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Chilean surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade feature version of Frank Herbert's Dune sits atop a holy mountain (Jodorowsky pun intended) of the best motion pictures never made. It is a legend among legends and its pre-production set forth ripples that helped inspire a number of influential sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films. The sordid story of Jodorowsky’s ambitious failure has begged retelling in books, essays, editorials, and audio commentaries. The subject has been included as part of documentaries about other films – fully completed ones ( Alien and Star Wars, in particular) – but was left unexplored in terms of a stand-alone, tell-all feature documentary for far too long. I, like many fans of the story, assumed it would’ve appeared as part of a special edition DVD/Blu-ray release of David Lynch’s Dune (itself an extension of Jodorowsky’s efforts as well as a second chapter in the saga). Instead, director Frank Pavich’s film, appropriately titled Jodorowsky’s Dune, was given a theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray release via a major movie studio, Sony (under their Sony Picture Classics label).

 Jodorowsky's Dune
If I may be permitted to geek-out a bit, I find the very existence of Jodorowsky’s Dune a dream come true. Generally speaking, I’m fond enough of behind-the-scenes documentaries that I don’t have the a strict critical stance on any of them. I’ve happily sat through Daniel Farrands & Andrew Kasch’s epic explorations of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series more than once and have built a steadfast tolerance for even the fluffiest made-for-TV exposé. But stories of failed or nearly failed films are always the best. Even low-energy, talking heads-driven, just-the-facts productions (like the ones that usually end up on DVDs and Blu-rays) can be moving, Shakespearian tragedies if the story itself is interesting. Pavich could’ve rested on the strength of his story – it’s not well known outside of movie nerd circles and even those of us that know it have a strong desire to hear it again via the participants’ own words.

Fortunately for those of us with simple expectations, Pavich isn’t interested in the easy road and Jodorowsky’s Dune is a structurally smart and stylistically dynamic documentary. Without challenging his audience on the same pseudo-experimental and subversive level as Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, Pavich creates a tone poem of a film worthy of the subject matter. Jodorowsky’s intense, lofty intellectual goals are intoxicating, but he’s never too far from an adorable, humbling moment, like when he admits he just chose Dune on a whim – without having actually read Herbert’s book – or when he has a thought interrupted by a needy Siamese cat. The film moves at an intense clip, flitting between interviews, behind-the-scenes photographs, tastefully animated versions of Mœbius storyboards, and images of Chris Foss/H. R. Giger’s designs. The pace helps maintain focus and epitomizes Jodorowsky’s hectic and instinctive pre-production process. Pavich and editors Paul Docherty & Alex Ricciardi’s structural choices appear hasty, but the film is organically designed to unveil a relatively straightforward narrative that covers the doomed production in chronological order. It’s a deceptively and pleasingly conventional documentary in the end. Jodorowsky’s Dune is also a worthy celebration of the director’s work in general, but is only a primer in this regard, which, in my own selfish way, I find a little disappointing. Ideally, these 88 minutes would’ve occupied a smaller part in an epic retrospective of his entire oeuvre.

 Jodorowsky's Dune

Video


This 1.78:1, 1080p transfer is relatively consistent in terms of clarity and detail, but, like many documentaries, is at the mercy of the quality of its footage. Without finding verification of video specs, I assume that the interviews were shot using digital HD cameras. The discrepancies in brightness actually encapsulate the personalities of many of the participants (for example, the Jodorowsky interviews are shot with punchy, sun-baked backlight while the Richard Stanley interviews are lit artificially and sort of depressing).  Even with the minor differences, details are perpetually tight, colours are constantly rich, and most image elements are well-separated without any notable compression noise or edge haloes. Footage from the director’s other films is presented in the best possible quality, which means El Topo and Holy Mountain are full 1080p (though Fando y Liz isn’t even anamorphically enhanced). Other film footage, like Touch of Evil and Star Wars, is usually presented in HD as well, except samples of older television footage, which are presented at fuzzy broadcast resolution. The still art and animated footage is vivid and super-colourful with sharp edges and subtle, natural paper textures.

 Jodorowsky's Dune

Audio


Most non-nature documentaries don’t really have much of a stereo or surround enhancement, outside of maybe some expository images, but such aural stillness wouldn’t serve Jodorowsky’s Dune. This 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack actually matches the ambition of many fictional films with respect to Jodorowsky’s spacey, hallucinatory vision. There aren’t, however, many sound effects to fill-out the side and rear channel speakers and the interview dialogue remains consistently centered throughout the film. Pavich depends on first-time feature composer Kurt Stenzel’s score to create an immersive, directionally-enhanced soundtrack. This swirling and resonant keyboard music beautifully encapsulates the ‘70s/’80s electronic chic that would’ve likely accompanied the unmade film (i.e. Pink Floyd and Magma) and includes some deep, warm LFE enhancement. The track scores a few extra points for effectively, but not vulgarly, remixing the music and effects from Jodorowsky’s other films into 5.1.

 Jodorowsky's Dune

Extras


I was hoping that five or six more hours of documentary about Jodorowsky’s other films was hidden here somewhere, but, alas, I’ll have to settle for nine deleted/extended scenes that equate about half a movie in their own right (46:20, HD, no subtitles):
  • A Nice Killing
  • Costumes of Dune
  • Frank Herbert’s Novel
  • Jodorowsky and Seydoux Reunited
  • Jodorowsky on Dune’s Length
  • Jodorowsky on Hollywood
  • Jodorowsky’s Film Philosophy
  • Seydoux on Dino De Laurentiis
  • The Conception of Alia

Trailers and trailers for other Sony releases are also included.

 Jodorowsky's Dune

Overall


I doubt Jodorowsky’s Dune has any realistic chance at the Oscars next year, despite its uplifting final message about the power of creativity, but suspect it will find its audience on home video. Hopefully, any success it finds will lead to more in-depth, stand-alone documentaries on other famous failed film projects (I hear that the Kickstarter Superman Lives documentary has met its goal). Sony’s Blu-ray looks as good as expected and features a surprisingly immersive DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras look deceptively brief when listed on the back cover, but the deleted scenes are pretty extensive. If only they all had English subtitles…

 Jodorowsky's Dune

 Jodorowsky's Dune

 Jodorowsky's Dune

 Jodorowsky's Dune
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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