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Jodorowsky's Dune

The ‘Dune’ that Never Was

Apr. 16, 2014
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The coolest movie never made, and probably the most influential, is the subject of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. A decade before David Lynch’s widely derided rendition of the Frank Herbert novel, Latin-American cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky began work on his adaptation. He enlisted Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali as actors, Pink Floyd for the soundtrack and H.R. Giger to design extra-terrestrial gothic worlds. Millions were spent in pre-production but the cameras never rolled. All that remains are memories and an elaborate production book, a storyboard with each scene sketched out by notable European artists.

Director Frank Pavich conducted a long interview with Jodorowsky in his book-filled Paris apartment and spoke with other principals from the aborted production. Now in his 80s but animated as ever, Jodorowsky expounds on film as art and art as the quest for the human soul and the sacred essence behind the outer shell of reality. Jodorowsky is chiefly remembered for the sometimes grotesque, mind-blowing surrealism of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, which were among the original midnight cult movies in the early ’70s. Jodorowsky’s Dune might enlarge his place in cinema history from two paragraphs to a full chapter.

Jodorowsky never read Dune before he was offered the movie, but was intrigued by its vision of political struggle in a galactic empire, a desert planet where a consciousness-altering “spice” was produced and a young hero-turned-messiah. The director had always wanted to make hallucinatory cinema that produced psychedelia on screen by disordering the perceptions of the audience. He had no intention of being bound by Herbert’s worldwide bestseller; some of the novelist’s fans would have complained but a film with such famous names would have won Dune an even larger audience.

Some of Jodorowsky’s stories are hilarious. Before accepting his role as the evil Emperor, Dali demanded one scene with a flaming giraffe and a fee of $100,000 per minute. Welles agreed to play the corpulent Baron Harkonnen after Jodorowsky promised to have the XL-size star’s meals catered by his favorite Parisian chef. It was all great fun until the Hollywood studios balked at paying for a movie that could have run for 14 hours if every page of the Dune production book had been filmed.

But that book apparently made the rounds. The sketches from the storyboard anticipated scenes or images from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner and The Terminator, and Dune’s crew (including Giger and SFX wizard Dan O’Bannon) reassembled for the first Alien movie. Jodorowsky may have been ahead of his time; he was also temperamentally incapable of making a Hollywood movie. His Dune might not have been a blockbuster but it could have been fantastic.


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