Jodorowsky’s Dune

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is a documentary about the greatest movie never made. Its first achievement is in convincing us this film is as great, as ambitious and as influential as the people involved would have you believe.

Its more impressive feat however is in making the case for cinema and the need to have spirituality, ambition and madness within every frame. “Jodorowsky’s Dune” will scratch the itch of the curious filmmaker and industry man who wants to hear a juicy, behind the scenes story of a troubled production, but it will turn them into cinephiles with the appreciation for real genius and vision.

Frank Pavich directs this account of the mad genius Alejandro Jodorowsky, a cult filmmaker from Chile who made outrageous and acclaimed midnight movies in the ‘70s, including “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain”. Following the success of those films, he sought to adapt the sprawling novel by Frank Herbert, “Dune.” Jodorowsky had never even read the book, but he knew it to be something more than a story; it was an entirely contained universe set in space, and he wanted to create another world separate from literature or from cinema.

Jodorowsky, now a charmingly eccentric 85-years-old, compared himself to Welles and Kubrick and set out with the goal of surpassing them. To him, he was only limited by his visionary imagination, and Pavich captures the workings of his mind in glorious displays of animation, bringing Jodorowsky’s many colorful sketches of intergalactic palaces, cruisers and villains to life in a way that does justice to the film that could’ve been.

In choosing to make “Dune”, he wanted to assemble not just a team but rather an army of “spiritual warriors,” people with ambition and vision as great as his. Dozens of his cohorts show up here and speak to how this madman wowed him all those years ago and convinced them to join this film that was so far just an idea. Jodorowsky even says no to Douglas Trumbull, then the best special effects artist in Hollywood who worked on “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Trumbull’s approach was more rigid, technical and workmanlike, and Jodorowsky makes the case that passion is that much more important when it comes to filmmaking.

The stories keep coming: Jodorowsky berated Pink Floyd for eating hamburgers in Abbey Road studios when he went to meet them. Mick Jagger made a B-line to him at a party and was immediately locked in for a part. Salvador Dali demanded to be the highest paid actor in the history of film, and Jodorowsky fleeced him by offering to pay him by the minute, of which in the film he’d appear in only about five. When meeting with Orson Welles at a restaurant, Jodorowsky proclaimed he’d hire the chef of the restaurant to prepare food for Welles every day if he agreed to act in it, and he said yes.

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is often a riot, full of nerdy tidbits and outrageous anecdotes that include living legends of the art and film world. But its capper is that all of these legends, including people like H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and Dan O’Bannon, took their unused ideas and went on to make “Star Wars” and “Alien,” inspiring countless sci-fi films that have shaped modern movie making in countless ways.

“Dreams change the world also”, Jodorowsky says. But is it the dreams or the dreamers who leave the biggest lasting influence? Pavich’s film makes a strong case for both.

3 ½ stars

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