Jodorowsky's Dune (PG-13) (90 min.) — Imagine what cinema would be, an idolater gushes in Frank Pavich's documentary, if Alejandro Jodorowsky's version of the sci-fi novel Dune beat Star Wars into theaters, usurping the template for modern pop culture. Or, he might add, if it ever got made at all.
The course of film fantasy might be forever altered, unbridled by standards of structure or decency. We'd all be much stranger, patterned on outlaw pop surrealism. Jodorowsky's Dune would have been the single greatest achievement in motion picture history. Just ask Jodorowsky.
Pavich did, for a documentary revealing the story behind one of the most astonishing movies never made. After creating the midnight movie with El Topo and The Holy Mountain in the early 1970s, Jodorowsky was offered the chance to direct anything he wished. He chose Dune, a book he'd never read, among the first eyebrow-raising revelations in Pavich's movie.
For years Jodorowsky chased funding and peculiar stars to adapt Frank Herbert's galactic saga: Salvador Dalí, Mick Jagger and Orson Welles among them. He corralled a creative team including H. R. Giger and Dan O'Bannon, who would later redefine fantasy through projects like Alien. Most importantly, Jodorowsky plotted his movie frame-by-frame, in a voluminous scrapbook that became one of Hollywood's obscure legends, whispered about but rarely shared until now.
Pavich makes fine use of this artifact, lightly animating sketches to create a sense of motion and continuity. Herbert's tale is twisted into a barely recognizable rush of pretentions made entertaining by Jodorowsky's glee in describing them. At age 85 he remains a madman with immense personality, a pinhole visionary insisting his Dune would be a prophecy shaping generations. Jodorowsky's Dune makes a viewer wish he'd gotten the chance. A (Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar, Sundial 20 in St. Petersburg.
Steve Persall, Times movie critic