One of the last films I saw at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — and consequently one I never got around to reviewing — was “Jodorowsky’s Dune.” A straightforwardly constructed but vastly entertaining movie-lore documentary about cult Chilean-born auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky’s elaborately failed quest to bring Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel “Dune” to the screen, it was one of the most audience-friendly breakouts of the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, and has now been picked up for US distribution by Sony Pictures Classics.
Of course, “Dune” was eventually filmed, to infamously unsuccessful effect, by David Lynch in 1984 — it’s still one of the signature bombs of the decade, and there’s probably a fascinating study to be made about how it came to be. Frank Pavich’s film, however, is more interested in what might have been: with the eponymous director, a garrulous, riotously eccentric 84-year-old, as his chief storyteller, “Jodorowsky’s Dune” details the evolution and dissolution of a project that was perhaps too ambitious ever to come to fruition.
Beginning in 1974, when Jodorowsky was still hot from the midnight-movie success of “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” he gradually conceived a fever-dream of a big-budget sci-fi epic, one whose planned collaborators ranged from H.R. Giger to Mick Jagger to Salvador Dali — though with Jodorowsky and his son slated to play the leads. You can probably see why it didn’t happen, though the strength of Pavich’s film is that we’re never sure how much he’s exaggerating, or even fabricating, tales of the tortured pre-production process. His own testimony is buttressed by that of multiple colleagues and admirers, ranging from Nicolas Winding Refn to Hitfix’s own Drew McWeeny.
Jodorowsky’s “Dune” may have been an impossible vision, but it has at least made for a good film in its own right — though it’s less high-concept, it should appeal to the same genre-geek audience that treasured last year’s “Room 237.” It’s a playful acquisition from Sony, and with the right marketing, could find its own cult following.
Pavich responded to news of the acquisition with the following statement: “To have my first film distributed by Sony Pictures Classics is a dream come true. I’m incredibly excited to know that we will be working alongside the company that so fully supported such great documentaries like ‘Crumb’ and ‘Searching for Sugar Man.’ SPC has seen that, even though this is a documentary about a never-completed film, it is not a story about failure. It’s a story about ambition and how the power of art can effectively change the world.”
No release date has been announced yet, but expect this one to find plenty more fans on the fall festival circuit.