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Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, and H.R. Giger
Length: 90 min
Label: Sony Pictures
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Upcoming Sony Pictures Previews
Chances are if you hadn’t heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky before last year’s documentary hit Jodorowsky’s Dune you’d seen his influence in some of your favorite films. The French-Chilean avant-garde director, playwright, comic book author, self-ascribed tarot expert, and “atheistic mystic” has influenced the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, David Lynch, and Ridley Scott. Known primarily for hyper-sexual, often violent, surrealist films such as El Topo, Sante Sangre, and The Holy Mountain, those who knew him never expected the director to make a world-renowned, blockbuster sci-fi film. In 1974, however, Jodo (as he was known by friends) set out to do just that, attempting, and failing, to adapt Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction classic, Dune. Sony Pictures’ Blu-Ray and DVD combo release of the documentary highlights the bombastic director’s admirable, revolutionary, albeit completely insane, attempt at “raping Frank Herbert with love.”
Director Frank Pavich does a near-perfect job of retelling the history of perhaps the greatest film that never was. Combining interviews with Jodorowsky himself, his son, the cast, producers, and crew (including the late H.R. Giger and renowned concept artist Chris Foss), the film allows its viewers to come as close to visualizing the epic film as possible without actually seeing a single frame. The documentary takes a simple, linear narrative to detail the rather complex and scattered story of the troubled film’s production, starting with a summation of Jodorowsky’s earlier work and leading all the way through to the scrapping of his adaptation.
Initial questions about how such an obscure art-house director could amass one of the strangest teams ever are quickly answered through interviews with Jodorowsky himself. It’s easy to see how the eclectic group artists and financiers including Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, and Salvador Dali were swayed by the director’s inherent charisma, intelligence, and charm. The 84-year-old Jodorowsky gleefully retells his project’s history with an energy most children couldn’t muster, detailing his near-mystical, chance encounters with crew and musicians hired for the film. Frequent instances of unabashed bribery probably didn’t hurt either as there were certainly a few grandiose promises made to some of the more difficult celebrities—at various points, Jodo swore to make Dali the highest-paid actor of all time, and later, vowed to hire Welles’ favorite chef to personally cater all his meals; expenses would be worried about later.
As much as Jodorowsky was the driving force behind the project, the documentary is careful to bring in numerous other voices—producers, composers, stunt trainers—to help contextualize the film’s narrative. Some of the best points in the story come from the moments when it’s apparent that everyone, not just the obsessive director, were wholeheartedly invested in the project and the impact they hoped to make on audiences. It’s somewhat astounding to watch and listen to nearly a dozen diverse, seminal artistic voices all agree that they wanted to make a film to “spiritually awaken” the world, but it’s clear that there was some rare form of chemistry at work during the movie’s production, which few have replicated since.
One of the best aspects of the film is its animation of many of Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s original storyboard sketches. These simple motion comics, along with their context descriptions, allow one to gain a much better visual sense of Jodorowsky’s style and approach for the world of Dune and its inhabitants. While simple still frames and the documentary’s narration would probably have sufficed, it is nice to see what the rough outline of what creators intended for the screen.
What’s perhaps most interesting in Pavich’s film is Jodorowsky’s dichotomy. He appears simultaneously a giving, joyful, communal humanist, as well as a bullheaded, self-aggrandizing artiste. He often waxes philosophical about the nature of filmmaking and the role of their authors and artists, but is clearly such a populist that he feels these higher aspirations can, and should, be understood by the masses. As much as the adaptation was his project, nearly all involved in the production mention his uniquely hands-off approach to their responsibilities. He trusted others to help realize his vision, and it was this loyalty that carried film’s development until the end.
This isn’t to say Jordorowsky was a perfect artistic and spiritual guru. The film does not shy away from the instances in which the director shows his harsher, unforgiving side, including the brief flares of anger when remembering the demise of his labor of love. Most notably, this is highlighted in his treatment of his son, Brontis, whom he cast as Dune‘s protagonist, Paul Atreides, in a somewhat unsurprising bout of nepotism. For nearly two years, Jodorowsky insisted his son train six days a week with an “unmerciful” instructor to transform into one of the “spiritual warriors” he insists was required for the film. There is also the aforementioned explanation of artistic adaptation and creation as the rape of a the subject matter, which Jodorowsky appears fully comfortable with sticking to, even after he realizes his declaration’s horrendous absurdity.
All in all, however, Jordorowsky’s Dune is a fascinating look at one of the strangest, most forward-thinking, and potentially revolutionary abandoned films ever attempted. The director himself, while filling the role of eccentric, monomaniacal artist to a tee, is a constant fascination, someone who you can’t help but want to watch and listen to more. Seeing the unmade project’s far-reaching influence on its crew, and thereby on modern science fiction and horror, is equally impressive, and is only further evidence of the documentary’s required viewing.
The 1.78:1 1080p Blu-Ray transfer of Jordorowsky’s Dune gives a nice, polished sheen to an already tight film. While the cinematography is nothing out of the ordinary for standard documentary filmmaking, Syd Garon and Paul Griswold’s animation provides an excellent touch to the movie, albeit with occasional visual lagging in the transfer. Additionally, there are a number of instances in which the intermittent subtitles’ white font is difficult to discern against the storyboard sequences’ light backdrops.
One of the most subtle, but effective, layers to the documentary is Kurt Stenzel’s soundtrack, a lush, vibrant space-synth orchestration that alludes to Vangelis’ later work on Blade Runner. The quality of the songs are only enhanced by the Blu-Ray edition’s dedication to capturing the tonality properly. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix allows all of the elements to shine, balancing the dialogue and music properly.
Only featured on this Blu-Ray release are the original theatrical trailer, a few deleted scenes, and previews for upcoming Sony releases. For a documentary, and a recent one at that, it is hard to imagine what else could be added, but something still feels a bit missing. Either way, what is present is appreciated, granting a slightly closer view into the film that never was.
While the special features are scant with the release, featuring only a handful of deleted scenes, Jodorowsky’s Dune is enough of a spectacle to be enjoyed on its own. The depth of the story’s retelling, paired with simple, excellent animation and a wonderful soundtrack sharpened in the Blu-Ray edition make it essential viewing regarding one of the Hollywood industry’s more obscure, weird tales.