Friday, March 14, 2014

Editorial: Dunes

It's gonna be great. The forthcoming documentary Jodorowsky's DUNE spills on the details of one of the greatest movies that never was: the adaptation of Frank Herbert's seminal science fiction classic as realized by one of the great wild men of cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Building on the mind-bending, transcendent artistry of his unclassifiable fantasy epic The Holy Mountain, Dune was set to top it for imaginative visuals and non-narrative insanity. Fantasy artists including Moebius, HR Giger, and Chris Foss were drafted to realize Jodorowsky's vision, and he even found $1 million to pay Salvador Dali to perform on set for a day (to be replaced for the rest of the movie with a clockwork robot double). Though the studios eventually balked at laying down money for the project, documentation of this bizarre, unmade film still exists, and is brought to light by this sure-to-be-fascinating documentary.

And yet I'm apprehensive about one aspect of the movie. Mainly, I'm fearful already of the bashing we're going to see of David Lynch's Dune.

I've commented before on our inability to praise one movie without condemning another. And there's a certain amount of derision towards Lynch's film built into Jodorowsky's Dune. Much is made of  Jodorowsky's statement of how relieved he was when Lynch's realized and released movie turned out to be bad ("It's not beautiful," he tactfully, graciously adds, "but that is my reaction."). I'm worried that many viewers and reviewers, to express their enthusiasm for this movie, are going to line up right behind Jodorowsky in downgrading Lynch's movie (unsurprisingly, Variety already has), and fear that this will help shunt it into undeserved obscurity.

There's no denying that Lynch's Dune was seriously compromised, and that the lack of final cut wasn't necessarily the only problem. Lynch himself admits that the movie was short of his ambitions for it, and that it wasn't the right fit for him (he was more excited about DUNE MESSIAH, the smaller-scale second book in the series, and it's curious to consider what he would have made of it). But surely we're smart enough to take a more nuanced look at Lynch's movie, acknowledge it as an earnest attempt at something huge, and even recognize and appreciate his tropes within it, and not simply bash it out of knee-jerk fealty to Jodorowsky's admittedly mind-blowing vision. And let's also remember that Lynch's movie has one advantage over Jodorowsky's: it exists.

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