Dune, Doomed: The Eternal War Between Art and Business

DIRECTED BY FRANK PAVITAN/2013 (U.S. Release Date 2014)

I was recently discussing with another critic the new Robocop movie, another movie I have yet to see because, at most, it ranks about a 6 on my anticipation and excitement scale. It’d be a movie I really would expect nothing from. I’m not sure why I expect so little though, as it’s directed by Jose Padhilla, the Brazilian director of the excellent Bus 174. It occurred to me that the overbloated Robocop budget of 100 million dollars probably negated what Padhilla brought to the table. There’s no way, in my mind, the movie that Bus 174 was, could be the same with 100 million dollars of investors breathing down Padhilla’s neck.

Which begs the question I asked this critic: what is the price tag when the auteur theory goes out the window? Does it matter who the director is if the weight of the expected profits is casting a shadow over the production? The director may consider him or herself to be an artist, but as Arcade Fire say, the businessman will drink your blood like the kids in art school said they would.

A lot of these questions seemed to be on my mind and were subsequently addressed in the new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. No exact price tag was named for his failed attempt at adapting Frank Herbert’s novel, but whatever it was fell far short of director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ambition.

The documentary focuses on the Chilean filmmakers’ attempt at bringing the sci-fi epic to the big screen. The film could have been the launch of the sci-fi explosion that Star Wars ended up starting two years later. Herbert’s novel was primed to be turned into one of the first trailblazing movies of its kind. It would have started a trend that last lasted til today. Only one minor problem. Jodorowsky was slated to direct. The studio said everything was a green light, except for Jodorowsky as the director. Now may be a good time to inform the reader that Jodorowsky claims to make movies that feel like acid trips. 

Anyone who has seen El Topo or Holy Mountain has an idea of what the image for Dune might have been. Take that image and add the music of Pink Floyd, acting roles for Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger and a long opening shot inspired by Orson Welles’ famous opening shot for Touch of Evil, and you then begin to have an idea of what Jodorowsky had in store. But it was just the tip of the iceberg of a beautiful dream. The movie spends a lot of the film interviewing Jodorowsky.

Those familiar with his work may have the same reaction to him that writer Dan O’Bannon had when first meeting him: Jodorowsky not only is not incredibly weird and a sociopathic hermit, but actually seems like one of the nicest and charismatic subjects a documentary could hope for.

Director Frank Pavitan does a great job using illustrations to visualize what Jodorowsky’s movie may have looked like. He also does an impeccable job chronicling how close, yet how so far, away Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune came from being made.