It’s been called the Citizen Kane of unrealized projects, or “The Greatest Movie Never Made.” It’s also one of the most thoroughly preplanned efforts never to see a single frame of film exposed. Hot off the success of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, director Alejandro Jodorowsky was asked what title he wanted to take on next. Without hesitation, he shouted out “DUNE!” and thus began a myth that’s been maintained to this very day.
In fact, there has been so much written about Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic to the big screen that someone decided to document the various trials and tribulations before many of the main participants pass. The result is the excellent Jodorowsky’s Dune, a behind the scenes peak at the making and breaking of this now legendary “lost” film.
Among the many names that participate in what is essentially a series of talking head interviews interspersed with animated recreations of storyboards and concept art are such icons as the late H. R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Jean Girard, Chris Foss, and fellow filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. We also hear from the widow of F/X wizard Dan O’Bannon and Jodorowsky’s son Brontis. But it’s the filmmaker himself that takes center stage, explaining his desire to make a “movie as prophet,” and literally change an audience’s perceptions about life via Dune… or his surreal interpretation of it.
He laughs about his first meetings, arguing that he was looking for “spirit warriors” to complete his creative team, not just mere crewmembers (O’Bannon passed the test — 2001‘s Douglas Trumball did not). He also argues about his potential casting choices, including plum roles for Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and David Carradine.
So what went wrong? Why did such a well conceived effort (including a massive picture book “pitch” containing years of preproduction ideas, sketches, designs, etc.) end up unrealized? The answer, oddly enough, is Star Wars, or in actuality, the lack thereof. George Lucas’ film had yet to be released when Jodorowsky was seeking financing, and studios just weren’t interested in a bizarre religious space parable from the guy who invested the Midnight Movie with equally off-putting takes on God and the Old West.
So when studios didn’t bite, Jodorowsky abandoned the film and the rights were sold to Dino de Laurentiis. One voyage to a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away, and suddenly Dune was a hot property. David Lynch was hired, and, well, you know the rest. Oddly enough, Jodorowsky does not hate his rival’s efforts. Instead, he makes it very clear that Lynch’s Dune is just a movie. His film, had it been realized, would have been the cinematic equivalent of The Bible, literally inspiring its audience in the process.
While those are some high minded ideas, one suspects that Jodorowsky could have realized at least some of his strategy. The great thing about Jodorowsky’s Dune is that it allows you to see the entire process and get caught up in the aesthetic aims like the rest of the assembled artists. Oh course, the ambition the production was trying to achieve may not have ever truly happened given the technological limits of the era, but Jodorowsky was more than willing to dive in head first and give it a try. Had he succeeded, he may very well have changed the face of genre filmmaking.
But he didn’t and that’s the downside of Jodorowsky’s Dune. With all the possibilities and potential shown, the fact that the filmmaker has long since given up on realizing his dream is kind of depressing. Still, there are some who believe that some portion of his vision can be brought to the big screen outside of this delightful documentary. Jodorowky’s Dune may have become a movie fable, but the film named for it is a true triumph.