(Video on Demand, July 2014) There are movies that transport you in a parallel universe, and then there are movies that make you want to build a machine to travel to parallel universes. So it is that Jodorowsky’s Dune is a making-of documentary about a movie that never was: an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune as would have been directed by eccentric visionary writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky sometime in the mid-seventies, well before the 1984 David Lynch film. Jodorowsky himself (at an amazingly-well-preserved 84) is a centerpiece of the film as he tells the many small stories of the abortive effort. The centerpiece of the film is a custom-made book containing all the visuals and storyboards developed for the film, featuring the amazing trio of Moebius, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger as conceptual artists. It’s an amazing line-up already, and the film is quickly to point out that even if Jodorowsky’s version of Dune went nowhere, it definitely left a mark: copies of the book probably made their way throughout Hollywood (a collage of subsequent film clips make the case for visual similarities), while the Moebius/Foss/Giger triad (alongside visual effects artist Dan O’Bannon) would all receive credits for Alien‘s visual conception. Jodorowsky’s Dune is perhaps more fanciful in discussing how the director approached a variety of legends for musical and acting roles: From Pink Floyd to Dali to Mick Jagger to Orson Welles, the stories are entertaining but we only get third-party confirmation for Dali’s involvement. It’s also optimistic to believe that a version of Dune as directed by Jodorowsky in 1975 would have been the film promised in this documentary: Any knowledgeable cinephile knows of countless movies that looked amazing on paper but never measured up in reality… and considering Jodorowsky’s eccentricity, there’s no telling what the end result would have been. Still, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fascinating look at a film that never was, a good grab-bag of stories and a chance to see a number of legends discussed in the same breath. It’s a must-see for SF movies enthusiasts, and a pretty good time for everyone else.
(On-demand, August 2012) Unaccountably, I had never seen Species until now, nearly seventeen years later. For some reason, I had filed away this title as a throwaway B-grade monster movie, not worth the trouble to seek out. But the future is now, and the film is only a few buttons away from on-demand viewing! While Species is, in fact, a B-grade monster movie, it’s a slickly-made one, with a few good ideas and some noteworthy elements. Take your pick of the various names featured in the credits: H.R. Giger’s nightmarish creature design (leading to a few “have I really seen this?” moments), a scene-setting performance by young Michelle Williams as a young alien on the run, Michael Madsen’s cocky turn as a special operative, Forrest Whittaker’s good take on a bad “empath” role, Ben Kingsley as a government operative, or Natasha Henstridge’s asset-baring first big-screen performance. In Science-Fiction terms, Species is borderline incoherent nonsense, but it springs from a fairly clever conceit of remote alien invasion via radio-signal DNA sequencing. (Other written-SF stories have tackled the idea, but it’s still relatively original for Movie-SF.) There are also a few nice things to say about the themes of the film, which combine a few rough ideas about predation and reproduction with more standard horror-film tropes. Plot-wise, the film remains a monster chase, but the team of monster-hunters is shown effectively, and the rhythm doesn’t really falter until the last act’s fairly standard subterranean heroics. Species’ dynamic night-time chase sequences show that the film had a decent budget, making the B-movie exploitation elements seem all the more noteworthy. While some of the film is still stuck in the mid-nineties, it hasn’t aged all that badly and rewards casual viewing even today.