Film Review: Jodorowsky’s Dune (dir by Frank Pavich)


Jodorowsky's_Dune_poster

I have to admit that I’m always a little bit cynical whenever I hear various film fans bemoaning films that were never made.  These are the films that were nearly made but ended up being abandoned because the production company ran out of money or maybe a lead actor died or maybe the studio refused to release it or else they released it in a heavily edited form.  There’s a certain tendency among hipsters to decide that any movie that they will never be able to see would automatically have been the greatest film ever.  It’s rare that anyone ever suggests that maybe it’s for the best that Stanley Kubrick never made his version of Napoleon or that maybe Ridley Scott’s version of I Am Legend would have been just as bad as the version that starred Will Smith or even that the footage that we have of Orson Welles’s unfinished The Other Side of The Wind doesn’t look that impressive.

In fact, some day, I want to see a documentary about an abandoned film where everyone says, “Oh my God, I’m glad that movie never got made.  It would have sucked!”

However, that documentary is never going to be made.  The great thing about praising a film that was never made was that you don’t have to worry about anyone watching the film and then going, “You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

For instance, I recently watched an excellent documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune.  This film tells the story of how the iconoclastic director Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to make a film out of the science fiction novel Dune in the mid-70s.  During the documentary, Jodorowsky explains that his version of the story would, in many ways, be different from the book.  Since I’ve never read the book nor have I seen any of the various adaptations that actually were eventually produced, I can’t say whether Jodorowsky’s changes would have been an improvement.  For that matter, I can’t say whether or not Jodorowsky’s film would have been great or if it would have been a legendary misfire.  I’ve seen El Topo and The Holy Mountain so I’m pretty sure that his version of Dune would have been uniquely his own.  But there’s no way for me — or anyone else for that matter — to say whether or not the film would have been any good because, after assembling an intriguing cast (Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and David Carradine) and recruiting several talented artists and technicians (H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Chris Foss, and Moebius), Jodorowsky was never able to make his film. The Hollywood studios took one look at Jodorowsky’s vision and said, “There’s no way were paying for that.”

However, the documentary goes on to make a very intriguing argument that Jodorowsky’s Dune may be the most influential film never made.  Many of the people who collaborated with Jodorowsky would go on to work on other science fiction films and, when they did, they brought with them many of the ideas and concepts that were originally developed for Dune.  The documentary not only suggests that this might be true but also offers up some pretty compelling evidence, showing us how everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Prometheus has featured scenes that originally appeared in Jodorowsky’s Dune storyboards.

I may not be totally convinced that Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been the greatest film ever made but I love this documentary.  The majority of it is spent just listening as Jodorowsky, alternating between English and Spanish, tells us the story of what he hoped to do with Dune and how, ultimately, he could not do it.  Jordorowsky’s love of film and art is obvious with each word that he says.  Whether he’s talking about meeting Salvador Dali or passionately advocating for creativity and imagination, Alejandro Jodorowsky is never less than charming and inspiring.

If you love movies, you’ll love Jodorowsky’s Dune.  If you don’t love movies, Jodorowsky’s Dune will change your mind.

Quickie Horror Review: Species (dir. by Roger Donaldson)


1995’s Species was a studio’s attempt to replicate the start of a new sci-fi/horror franchise like the one begun by Ridley Scott’s Alien. Roger Donaldson was tapped to direct this attempt with a cast that included Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Marge Helgenberger, Forrest Whitaker and Alfred Molina. The lucky gal who gets to play the role of Sil — the half-alien, half-human hybrid — fell on the stunning and gorgeous shoulders of Natasha Henstridge.

Species pulls from so many different sci-fi/horror films and shows from the past that it’s hard to find anything original in the story. There’s stuff from Alien, The Hidden, and even some episodes of The X-Files. The one original twist in this derivate film was the plot of an alien race sending over the genetic markers of its race and instructions on how to recombine it with human DNA to create a form of hybrid. Why the scientists decided to go through with such a seemingly dangerous task is known only to the writer who put pen to paper to create the screenplay. The bulk of the film’s story comes from one the creation of one such human-alien hybrid named Sil (the young version played by Michelle Williams in one of her very first roles) and how her creators and handlers begin to realize that she has an almost desperate need to procreate.

The acting by the select group of experts (Madsen, Helgenberger, Molina, Kingsley and Whitaker) were good enough and no one embarrassed themselves in the end. Henstridge does a fine job of being sexy and hot. It helped that she pretty much was naked through most of the film, or at least put herself in situations to be naked. In fact, Henstridge goes beyond just being the naked eye candy in the film, but does a great job playing the naive adult Sil who escapes her lab-prison as her instincts propel her to find the perfect mate. It’s during this search that much of the film’s gore make their appearance and there’s a bit of it.

The art design of Sil as the evolved alien hybrid came courtesy of the great Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger who also did the design for the alien creature in Alien. Giger’s biomechanical designs have always been disturbing and beautiful at the same time and he didn’t disappoint with his design of Sil. If there was a quibble on Sil’s final design it was that it still resembled a bit too much of the alien design in Ridley Scott’s Alien. But it was still great to see H.R. Giger still creating such wonderful artwork and designs for people to see. His popularity has always been mostly composed of the elite circles of the artworld and those small, loyal art groups with a penchant for the surreal, weird and disturbing.

In the end, Species was a good sci-fi/horror that didn’t bore too much and for those who enjoy their gore this film had its equal share of the red stuff. Gratuitious nudity and sex from Natasha Henstridge as Sil the alien hybrid and the excellent designs from H.R. Giger gives this film enough good things to look at. It doesn’t bring anything new and pretty much reuses alot of other things from other movies, but Species was good enough albeit derivative of better past films and shows.

Artist Profile: H.R. Giger


Luis Royo inaugurated the artist profile feature and he’s now followed up by Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor H.R. Giger.

Many who follow the heavy metal and the visual effects scenes know who H.R. Giger is. This artist who hails from Switzerland has been responsible for some of the most iconic images in science-fiction film history. Just looking at the samples of his work on this page one has to automatically notice how the designs look very similar to the alien creature in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic Alien.

Scott had seen some of Giger’s art pieces from his Necronomicon IV art collection and instantly knew that this Swiss artist was the one to design his alien and the spacecraft it was to be discovered in. Giger’s alien and environment design were so masterful that he won an Oscar for Best Visual Effect in 1980 for his work in Alien. This accolade got him noticed to head the art design for a failed Dune film adaptation by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky.

It was to great disappointment that when David Lynch finally worked on Dune only the basic designs Giger had created for the production was used. As one watches Lynch’s Dune bits and pieces of Giger’s signature biomechanical design does pop out. This is especially true when the film switched over to focus on scenes dealing with the Harkonnen and Giedie Prime.

Giger would go on to do some art and set designs for such films as Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Alien 3 and Species. Even now he has been tasked by Ridley Scott to work on his latest film, Prometheus, and come up with new creature designs.

H.R. Giger’s style is one of nightmarish and surreal landscapes and figures which some have described as Satanic, perverse and disturbing. He combines biological anatomy with the mechanical to create works of art that have become favorite of certain heavy metal subgenres like industrial metal and death metal. While most of his works were created using airbrushing techniques to create monochromatic pieces he has, of late, switched over to using pastels, markers and inks.

One wonders what sort images goes through such an artists’ mind to come up with some of the artwork Giger has become famous (and in some circles, infamous) for. Maybe the fact that Giger suffers from night terrors and this has led to heavily influencing the images he creates. In the end, H.R. Giger’s work defnitely falls under the old adage of “beauty lie in the eyes of the beholder”.

Official H.R. Giger Website