Who could possibly rally the egos of H.R. Giger (Alien concept artist), Orson Welles (Citizen Kane), Mœbius, Salvidor Dali (renowned Surrealist artist), Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones frontman), Dan O'Bannon (Writer of Alien), David Carradine (star of Kung Fu), Pink Floyd and Magma to tackle one of the world's most seminal science fiction novels Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965)? The answer is Alejandro Jodorowsky. Director Frank Pavich takes you on a journey of the world's biggest unmade film, Jodorowsky's Dune, and hypothesises a world where Dune was released before Star Wars (1977).
Pavich has an easy task, point and shoot one of the most feverishly engaging and magnetic cinematic artists of all time, Chilean-French Alejandro Jodorowsky, and have him recount the unbelievable tale of the pre-production of a sci-fi project that could have changed the landscape of modern cinema. Charting his career from his two gigantic cult films El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) when he wanted to venture into a consciousness changing blockbuster cinema with Frank Herbert’s Dune and producer Michel Seydoux was excited for the challenge. Jodorowsky could rally you to war. He was so intent on tackling a film as a visual psychedelic, which could transform the audience’s perception that he had to compile a unique group of “spiritual warriors” to bring it to life. He called them to Dune with impassioned speeches (O’Bannon, Mœbius, Pink Floyd), exorbitant pay (Dali), or by promising the provision of a personal chef (Welles). He and his producer Seydoux knew that the project’s scope would demand meticulous planning and coordination and they created a cross between a shooting script, shot list, concept art, graphic novel, mission statement and special effects hypothesis which became known as the ‘Dune bible.’ When he’d assembled his “spiritual warriors,” specifically O’Bannon, Mœbius, H.R. Giger, (et. al) he set up shop in Paris and created the conditions for genius and inspiration. He wanted their collaboration, their invention; he would walk in every morning and give them an inspirational speech and let them unleash their creativity. Jodorowsky also was so wholly committed to the film that he cast his young son (Brontis Jodorowsky) in the lead role and put him through two years of intense martial arts training to prepare for the role. There was nothing that could mute his belief that the project was a necessary piece of art.
And what’s even more wonderful is that almost every person involved in the film had not read Hebert’s novel before signing on to the project. They trusted wholly in Jodorowsky’s vision of the material and his opinion that that had to draw inspiration from the text and use it to entice their own creative output.
Pavich uses the perspectives of people across the film landscape to talk about the trials of getting the film made but also why its history has warped into near mythical status. For producer of original Star Wars trilogy Gary Kurtz, he gives insight into the studio environment during the 1970s and the extremely risk averse practises that made it impossible for them to trust this maverick with such a sum of money for a film they couldn’t market. Despite the thoroughness of their bible, the eccentric star power of the cast they’d assembled every studio passed on their vision. Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives) recounts a post dinner conversation that mutated into Jodorowsky explaining the entire film as it would unfold. He marvels at the feat that could have accomplished. Finally film critics Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeny are great to point out that the failure of Dune, lead to the “spiritual warriors” going off to projects like Alien and the profound impact that film has on science fiction cinema.
The heartbreaking thing is that you know that it wasn’t made and that producer Dino De Laurentiis eventually purchased the rights in 1982 and David Lynch directed a film adaptation. There’s such sweetness in Jodorowsky; he admired Lynch and was fearful that he’d be able to do an admirable job with the material. There’s a joyous relief though that the De Laurentiis version was terrible, while acknowledging that he doesn’t believe that it was solely Lynch.
This is the ultimate cinephile ‘what if' story; Jodorowsky's Dune is the best film that I've never scene and Jodorowsky's Dune is essential viewing for any movie buff.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Frank Pavich
Featuring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Brontis Jodorowsky, Devin Faraci, Richard Stanley,Drew McWeeny,Gary Kurtz, Nicolas Winding Refn