Skip to main content

"Did you find, in your life, a clock in the sand?"

Jodorowsky’s Dune
(2013)

The overriding response elicited by this documentary on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ultimately doomed attempt to make a version of Dune in the mid-70s is amazement that it got as far as it did, that he managed to assemble so many talents and stars and two-thirds of financing before the behemoth went belly-up. Because what he was attempting seemed impossible, particularly with hindsight.


Jodorowsky’s budget was about $15m, $70m in today’s terms, and the lately-disgraced Devin Faraci (one of the talking heads) notes the director wanted to do things technically George Lucas wasn’t even attempting with the Star Wars prequels. In addition to filling out the cast with the kind of quirky, idiosyncratic choices of one not making a movie that needed massive box office appeal if it was to pay off (his son as Paul Atreides, graphic violence). 


On top of which, Jodorowsky didn’t play by any standard version of the rules, opting for Dan O’Bannon as the special effects supervisor (after seeing Dark Star) over Douglas Trumbull on the basis that the latter “was a big technician. But for me, he was not a spiritual person. He have nothing to do in the creation of a film who was a prophet”. He wasn’t, basically, Jodorowsky’s “spiritual warrior”, a criterion any boarding his project had to meet. O’Bannon referred to his initial impression of the director as “a very erudite lunatic”, and the Jodorowsky we see here – unsurprising given his body of finished work – does nothing to dispel that. He duly hired his twelve-year-old son Brontis and had him go through six hours of training a day for the next two years in preparation for the part; it’s interesting that he’s quite ambivalent about how “I sacrificed my son” because, on the other hand, “I opened his mind”.


But then, Jodorowsky is nothing if not idiosyncratic in every sense. Referring to the changes he made to Frank Herbert’s novel – Dune attains planetary consciousness at the end, as part of an “I’m Spartacus” moment in which Paul overcomes death and transfers his consciousness from mind to mind of the populace – he suggests “If you respect the woman, you will never have child”; he was “raping Frank Herbert” as you “rape the bride”, “But with love, with love”. 


Nicolas Winding Refn thinks the film didn’t get made because the Hollywood studios, vital in securing the last $5m of financing, were scared, but I doubt they even got that far emotively; they would have simply seen the proposal as uncommercial nonsense, as a money pit, and that’s always the yardstick; there’s even a scene in Frank Pavich’s film where Jodorowsky pulls out his wallet and says “This money. This shit” as if he refuses to understand that’s the way the movie world works (on the level he wished to enter it, anyway). He responded to the suggestion that it be ninety minutes by saying it would be fourteen hours; no one in Hollywood was going to work with that kind of personality. So it was cancelled at the point where he was ready to go from concept work to shooting (in Algeria). 


Being mad, though, the director is sanguine about the project falling apart (“Dune is in the world like a dream, but dreams change the world also”) and about David Lynch’s version (“I became happy because the picture is awful… It’s a failure”), and his suggestion that his massive Dune book of concept art and storyboards may one day become the basis for an animated film is probably right. We’ll have to see how Denis Villeneuve’s version goes first. Richard Stanley suggests Jodorowsky’s Dune was ahead of its time, but I’d only agree with that in the sense that it remains so; getting to the point where a film this demented gets financed is a long way away.


On the other hand, his assembly of talent has had a profound influence on subsequent science fiction, from Chris Fosse (Star Wars) to Moebius and Giger (Alien)… I’m not so sure about the merits of referencing Cannon’s Masters of the Universe, however. Jodorowsky’s use of different artists and musicians to characterise different planets feels particularly inspired (Giger would be doing Baron Harkonen’s sphere, as “Your art is, for me, is an ill art”). He had Pink Floyd and Magma involved, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, Salvador Dali as the Mad Emperor of the Universe and Orson Welles as Harkonen (the latter promised that, every day of the shoot, he would be able to eat as he did at a fine French restaurant, as Jodorowsky would employ the chef).


The answer Pavich presents as to how the picture got as far as it did is that Jodorowsky was able to instil in his spiritual warriors a genuine passion for his project and a vision that “They are making something important for humanity”. As Fosse puts it “You were transported”. But if Jodorowsky was going to seize his moment, it probably needed to be a few years earlier, before Hollywood began to regroup following the bewilderment the collapse of the classic studio system caused. 


2001: A Space Odyssey became a hit with the hippy crowd by accident; Jodorowsky explicitly wanted to produce an experience like taking LSD (“The film was going to change the public’s perceptions” and he hadn’t even read it when he decided he wanted to make it, as “I have a friend who say me it was fantastic”; it was a convenient material to project his ideas onto); that moment might already have passed even as he thought of it. He claims “I was opening the mind of the industry” but he really only confirmed what they didn’t want. Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fascinating document of a never-to-be, and it makes one eager for more on other doomed or development hell projects. I’ve always had a hankering to find out how far Nicolas Roeg’s Flash Gordon got before Mike Hodges took over. Of course, someone needs to make that definitive Roeg doc, period.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.