Review – The Greatest Film Never Made (“Jodorowsky’s Dune”)

Touting Dune as “the greatest science fiction movie that was never made” may not be an exaggeration. The average film goer probably never heard of Chilean-French film maker and actor Alejandro Jodorowsky.  Everyone’s heard of David Lynch’s 1984 movie Dune which was a cinematic bomb that ultimately would result in Lynch taking his name off the film and replacing it with the fake moniker “Alan Smithee”. In this quick documentary (only 85 minutes), we have the lively 84-year-old Alejandro Jodorowsky tell his tale of how he came to make the movie Dune in 1974 – or didn’t.
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A bizarre film maker in his own right who would make Fellini or Warhol look like amateurs, his previous films – the bizarre western El Topo and the strange art film The Holy Mountain – were received with cinematic praise in Europe for their visually daring and extremely odd content. When he was handed the rights to Frank Herbert’s massive tome Dune Jodorowsky jumped at the chance to make it, even though he had never read the book! Being a madcap film maker who was two-parts a lovable Svengali, and one-part a self-proclaimed cheermeister, he recruited these incredible talent for bringing out his visual concepts: Chris Foss, who drew beautiful sci-fi and fantasy novel covers, H.R. Giger, whose name is synonymous with the “bio-mechanical” look of the movie Alien, and SPFX man Dan O’Bannon who did the effects work on the movie Dark Star.

Next, he wanted certain actors and music to bring his vision to life: David Carradine was aboard, as was Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd agreed to the soundtrack, the great Orson Welles agreed, but only if his favorite chef cooked all his meals on the set, and the iconic artist Salvador Dali was inked, but only after he demanded an unimaginable $100,000 a minute and a “flaming giraffe in the corner”! And they agreed!

Jodorowsky and Foss whipped out a mammoth sized 3000 page ‘bible’ complete with costumes and storyboards that encompassed the entire scope of the movie from start to finish. Then came the arduous task of getting $15 million to make it and the studio to back it. On to Los Angeles!

Michel Seydoux called on Disney, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros, and all the major studios in town. Everyone saw it, loved it, but none of them “got it”. This was before Star Wars and the high-concept, big-budget, cerebral picture with religious overtones was acceptable. Plus the fact that Jodorowsky couldn’t stomach his film being under two hours; something the studios demanded. “I wanted it to be 12 hours! 20 hours!”, Jodorowsky complained on camera, with a big smile.

To steal a line from The Right Stuff,  “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”. That was it. No money meant no picture. It’s the only point in this documentary that we see Jodorowsky angry and frustrated as he pulls out a fistful of French francs and smash them with his fingers, showing that THIS was the only reason his masterpiece couldn’t be made. You can practically see his heart breaking again.

Continuing the story, he laughs at the 1984 version, calling it a “failure” and glad that it was. He went on to take his ideas from his storyboards and utilize them in several graphic novels that he wrote. He even jokingly laughs that he took major liberties with Frank Herbert’s novel to the point where “I raped Frank Herbert!”. In the end, Jodorowsky wishes that his magnum opus storyboard be turned into an animated feature film some day, which if it did, I would pay to see!

Directed by Frank Pavich, this doc is candid, very funny, and very entertaining and without all the extemporaneous junk to pad it out. We have Jodorowsky, Seydoux, and artists Foss and Giger coming forward and telling their side of the story of what could have been one helluva motion picture. The refreshing part is, NO ONE disagrees! Of all the people interviewed, there was no one person who said anything negative about the would-be project. And how many documentaries have you seen where a Siamese cat literally stops the movie so the interviewee can pick him up? Oh, yes and there’s plenty of photos and semi-animation of Jodorowsky’s Dune at which to see and oogle. Yeah, they’re that awesome!

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

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Terry Gilliam. His name is identified with the old Monty Python comedy troop and his strange and frenetic films like “Brazil“, “Time Bandits“, and “The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen“. He is also well know as a perfectionist in film making, often bucking heads with studios for his “creative vision” vs their budgetary bottom line. The can be seen on the “Brazil” DVD, where there are three versions! A TV version, a studio cut (theatrical) version, and Gilliam’s director’s cut.

But in 2000 Gilliam embarked on a movie project called, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote“, and had a film crew follow him, documenting the making of the movie. What Gilliam didn’t know was the heartaches and heartbreaks of his film going straight into the toilet as his vision was plagued by a number of personal and natural catastrophes that killed his movie. . .and we see everything that happens.

The idea was to bring the Don Quixote story (aka “Man of LaMancha“) by adding a twist to it: Gilliam and his co-writer, Tony Grisoni, decided to create their own version by way of Mark Twain’s, “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court“. The plot would figure in that Sancho Panza, Quixote’s trust servant and BFF, was to be replaced by a 21st Century marketing executive (played by Johnny Depp) who is thrown back in time and whom Quixote mistakes for Panza.

On the first day of shooting, Gilliam discovered that their location was beset by constant noise from a nearby aircraft target practice area. Gilliam kept shooting  (“We’ll fix that in post”). Then came the flash flood and the hailstorm of Biblical proportions on the second day which damaged equipment and permanently changed the appearance of the location! THEN actor Rochefort got injured with a herniated disc and couldn’t do the film anymore! Days go by but the optimistic Gilliam tries saving his movie, filming what he can but, in he end, he’s forced to admit defeat to his cast and crew and scrap his beloved project. The ended production resulted in a record $15 million insurance claim. And to watch it all go to Hell on film is just plain sad.

A wonderful, albeit unhappy documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to what went wrong. You gotta feel for Gilliam as you can see his happiness drain away like there were Dementors circling above him. On the plus side, if you ever wanted to BE a director, this is great film to watch to see the realistic, non-glamorous side of putting up a film and trying to salvage it when everything that can go wrong, does.

But, take heart! Gilliam, in his tenacity as a film maker and his “never give up” attitude has re-acquired the rights and, bless his crazy heart,  is going to try it again! Production of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” was restarted in 2008 and in 2011 he started recasting the roles with Robert Duvall as Quixote and Ewan McGregor as Sancho…  but that didn’t happen either. As of January 2014, Gilliam says he plans on shooting the movie AGAIN this September in the Canary Islands. Good luck!

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One thought on “Review – The Greatest Film Never Made (“Jodorowsky’s Dune”)

  1. Pingback: ∂| FantasyMagazine | Una clip da Ritual – Una storia psicomagica | HyperHouse

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