Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Jodorowsky's Dune

by Adam Riske
You have to see this movie!

I went into Jodorowsky’s Dune expecting a diversion and then about 20 minutes in, I sat up in my seat and thought “Wow, this movie is really working!” It is super entertaining.

I was especially surprised by this because I haven’t even seen David Lynch’s Dune (but I have listened to Patrick and Mark’s podcast on it -- have you?) and I have never read the book Dune by Frank Herbert. My history with the work of director Alejandro Jodorowsky consists of me renting the cult favorite El Topo from Netflix a few years ago and turning it off because I didn’t think I would have a way to explain why I was watching this hallucinogenic Western featuring a naked child walking in the desert if anyone walked into my living room.
As if to specifically call me out, Jodorowsky has an amazing quote about El Topo: “If you are great, El Topo is a great picture. If you are limited, El Topo is limited.” This guy knew me even better than I knew myself. Jodorowsky has also said of his movies “Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my balls.” His version of Dune, as evidenced by the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, would have had the most balls of any science fiction movie ever made. I am genuinely sad it never came to fruition. It would have either been great art and changed the landscape of science fiction or the biggest train wreck in the history of the genre. There would have been no in-between.

The documentary explores the Chilean-French Jodorowksy’s attempt to adapt and film Frank Herbert’s Dune during the mid-1970s. The collaboration would have been astounding and included participation from Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Udo Kier, artist Jean Giraud (aka Moebius), surrealist H.R. Giger (who has the greatest voice ever), fucking Dan O’Bannon and music from PINK FLOYD!!!!! and Magma – because each planet needed its own unique sound. Holy shit!
Jodorowsky says throughout the movie that he needed "spiritual warriors" to be his collaborators on Dune and his recollection of the interactions with his team and the ones deemed not worthy of Dune (including acclaimed 2001: A Space Odyssey visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull) are all fascinating and often hilarious. For example, Jodorowsky cast his own 12-year old son Brontis for the key role of Paul, but insisted the boy learn martial arts for six hours a day, seven days a week for two years before he stepped in front of the camera. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I can’t stress how funny this movie is. There’s a great passage where Jodorowsky coarsely describes what he’s doing to Frank Herbert’s vision and his universe that first had me in shock and then gave me a solid 90 second fit of giggles. This dude is all balls. The portion of the movie where the filmmaker describes the experience of seeing David Lynch’s Dune is also truly great.
But for as crazy as Jodorowsky comes off in the documentary, I certainly admire him all the same. He has such a poignant, healthy and optimistic take on the production’s failure (which he insisted be 15, maybe 20 hours long when the studio originally suggested 90 minutes). The dissolution of his Dune seeded ideas that would later be found in Star Wars, Blade Runner, Alien, Flash Gordon, Masters of the Universe and Contact to name a few (which the documentary touchingly points out parallels a ‘collective conscience’ theme that would have been part of Dune). And the great thing is Jodorowsky feels he did the best he could do and is happy that so much of his movie lived on in its own way.
Jodorowsky’s Dune makes me so happy and also immediately want to watch David Lynch’s Dune and Jodorowsky’s El Topo and The Holy Mountain. I’m trying to be brief here to avoid spoiling the movie’s many surprises, so I’ll close with this: although it’s still early in 2014, I wouldn’t be surprised to find this in my top 10 list at year's end. It’s currently out in limited release and should be on VOD and Blu-Ray later this year. See it as soon as you get the chance.

It’s one of the best movies about movies I’ve ever seen. 


  1. I'd be curious to hear what you think about Lynch's Dune. That movie fascinates me. There's a lot to admire about it, but it takes some colossal missteps along the way. Steel yourself if you're going to watch it - there are no less than 4 huge exposition dumps, one right after the other, to start things off.

  2. You should have stuck around the Music Box till midnight and caught The Holy Mountain.

    1. Don't tell me what to....oh, sorry. Time didn't work out. I saw the movie in the afternoon :-)

  3. I just saw this on Monday, right after "The Raid 2" (can you beat that for a matinee double-bill? :-P). "El Topo" and "Holy Mountain" blew me away last July when I watched them as part of 'Junesploitation' month. I've seeked other work for Jorodowsky, some of which is decent ("Fando and Lis") and other too self-indulgent (his tarrot card books). Bottom line: I'm a stone cold Jorodowsky fan and I'm looking forward to seeing as much of what he's done as I can (the Blu-ray of "Santa Sangre" is atop my kevyip pile).

