Jodorowsky’s Dune Blu-ray Review

There are some novels that simply can’t successfully be made into motion pictures. With material far too vast and dense to convey properly over the course of two to three hours, Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune is certainly one of those literary works. Hollywood certainly has tried. David Lynch tried in 1984 to bring the Paul Atreides saga to movie screens, but that production fell victim to studio interference, demands and you guessed it, dense source material. On the plus side, the failure of Dune may have been a motivating factor for Lynch to make Blue Velvet, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Roughly a decade before Lynch gave Dune a shot Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky chose to make Herbert’s sci-fi epic his next film following his one-two cult clasics El Topo and The Holy Mountain. The filmmaker’s quest to bring his vision to the screen is the subject of Frank Pavich’s wonderful documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. Without having read a single page of the novel -he heard from a friend it was quite good-, Jodorowsky decided that his take on Dune would “expand the minds of the youth worldwide” and become an motion picture experience that would “give the viewer the hallucinatory effects of LSD without having to take the drug”.

Joining up with French producer Michel Seydoux, Jodorowsky set out to assemble the film’s cast and crew, aka “spiritual warriors”. The cast would have included his then-12-year old son Brontis, surrealist Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and David Carradine. Pink Floyd and the French progressive band Magma would be among two of the musical artists providing the film’s soundtrack (each musical artist’s contribution would represent a world), while artists H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and Jean “Moebius” Giraud worked on designing the costumes, sets, spaceships and storyboards.

With quite the team assembled, Dune was almost ready to go. Only one area remained unresolved: the necessary money to mount the production. Seydoux and Jodorowsky shopped the project around to every film studio, pitching their project with a huge hardcover book of sketches and extensive storyboards. The studios liked what they saw but feared that considering how expensive the film would be and how inexperienced Jodorowsky was within the Hollywood system; Dune would go wildly over budget.

Given what Jodorowsky had in mind, the movie would also be ridiculously long and in the end, not very profitable. While it was here that Jodorowsky’s ambitious Dune project met its end, it was the start of the project’s long-term impact on Hollywood. The ideas contained within those giant production books, twenty were produced and distributed to various studios, served as the inspiration for elements in genre films from the original Star Wars all the way up to the recent Prometheus. Many of the artists that Jodorowsky had assembled for Dune wound up working in Hollywood and becoming successful in the process. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is many things, including an involving, highly entertaining chronicle of unique artists on the long, strange journey to “The Greatest Film Never Made”. The animated, truly “out there” Jodorowsky (who was 84 when most of this documentary was filmed), Seydoux, Giger, filmmakers and film journalists such as Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), Richard Stanley (Hardware), Drew McWeeney of and Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz offer interesting insight into Jodorosky, his career, Dune’sproduction history and the legacy the project has had on the industry.

It also serves as a cautionary tale on the world of filmmaking, and how even the most thought-out projects can meet an immediate end in the blink of an eye. While the hurdles and eventual dead end that Jodorowsky encountered in his attempts to bring Dune to the screen is enough to make any budding artist reconsider their career choices, one cannot help but also oddly feel inspired by all of this.

Where does that motivation come from? Why, Jodorowsky himself of course. Despite having a dream project implode right in front of his eyes and having to relive the whole ordeal four decades later, Jodorowsky presents himself as the ultimate optimist. He even thinks that there is the possibility, however slight it may be, that his version of Dune may eventually be made someday (at one point, he mentions an animated version).

Even if you’re not a filmmaker, you can’t help but feel inspired by the artistic ambition, hugely positive attitude and Zen-like ability to let things go of past failures and simply move on he weaves through his wonderful stories. Who knows what his career would have been like had Dune been made into a film, and who knows how that movie would have turned out. In a strange way, maybe it’s a good thing that the project did fall apart. Not only did it motivate Jodorowsky to go back to the small, esoteric filmmaking he made his name on, he also became a prolific author in the process. We also got one of the most entertaining documentaries on the art of filmmaking in quite some time.

The High Definition Presentation

Jodorowsky’s Dune is given a solid blu-ray presentation from Sony Home Video. The 1.78:1 image uses a range of footage that ranges from brand-new interviews -which look quite nice- to film footage from the 60s to 80s that range from good to merely okay. The conceptual art and storyboards also look quite impressive. There’s not too much to say about the 5.1 DTS HD-MA audio track since this is a film that largely consists of center-channel dialogue, which sounds great. There are the occasional uses of the side and rear channels, mostly for music and effects, but nothing that is out of the ordinary. There are no authoring issues to speak of. This is another fine presentation from Sony Home Video

Beyond the Feature

Not a tremendous amount to be had here, but what is included still makes for an interesting watch. The one thing that does come to mind that I wish could be included would be a still gallery of that production book that Jodorowsky had put together. Since we probably will never get a reprint released as a retail edition (you never know), it would have been pretty cool to get the content added here.

  • Deleted Scenes (46 minutes): Roughly half the length of the final cut of the film (or a third of its rough cut?) is presented here in 1080p video. There are nine scenes overall: A Nice Killing, Seydoux on Dino De Laurentis, Costumes of Dune, Dune’s Length, Frank Herbert’s Novel, Jodorowsky/Seydoux Reunited, Jodorowsky on Hollywood, Jodorowsky’s Film Philosophy and an animated storyboard entitled The Conception of Alla.

 Much of the material found in the deleted scenes is covered in parts of the final version of the documentary, but much of it is not and is great to check out. My two favorites of this collection are the reunion of Jodorosky and Seydoux in Paris and Jodorosky’s film philosophy, which is often hilarious.

  • Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes): The film’s theatrical trailer.

In the late 1960s, the Beatles owned the film rights to Lord of the Rings. They envisioned themselves starring in it and wanted Stanley Kubrick to film. Kubrick felt the material was far too dense to film and the project fell apart. Ten years later, Ralph Bashki turned into an animated feature with mixed results. Attempt three was, of course, Peter Jackson’s monumental gamble that finally got Rings right.

At some point, perhaps this may happen with Dune. Perhaps it will show up on HBO and go the Game of Thrones route. Or perhaps a filmmaker who really understands Herbert’s material will attempt a multi-film epic a la Jackson’s Rings series. Even if one does pop up at some point, it most certainly lack Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surrealistic imprint.

In the meantime, Dune and Jodorowsky fans can enjoy the strange tale that is Jodorowsky’s Dune. Fascinating, entertaining, inspirational and well worth your time, this film should be required viewing for anyone with the slightest bit of artistic ambition in their bodies. Sony Home Video’s blu-ray presentation offers up a solid video and audio and a nice selection of deleted interview bits. Jodorowsky’s Dune comes highly recommended.

out of 5

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