Thoughts on Jodorowsky’s Dune

If you haven’t seen the new documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, do yourself a favor and seek it out. It chronicles an ill-fated attempt by Alejandro Jodorowsky to bring his vision of Dune to the screen around 1974. And I do mean his vision, as the screenplay (no, scratch that, it was literally just a book of storyboards) counts among its weird changes from the Herbert source Lady Jessica impregnating herself with Duke Leto’s blood (he was a castrato) to give birth to Paul, and an ending where Paul is killed but not before his consciousness transfers to everyone else on Arrakis, as well as Arrakis itself, which then goes flying off into the universe to spread cosmic awareness.

It would have been a hell of a movie I gladly would have paid cash to see, but alas, Jodorowsky and his French producer apparently didn’t realize Hollywood will not suffer an artiste — well, not for a projected budget of upwards of $15 million, anyway. The documentary paints a sympathetic picture of Jodorowsky’s ambition, and you really feel his passion for the project, and his pain when it collapsed after two years of blood and sweat.

The documentary goes into the team Jodorowsky assembles — Dan O’Bannon, Moebius, Chris Foss, H.R.Giger — and ends by arguing that modern sci-fi film owes a huge debt to Jodorowsky’s effort. Maybe. Most of the films they cited would have been made without Dune, and whether or not they were influenced by Moebius’ storyboards is debatable. But credit where credit is due, the one film series that does owe its existence to Jodorowsky’s Dune is of course, Alien — Dan O’Bannon co-wrote Alien after Dune’s collapse torpedoed him financially and emotionally, and he was the guy who brought Giger to Ridley Scott’s attention.

But what went unremarked on in the documentary when it should have been the main point, in my opinion, was that if Jodorowsky’s Dune had actually been made, it would likely have killed the sci-fi film Golden Age we live in now before it even got started.

Let’s slip in to an alternate universe where it somehow got made: Too visionary and too out-there for mainstream audiences in 1974 (or 2014 for that matter), it was indeed an art-house critical success, but it bombed horribly at the box office, offending fans of the source material, and confusing the general sci-fi community. And at a budget of $30 million down the crapper (of course it ran over budget!), studios refused to green-light another expensive sci-fi film for decades. Which meant Lucas never got Fox to bite on Star Wars. And without Star Wars’ success proving to the heartless, bean-counting studio execs that sci-fi could make money, there was never one Alien, let alone, what is it now, 37? Close Encounters? Nope, never filmed. Star Trek as a movie franchise? What are you smoking? No Last Starfighter. No E.T.. No Predator. No Blade Runner. And on TV, no Star Wars meant Glen Larson had nothing to rip off for Battlestar Galactica… and nothing for Ron Moore to re-imagine (which, considering how badly the final two seasons sucked, may not have been entirely a bad thing, I guess, so at least there’s that silver lining, right?). No Sci-Fi Channel, no Farscape. No Stargate. And the Matrix? That still got made, but it was a comedy. Starring Steve Gutenberg, who became the world’s top-grossing star for 17 years running on the success of the Police Academy movies, the second highest-grossing film series ever, right after Porky’s. Yes, Porky’s had twelve sequels, each making more than the last. Because without sci-fi to watch, all us nerds and geeks had nothing better to spend our entertainment dollars on than soft-core porn disguised as comedy.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that would have been the darkest timeline of all.

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