    Besides all the interesting trivia about what his "Dune" might have been and all his 'spiritual warriors' crusade (the Dan O'Bannon portions of the documentary had me smiling from ear to ear), the reason "Jorodowsky's Dune" works is because Alejandro is front and center through 75% of the on-screen narration and interviews. The dude is a force of nature, sometimes profound and sometimes disarmingly hilarious (sometimes both at the same time), and it was smart of the director to just let him carry the movie on pretty much his charm alone. I think Devin Faraci was a bit underutilized though, and the movie completely sideteps the legal war that kept Jorodowsky and Michel Seydoux (producer of both the failed "Dune" and this documentary) not talking for decades (bottom line: the former says the latter sabotaged the availability of "El Topo" and "Holy Mountain" on cinemas/home video for years, costing him a lot of money).

    Not being a fan of either "Dune" the book (what I read of it before giving up) or the movie (ditto, though I've seen it at least twice) I neither lament nor cheer that this movie wasn't made, but this documentary is a neat 'what if' that serves as the perfect excuse to showcase Jorodowsky's trademark charm to a wider audience than his midnight cult flicks. As you can probably tell the movie could have featured Alejandro reading the phone book and it would have been fine by me. Jorodowsky's reaction when Lynch's "Dune" premiered in France alone will probably earn this documentary a spot in my Top 10 of 2014 list. :-)

    1. Hi, just to clarify, you're confusing Michel Seydoux & Allen Klein.

      Allen Klein bought EL TOPO and then financed and produced THE HOLY MOUNTAIN. And it was Klein and Alejandro that had the 30 year fight, resulting in the films being unavailable for over 30 years. That was a true war that went on for 3 decades. Jodo & Seydoux simply had hurt feelings and each thought that the other was angry at the other for the collapse of DUNE.

      Hope that helps!


    2. You're right, my bad. Klein and Seydoux were both on the outs with Jorodowsky for decades, but it was Klein who withheld "El Topo" and "Holy Mountain" for the longest time. Sorry! :'(

    3. By any chance, "Anonymous" Frank, you wouldn't happen to be Frank Pavich, the director of "Jodorowsky's Dune" by any chance? Just checking. :-)

    4. If this is Frank Pavich, two things - 1) Great job on the movie! and 2) Super sorry for not giving you a shout out in the review.

    5. Haha, yes this is Frank. No worries! The film is what is important, not me!! Thank you for the super kind words about it!!

  4. I of course worked with Dan and am very close to Diane, who is interviewed in the film, so your love of the film makes me feel joy.

  5. I'm really bummed this isn't getting any theatrical screenings in Halifax (yet?) because I've been dying to see it since it showed up in Doug's trailer column and your review has confirmed that it's as good as it looked.

    The Dune double-trilogy of novels are some of my favourite books and I was not very satisfied with Lynch's version - I can see why he was a good choice because the novels do have a strangeness about them but it's not really a Lynchian strangeness so it doesn't quite work as an adaptation (though it's not bad in its own right). From what I've seen and read about what Jodorowsky's Dune would have been, I think it would have captured it much better and as batshit awesome-crazy as it might seem, would have been a more faithful adaptation.

    Great review Adam - here's hoping this Halegonian gets a chance to see it on the big screen. I'll try to check out El Topo soon - Jodorowsky's challenge (am I great or limited?) has my curiousity piqued!

  6. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this gem on youtube.
    This documentary was really great fun and very insightful. Interesting how far they really came with that project.
    Although Jodorowsky´s english is often hard to understand, the guy has infectious charm and is a great storyteller. I don´t know if his "raped with love" vision would have worked but I would love to see that.
    I really like the books and I also like Lynch`s film very much, despite it`s many flaws.
    I remember leaving the cinema in 1984, surrounded by friends with big question marks on theit faces. Only my best friend and I were fascinated by this mess of a movie.
    Jodorowsky´s reaction to Lynch`s film is pretty wonderful. I laughed out loud. The guy is immensely entertaining.
    By the way, I would love to be able to scroll through his big book, watching every drawing and "seeing" the movie kind of Winding Refn describes it.