Have you ever wanted to hug a movie screen? I did, right after I saw Jodorowsky’s Dune. It’s a documentary that dives deep into the details of a master filmmaker’s unrealized magnum opus. Albeit devastating to watch someone’s dreams fall apart, Jodorowsky’s Dune leaves you giddy, wondering about the greatness that could have been. The roots of this peculiar story start decades back, with a pioneering sci-fi novel.
In 1965, American novelist Frank Herbert wrote one of the most critically acclaimed and bestselling science fiction novels of all time. Herbert’s Dune went on to become a multi-book series and almost fifty years after its first printing continues to be one of the most influential pieces of literature ever written.
The wildly imaginative Herbert created a fictional society of warring planets set in the distant future (remember this is twelve years before the first Star Wars movie.) In case you haven’t gotten around to reading all 500 pages of it, here’s the short version:
“Dune is based on a complex imagined society set roughly 20,000 years in the future. The setting is the year 10,191, and human beings have spread out and colonized planets throughout the universe. On the planet Caladan, Duke Leto of the House of Atreides is preparing to leave for his new position as the governor of Arrakis, a desert planet with valuable resources of melange, a spice drug that is extremely popular with wealthy people. Leto and his family, including his concubine, Jessica, and his son, Paul, suspect a trap by their rivals, the Harkonnens, led by Baron Harkonnen. Leto decides to settle on Arrakis because of its rich supplies of melange, despite warnings from his men, including his adviser, Thufir Hawat, and his master-of-arms, Gurney Halleck.”
In 1974, after achieving cult status with his psychedelic, wacked-out art films, like El Topo and Holy Mountain, the Chilean filmmaker/eccentric genius Alejandro Jodorowsky decided to adapt Herbert’s novel into a screenplay even though he had never read the book. He spent millions of dollars and more than two years working on a script, hiring illustrators to create intricate storyboards, and putting together an all-star cast and crew. It was a herculean effort that was painstakingly carried out but in the end, after the financing fell through, the film was never completed.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is the documentary that tells the story of, “the greatest movie never made.” Here’s a visual tour inside of the crazy, imagined world that could have been.
In order to shop around the script to all the Hollywood studios Jodorowsky and his producers made the “Dune book.”
It was thicker than a phone book and contained more than 3,000 drawings that laid out every shot, the exact camera angles he wanted, the costumes, the buildings, the sets, the spaceships, and the dialogue that would be spoken by the characters.
Jodorowsky took care in picking the right cast. He wanted the actors to be his spiritual warriors, together they would take the journey to make his metaphysical film. The main character, the Emperor, would have been played by Salvador Dali.
Paul was to be played by his eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky, who’s had a part in most of his dad’s films. Brontis, only twelve years old at the time trained in karate, judo, and sword fighting for several hours a day for two years to prepare for the role.
Orson Welles was enticed to play Baron Harkonnen only after Jodorowsky promised to hire a chef from Welles’ favorite restaurant to be on the set.
A chance encounter with Mick Jagger in a bar ensured that he would play Feyd-Rautha.
And to ensure Jodorowsky met his goal of making the audience feel like they took a hit of acid while watching his version of Dune, he brought on Pink Floyd to record the soundtrack.
Jodorowsky forever changed the way science fiction movies were made when he brought together a then unknown crew of illustrators and visual effects guys who would later go on to revolutionize the industry. Dan O’Bannon was to be brought on to be the Director of Special Effects. After Dune fell through he found work on the set of Star Wars and went on to write the scripts for Total Recall and Alien.
The Swiss surrealist painter H. R. Giger designed planets and the sets. Having met while collaborating on Dune, Giger later won an Oscar for his visual effects work on O’Bannon’s film Alien.
French cartoonist Moebius drew the storyboards. He went on to collaborate with his new friends on Alien and later Tron and the Fifth Element.
British painter Chris Foss designed the spaceships for Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune. He later worked on designs for Alien, Superman, and Flash Gordon.
Despite the heartache of having to let his dream wither away, Jodorowsky did find solace in that after the project was doomed, David Lynch was tapped to do his own adaptation of Dune. Released in 1984, the resulting film was crap and that made Jodorowsky feel a little bit better.
It really is a shame the sprawling 14-hour long version of Dune was never made but from that bungled mess we got Jodorowsky’s Dune, probably the most uplifting, thrilling, and captivating documentary about a failure you’ll ever see.
Jodorowsky’s Dune opens in Los Angeles and New York on March 21, 2014.