After a year (or more, I forget) of waiting, I finally saw the much-talked about documentary about the so called “Greatest Film Never Made” on Amazon’s video service. The verdict: while the documentary was interesting, I felt that in the end Jodorowsky wouldn’t have done Dune anymore justice than David Lynch did.
Let me back up a bit. In 1975, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, embarked on an ambitious 14-hour adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal SF novel Dune (a book that needs no introduction). Jodorowsky hired some of the most visionary minds, his “spiritual warriors” as he called them, to work on the conceptual stage of his pet project: Jean Giraud (Moebius), H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Dan O’Bannon, Pink Floyd and Magma. The actors he wanted were Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and Amanda Lear. But no studio would back the film financially, nor distribute it and the project fell through.
So in 2014, a documentary film was released to selected theaters and rave reviews. Jodorowsky showed us storyboards and concept art of characters, locations and ships. There were interviews with H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Gary Kurtz, Brontis Jodorowsky, Amanda Lear, Diane O’Bannon and even various film critics and filmmakers. But there was something that bothered me throughout the film.
Most of the participants never read the book. Even Jodorowsky himself admitted he hadn’t read it:
I didn’t read Dune. But I have a friend who say to me it was fantastic.
And then Chris Foss says this:
I still haven’t read the book. No. I have no idea what the actual story is. None whatsoever. It all came through Alejandro and the script. So as far as I’m concerned, the story of Dune is what Alejandro told me it was.
The only person who was familiar with Dune was Amanda Lear, who had to explain the novel’s plot to Salvador Dali when he agreed to play the part of Emperor Shaddam IV. This sadly brought to mind a quote by another director who attempted a film adaptation and failed miserably:
Interviewer: Dino DiLaurentis came to you or brought to you Dune the project before you were even fully aware?
Lynch: I had never read…never even heard the word. I thought he said June.
So if Jodorowsky didn’t read the book what deviations did he take from the novel’s plot?
Well for starters, there’d be no romantic relationship between Duke Leto and Lady Jessica because he’s a eunuch. That’s right, he castrated. So how would Paul have been conceived? By a blood sample Jessica takes from Leto and somehow inserts into her birth canal…
Another scene involves Leto’s death. It involves Piter deVries (referred to as Peter in the film) hacking off the Duke’s limbs, asking “where are they?” (Who? Is he referring to Jessica and Paul and why would the Baron even care about their whereabouts?) with the Baron finally beheading him when he refuses to answer. No poison tooth here.
Then there’s the finale: Paul dies. He’s beheaded by the Harkonnen’s/Emperor’s forces and while they’re gloating, Jessica and every Fremen on Arrakis chants in unison (in Paul’s disembodied voice): “I am Paul, I am Paul, I am Paul,” while the planet becomes lush with plant life, drifts out of its orbit and happily spins into oblivion. This, once again brings another quote, this time from the voice of the master himself, Mr. Herbert:
Paul was a man playing god, not a god who could make it rain.
At the conclusion of the film, Jodorowsky had this to say:
I changed the ending, evidently…I did that. It was my Dune. When you make a picture you must not respect the novel. It’s like you get married, no? You go with the wife…you take the woman, if you respect the woman, you will never have child. You need to open the costume and rape the bride. And then you will have your picture. I was raping Frank Herbert, raping, like this! But with love, with love!
This statement is wrong on so many levels. No, you don’t have to be faithful to a book, scene by scene, word by word because, a) it doesn’t always work and b) it turns people off from reading the novel. But when you’re making a film adaptation of a book, you HAVE to respect your source material or else fans of the book will feel that disrespect emanating from your film and will turn those who haven’t read the book off from seeing your movie. Second, it isn’t “your Dune“, Mr. J, it’s Frank Herbert’s Dune. How would you feel if someone did a remake of El Topo and radically changed it so that it was El Topo in name only? I doubt you would like that. And finally, and most importantly, rape is NOT romance. It’s violent, it’s misogynistic, it’s about power, control and domination. Marriage is supposed to be built on respect or else there’s no love. Children are not a necessity, they’re an expression of a husbands and wife’s love for each other. The Bene Gesserit wanted Jessica to bear girls for their breeding program but Jessica instead had a boy. Why? Because she loved Duke Leto.
Lynch and Jodorowsky, two members of the Surrealist Movement, got it wrong. Dune has philosophy, religious themes, soliliquies and characters with visions but it’s not a mind-bending book. It’s actually straight-forward in it’s storytelling which is why it’s still read and loved to this day. Herbert wrote an anti-messiah story warning us about the dangers of putting too much faith in leaders (rumor has it he partly based Paul on John F. Kennedy. In his book, Eye, he blames JFK for the Vietnam War). But ironically these two filmmakers took it too literally. But that’s what happens when your not familiar with your source material. Some more appropriate SF material for surrealist filmmaking would be Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick’s later titles or any works by the authors of the then burgeoning Cyberpunk movement.
After watching this movie, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that Dune doesn’t need a moving picture adaptation. I will from now on just stick happily to the book and many, many artists’ depictions.
For further reading: “Big Worms And Big Fish: Jodorowsky, Dune And Jodorowsky’s Dune“