Cannes Film Review: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

Cannes Film Review: 'Jodorowsky’s 'Dune''

Indulging one of film history’s more entertaining 'what might have been' stories, first-timer Frank Pavich delivers his own mind-blowing cult movie.

Founded on the iffy premise, raised here by Nicolas Winding Refn, that the combination of a cult book plus a cult director would have equaled a bigger-than-“Star Wars” worldwide sci-fi sensation, “Jodorowsky’s Dune” indulges one of film history’s more entertaining “what if” stories. Before David Lynch spectacularly botched a bigscreen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” Alejandro Jodorowsky, cinema’s shaman of psychedelia, had a spectacular go at the job. Nearly 40 years later, first-time director Frank Pavich attempts to re-create that vision (in our imaginations, at least). Expect fanboys to flip and minds to be blown over the highly entertaining result.

The year was 1974. After almost singlehandedly inventing the midnight-movie phenomenon with “El Topo,” Jodorowsky had scored a second hit — in France, at least — with his massive head trip, “The Holy Mountain,” prompting producer Michel Seydoux to encourage whatever project the director might want to do next. “I didn’t read ‘Dune,’ but I had a friend who said it was fantastic,” the Chilean helmer tells Pavich nearly 40 years later, alternating between English and Spanish in an interview that plainly demonstrates how this particular fish tale has swelled over time.

If even a fraction of Jodorowsky’s claims are true, his “Dune” would have been an astounding film, and Pavich does his part by reinforcing the talking-head footage (including two of the Web’s top genre-movie gurus, Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeny) with concept sketches, character designs and the Holy Grail: one of two known surviving copies of the script, which Jodorowsky had commissioned French graphic novelist Moebius to storyboard completely. Via rudimentary animation, Pavich combines these elements to mock up several key sequences from the film, while composer Kurt Stenzel augments the entire picture with a suitably trippy score.

Here’s where things get really far-out: Still feisty at 84, the director reveals all the talent he had lined up to participate in the project, starting with Dan O’Bannon (“Dark Star”) on special effects and extending to Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger. On the casting front, Jodorowsky shares wild tales of how he allegedly got verbal agreements from David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier and a washed-up Orson Welles to accept major roles and, even more astonishingly, convinced Salvador Dali to appear in the film. Still, would you greenlight a big-budget “Dune” with such a cast of loose cannons, especially if the two principal roles were being reserved for Jodorowsky and his son Brontis?

Pavich does an admirable job tracking down surviving parties (except for the suspicious-sounding cast), opting for a humorous rather than indignant tone to the interviews. In shaping them for the film, he happens upon a compelling theory: that even in its still-born form, the film manifested the sort of collective conscious that Jodorowsky was trying to peddle through its plot, trickling down to influence other sci-fi films that followed. The evidence presented regarding details George Lucas may have stolen for “Star Wars” is unconvincing, though O’Bannon, concept artist Chris Foss and Giger did go on to collaborate on “Alien,” extending a relationship that started with “Dune.”

Could Jodorowsky have pulled it off? Certainly, few believed raunchy puppet master Peter Jackson could go from “Bad Taste” to “The Lord of the Rings,” just as Tim Burton was an unlikely choice to reinvent the “Batman” franchise. But there’s also the risk that Jodorowsky’s “Dune” would have flopped and set sci-fi back before “Star Wars” came along.

After “Dune” changed hands to producer Dino De Laurentiis, Lynch’s 1984 attempt was dismissed as impenetrable and unfaithful to the source material, criticisms that likely would have applied to Jodorowsky’s version as well. For him, Herbert’s novel was little more than the delivery device for a lunatic attempt to re-create the LSD experience on film. As the director puts it in the film’s most memorable line, “I was raping Frank Herbert, but like this, with love.”

Cannes Film Review: 'Jodorowsky's Dune'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 18, 2013. Running time: 88 MIN.


(U.S.-France) A Snowfort Pictures production in co-production with Camera One/Michel Seydoux in association with Endless Picnic. (International sales: Snowfort Pictures, Los Angeles.) Produced by Frank Pavich, Stephen Scarlata, Travis Stevens. Executive producer, Donald Rosenfeld. Co-producer, Seydoux.


Directed by Frank Pavich. Camera (color, HD), David Cavallo; editors, Alex Ricciardi, Paul Docherty; music, Kurt Stenzel; sound, Damon Cook; supervising sound editor, Jesse Flower-Ambroch; animators, Syd Garon, Paul Griswold. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 18, 2013. Running time: 88 MIN.


Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn, Diane O'Bannon, Christian Vander, Jean-Pierre Vignau. (English, Spanish, French, German dialogue)

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  1. David says:

    As a side note, Judorowski’s movie would be 16 hours of it. A lot of sand footage. Sand galore.
    And I am quite glad about Lynch’s version [way better than the most recent CGI freak accident of the 3 first Dune books]. Seriously, what is there not to love in Lynch’s version. It has all you could hope for: great actors, great scenerie, great music and thank the gods that it isn’t a literal adaptation of the book into the screen. Some things simply don’t work on screen.
    And please, the Weirding module!!!! great add!

  2. Brendan says:

    Let’s not forget how close we came to having Ridley Scott direct Dune before David Lynch was hired.
    I think that may have been the best version.

    I was a fan of the book and waited on line on opening day to see Lynch’s version.
    While Lynch’s Dune was beautiful with stunning sets and costumes and had a few great casting choices, it was an utter failure in bringing the book to the screen.
    It wasn’t just that is was a dumbed down cliff notes version of a dense and detailed novel, he added a whole new storyline and a cleaner happier ending.

  3. Cebe says:

    Gosh, I didn’t realize that I loved a “botched” movie. My opinion has always been that Lynch’s vision of the future (combined with Herbert’s) was infinitely more realistic than the gray plastic version the Lucas came up with. Sure, Dune is silly, but so is Star Wars, and Dune had a much better script. I guess I’m just gonna have to defy the haters and watch my dvd tonight. Get ready for some Orange Spice Gas! :)

  4. ben says:

    lynch botched dune … ahem – as much as I am a die hard fan of Alejandro’s and love all his work, perhaps moreso than lynch’s – if you take into consideration what work lies behind making an adaptation of Herbert’s novel, you might just realise that Lynch’s Dune is still a masterpiece in cinematographic art – its more of a pastiche than a movie, as to be honest, recreating even part of the story of Dune in film should really be done in 3 installments (and im only talking about the first film) – anyway –

  5. If not for Jodorowsky’s still-born “Dune,” it’s unlikely we would have had “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and other science-fiction films of the early 80s (at least in their present form) as Jodorowsky’s brain-trust included many of the writers, artists and special-effects whiz kids that went on to these other features (all having met each other during Jodorowsky’s “Dune” pre-production years).

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