Much has been said about the passion project of Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky — the ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, one of the most widely celebrated science fiction novels of our time. Many directors and studios have tried to bring this story to the big screen but none of them were successful. One of those that did make to the big screen, helmed by David Lynch, was a major disaster although it has its share of fans too. But most of us who have read the book and are Dune purists were terribly disappointed by Lynch’s version.
However, there was one version that we all would’ve liked to see regardless of the changes that have been made to it. This is, obviously, Jodorowsky’s version. The story that went on behind the scenes of this doomed production has been presented to us by director Frank Pavich through his illuminating documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune. Watching it and seeing the fervent manner in which Jodorowsky describes his vision, his ideas for the film and his experiences, one could see that it had the potential to change the history of cinema forever.
With the help of animated storyboards and glimpses of the designs that were planned to be used in the film, Pavich stimulates our imagination and shows us what could’ve been the greatest sci-fi film in motion picture history. Perhaps even 2001: A Space Odyssey would’ve been dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of it. As pointed out by some of the people interviewed, films like Star Wars or any of the numerous blockbusters (mostly sci-fi) that followed it would never have happened if Dune had come out. There is enough evidence to suggest that ideas from this film have been recycled and used in various ways in other films namely Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark etc.
This project seemed magnificent not only in terms of its ideas and the philosophy that Jodorowsky was going to integrate into it but also in terms of the people that he hired to work on it. He assembled some of the greatest artists that worked in the movies: Actor David Carradine, Dan O’Bannon (who would work with Ridley Scott on Alien), H.R Giger (who also worked on Alien), illustrator Christopher Foss, artist Jean Giraud, Pink Floyd, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. Jodorowsky wanted his film to be the movie equivalent of an acid trip. On their first meeting, he treated O’Bannon to some of the finest marijuana to get his point across. Jodorowsky had his son in mind to play the young protagonist, Paul Atreides.
In the end, the studios, despite going through the impressive work they had done so far, didn’t think a director like Jodorowsky can make it work. His ideas were too strange even though it was the 70s. They thought he was too “out there”, having seen his previous works El Topo and The Holy Mountain. This documentary should be essential viewing for anyone looking to make it as a filmmaker. Although it’s quite saddening to know that we will never get to see Jodorowsky’s complete vision, watching him speak and that undying spirit of his that says, “So what if I failed? This is not the end of the world!”, is hugely uplifting. It encourages us to dream big and not sell ourselves short.