August 29, 2015


Movies

Doc epic tale of unmade Dune movie

IF you're a geek of a certain age, you've probably endured the awful 1984 David Lynch film adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 masterpiece Dune, the best-selling science-fiction novel of all time.

You may also have seen the far more watchable and faithful 2000 miniseries, Frank Herbert's Dune, written and produced for cable TV by John Harrison.

Unbeknownst to many fans of the Dune saga, there was a serious effort to bring the tale of sandworms, mind-expanding spice and interstellar politics to the big screen in the mid-1970s, several years before Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Alien opened the floodgates for big-budget, Hollywood science-fiction movies.

Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chilean-born avant-garde filmmaker renowned for a pair of acid-drenched early '70s cult movies, spent two years and more than $2 million developing a large-screen Dune that was, in hindsight, monumentally ambitious.

As a year-old documentary by Frank Pavich lovingly recounts, Jodorowsky convinced the famous surrealist Salvador Dali to play the imperial emperor, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones to play the villain Feyd Rautha -- the role taken by Sting in the David Lynch version -- and recruited a group of conceptual artists that would go on to influence several decades of Hollywood special effects and the graphic-novel industry.

Jodorowsky assembled French cartoonist Moebius, American special-effects whiz Dan O'Bannon, graphic artist Chris Foss and Swiss genius H.R. Giger to work on the visual design of a flick that likely was not technically feasible in the mid-1970s. Pink Floyd signed on to compose some of the music.

Jodorowsky wound up creating a scene-by-scene treatment of a narrative that would have adapted Herbert's source material into a film that was less about ecopolitics and more about collective consciousness.

After two years of pre-production, he couldn't get the cash to actually shoot the film, but Pavich's documentary suggests the project was not a failure.

Through interviews with a still-effusive Jodorowsky, would-be Dune producer Michel Seydoux and the recently deceased Giger, Pavich postulates the unmade movie still wound up influencing Hollywood science-fiction flicks.

The thesis is grandiose, despite the legacy left by artists Giger, O'Bannon, Foss and Moebius. Nonetheless, Pavich's account of the film-that-never-was is heartwarming and funny.

The doc is really about Jodorowsky, who exudes enthusiasm even when he realizes Lynch's Dune stank.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2014 D5

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