Year 9, Day 217 - 8/5/17 - Movie #2,706
BEFORE: Lately there's been a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" where filmmaking is concerned. Last year I watched that documentary about the failed attempts to make "Superman Lives" with Tim Burton directing and Nicolas Cage as Superman. Last night we saw another director film Darth Vader's last scene from "Return of the Jedi" with Dave Prowse under the mask instead of Sebastian Shaw. And now here's a look at what might have been, if another director had tackled the sci-fi epic "Dune" instead of Alan Smithee. Sorry, I mean David Lynch.
Producer Gary Kurtz was interviewed in last night's documentary "I Am Your Father", and he's also interviewed in this one...unlike the other films in "Geek Week", which I uncovered on Netflix or Amazon, this one's been on my list for a while - it came recommended by some geek friends I trust, who raved about it, and it's really taken me a lot of effort to link to it. So good or bad, it's great to cross this one off the list tonight.
THE PLOT: The story of cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky's ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the famous science fiction novel.
AFTER: For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been". So for any film production, there could be two or three or a hundred writers or directors that try to tackle a project before being removed from a project, or before collectively realizing that a story is just plain unfilmable. I read the book "Dune" when I was a boy, maybe one or two of the sequels, and this is the conclusion that I draw from this documentary - maybe NO director was right for this project. Just maybe, this book was unfilmable, it was too long, too complicated. I heard that the Sci-fi Channel turned it into a miniseries back in 2000, and had some success with that, maybe that was the better format for it all along. But Hollywood has persisted, attempting to film another version in 2008, and after abandoning THAT project in 2011, word of a new version is ongoing as of February 2017.
I know, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." But what about "Don't throw good money after bad" or "Quit while you're behind"? Look, I don't know much about Jodorowsky, I never watched "El Topo" because I'm not that into foreign films - I'm still working up to watching Ingmar Bergman. To fully understand why this project failed, you have to think of the world of the early 1970's, the time after "Planet of the Apes" but before "Star Wars", and in terms of special effects, you have to think of the technology that's in-between "Planet of the Apes" and "Star Wars", which represented a quantum leap of sorts.
The Hollywood summer sci-fi blockbuster hadn't even been invented yet, and here's a director talking about doing this story justice by spending almost $10 million (unheard of in those days) to make a 10-hour or even 12-hour epic film. What audience would sit there in the theater for 12 hours? What theater owner would book that film, if he could only screen it once a day? Let's not kid ourselves, this project was doomed from the start. But Jodorowsky had a right to his own dream, so he went about hiring French comic-artist Moebius (Jean Giraud) to make the storyboards and H.R. Giger to design the alien worlds and buildings. Maybe things started to go off the rails when he tried to hire Douglas Trumbull, who did visual effects for "2001" but settled for Dan O'Bannon, who did special effects for "Dark Star", but I digress.
Casting was ambitious as well, with Jodorowsky contacting David Carradine, Udo Kier, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali to play the Emperor of the Galaxy, and Orson Welles to play the overweight Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Combine this with his desire to use the music of groups like Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd, and you may start to think he was on to something here, but I think that you'd be fooling yourself. Because casting his own son to play Paul Atreides means, to me, that making a great movie was never really his concern, he was only interested in making the movie for himself, to match the vision that was in his head - and that's where I think a lot of directors go wrong, they're so conceited that they can't step outside themselves and make decisions based on what's right for the movie and therefore what's right for the audience. So they try to make the film THEY want to see, rather than the one most fans want to see.
Jodorowsky's encyclopedia-sized book of storyboards and costume designs made the rounds in Hollywood, with nearly every major studio praising the work, but refusing to fund the film for one simple reason - the director. In other words, it's great that you signed Orson Welles to the project (turns out you just had to promise to hire the chef from his favorite restaurant as the movie's caterer) but we're going to pass. Thanks for coming in, though, and thanks for the paperweight. A few years later, in 1976, the film rights were acquired by Dino De Laurentiis, who hired Ridley Scott to direct and got Frank Herbert to write a new screenplay for a proposed 3-hour version. Ridley Scott left the project, and with the rights due to expire and the clock ticking, De Laurentiis hired David Lynch in 1981 to finally get this movie made. David Lynch turned down "Return of the Jedi" to direct "Dune", which makes me wonder if someone's going to make a documentary about what a "Star Wars" film directed by Lynch might have looked like.
And let me repeat what I've been saying for the past two or three years - David Lynch is a terrible director. I know, we don't have specific ways to define "good" and "bad" where filmmaking is concerned, but I stand by my claim, the guy is a hack. If it's all subjective, then you can't say that I'm wrong. Go watch "Dune" as directed by Lynch and tell me that it's good, it's just not. As he's doing on the current revival of "Twin Peaks", Lynch spent too much time explaining the simple things, not enough time explaining the confusing things, and everything else is relegated to being some kind of "mystery" full of loose ends that never get tied up properly. And after being presented storylines in "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive" that simply make no narrative sense whatsoever, I'm forced to conclude that this director either takes unfair shortcuts, or has no overall idea what he's doing. But people seem to assume that if the story is confusing and unexplainable, somehow it's a work of genius. I disagree.
In the long run, I have to believe that the marketplace will take care of itself, the audience has the final word - and even if they're wrong about a movie in general release, a film has a second chance to find an audience later as a "cult classic". But Lynch's "Dune" is a cult classic for the wrong reasons, people will watch it just to see how badly a movie can be made, so it went from epic to "epic fail". Do I believe that Jodorowsky's version would have been better? Nope, just longer. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie, so why does it keep happening, most recently to that Tom Cruise version of "The Mummy"? It's because some director couldn't get outside of his own head and make the movie that the audience wanted to see, instead of the one that he (or Tom Cruise) wanted to make.
There's speculation that the storyboards of Jodorowsky's Dune influenced many other projects in Hollywood, from "Star Wars" (Arrakis = Tatooine, Baron Harkonnen = Jabba the Hutt), to "Contact" and the people who left the "Dune" project went on to work on films like "Alien" and "Blade Runner" within a few short years, so make of that what you will.
Also starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Amanda Lear, Nicolas Winding Refn, Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, with archive footage of Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Chris Foss,
RATING: 4 out of 10 sandworms