“For me, Dune will be the coming of a god. I wanted to make something sacred, free, with new perspective. Open the mind!” says Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Alejandro Jodorowsky hasn’t made a lot of films during his career, but most of them have made their mark in cinematic history (particularly 1970’s El Topo and 1973’s The Holy Mountain; films so richly bizarre that they helped launch the midnight movie phenomenon in the early 1970s). After The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky attempted to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune, but in the typical Jodorowsky fashion. I’ve seen David Lynch’s take on Dune from the 1980s (I’m in the camp that actually likes his film), so I was curious when I first heard about a documentary that was being made about Jodorowsky’s unsuccessful attempt to make Dune in the mid-1970s. This past Spring, I was able to see Frank Pavich’s terrific doc Jodorowsky’s Dune at Film Forum in New York City. It was insightful, informative, and just a lot of fun to watch.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is just as much about his attempt to make Dune as it is about his life and career. The film traces his early life and the films he made along the way that led to his attempting to make Dune. Jodorowsky reveals his thought process behind the adaptation of the novel, the costume and set designs, the music, and the odd cast he was assembling (among them being his son Brontis, Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Amanda Lear, and David Carradine). Jodorowsky was searching for “spiritual warriors” with whom he could collaborate on the film, leading to such collaborators as Pink Floyd (for the music), Dan O’Bannon (for the special effects), and artists such as Jean Giraud and H.R. Giger (for set and character designs). Jodorowsky had gone to Douglas Trumbull first for the special effects (Trumbull had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey), but Jodorowsky felt that Trumbull wasn’t one of his spiritual warriors after talking to him about Dune. O’Bannon was then recruited for the special effects after Jodorowsky saw 1974’s Dark Star (John Carpenter’s feature debut), a production that saw O’Bannon wearing many hats (writing, acting, special effects, editing, etc.). Jodorowsky had the film extensively storyboarded and sent those storyboards, along with concept art, to every Hollywood studio in an attempt to secure financing. Naturally, Hollywood believed his vision of Dune was too bizarre, too long (the script was said to have been the size of a phonebook), and too expensive to be made (no spoiler alert necessary since everyone knows the film never got made).
Perhaps the most important aspect of Jodorowsky’s unmade film version of Dune (dubbed by many, I think rightfully so, as the greatest film never made) is its legacy. O’Bannon and Giger would later collaborate on Ridley Scott’s landmark 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. The extensive storyboards and concept art that had been sent to all of the Hollywood studios had clearly been seen by many individuals working in the industry and were quite influential, as evidenced by the films that came out after the project was canceled. Giger’s designs would end up appearing (in some form or another) throughout the Alien franchise (including 2012’s Prometheus). Other films influenced by aspects (for example: costumes, set designs, scenarios, shot selections/framing) of Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune include 1977’s Star Wars, 1980’s Flash Gordon, 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1982’s Blade Runner, 1984’s The Terminator, 1999’s The Matrix, 1997’s Contact, and 1987’s Masters of the Universe (I had to do a double take when it was shown how Jodorowsky’s version of Dune had influenced the live-action He-Man movie). I urge everyone to seek out Jodorowsky’s Dune; the interviews are a blast to watch and the designs were just incredible (perhaps someone can adapt Jodorowsky’s version of Dune into a series of animated films someday?). Jodorowsky’s Dune is such a special treat that both cinephiles and non-cinephiles alike can enjoy.