and concerts. He is a self-professed movie geek and has attended the Toronto International Film Festival for 10 years.