director Frank Pavich
Back in 1973, following the successes of his cult films El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973), maverick Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, with the help of producer Michel Seydoux acquired the rights to the science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert and set out to make the most far out movie of all times. And far out it would have been had it been made.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary that tells the story of one of the greatest films never made with great interviews with Jodorowsky and Seydoux and many others involved in the process. They spent the better part of two years assembling Jodorowsky’s dream team of visionary “warriors” to construct the vision for this epic concept. This included the likes of H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Dan O’Bannon and Jean Girard (Mœbius) on the design team, with Pink Floyd and Magma on the soundtrack and the likes of Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dalí in the cast (Dalí was to play “the king of the universe” or something).
There were drugs involved, but visionary visions as well. Really of all the far-out ideas and designs spec’ed out for this film, they must have been particularly high to think that they could roll this into Hollywood and get the funding they needed for this proposed 13-hour epic, whose storyboard and design book (featured in the film) was a massive, massive tome.
This was the 1970’s, after all, a period when Hollywood was home to maverick filmmakers. But it was also Hollywood before Star Wars (1977), both good and bad, because there just wasn’t anyone with the perspective that could have seen the potential in actually seeing this picture through to production. In reality, the cost would have soared, the whole thing was so insane. But it would have been brilliant and glorious and FAR OUT if it had been produced, good or bad or ugly.
Frank Pavich’s documentary on the subject is rich and well-done, employing animations of Mœbius’s storyboards, Giger’s and Foss’s paintings, plus the hilarious stories recounted by Jodorowsky himself, now in his 70’s.
It’s one of a new odd genre of documentary, about the great unproduced film. Another I can think of is L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot (2009) about a film that Henri-Georges Clouzot never completed. Given the true history of filmmakers, there must be hundreds if not thousands of stories of great films that went through amazing amounts of planning, work, and development only to never see realization, so who knows, this could be the tip of the iceberg for documentarians. But it must be said that it’s doubtful that there were any as outlandish, grandiose, wild, or even as influential as Jodorowsky’s failed Dune.
Because it is interesting as well how much the work that went into this film ending up playing out in other films, such as Giger’s work with O’Bannon on Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and a number of other images cited in the film. It’s a pretty great story in and of itself and a glimpse at the incredible “what might have been.”