Recently a documentary had its debut at the Cannes Film Festival called Jodorowsky’s Dune. The documentary by filmmaker Frank Pavich, examines a very early attempt to make a movie based on Frank Herbert’s iconic science fiction novel.
Most people know the story of how in 1974, long before Star Wars came along and ushered in the era of the big budget science fiction film, Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky optioned the rights to Herbert’s novel and planned to turn it into a surreal, mind-bending film that would, as Jodorowsky himself claimed, give the viewer the same experience of being on LSD without taking LSD.
To that end Jodorowsky put together a team of artists to bring the film to life. These artists included British science fiction illustrator Chris Foss, French comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger, as well as American filmmaker Dan O’Bannon.
Jodorowsky was an iconoclastic Chilean filmmaker responsible for such conscience-altering cult classics as El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. He signed on to make a film version of Dune that would be financed and produced independently of the Hollywood studio system.
With a starting budget of $9 million Jodorowsky set about writing the screenplay adaptation of Herbert’s beloved novel. The director’s casting wish list was a cornucopia of international talent that included David Carradine, Charlotte Rampling, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Orson Welles, Alain Delon, and the legendary surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis Jodorowsky, was to play the film’s young hero Paul Atreides, and British rock group Pink Floyd agreed to compose and perform the Dune soundtrack. After two years of pre-production the film ran into a shortage of funds and was shut down due also to the sprawling nature of Jodorowsky’s script and a lack of interest from the major American movie studios.
This project has acquired a mythic status with many science fiction fans, including Pavich, who considers this to be the biggest unrealized film in the history of cinema. Jodorowsky’s Dune takes a look back at the enormous amount of preparation that the filmmaker and his first-rate creative team put into making Jodorowsky’s grandiose vision for the project a reality through interviews with the filmmaker and several of his surviving collaborators.
The project also seems to have acquired a mythic status with Jodorowsky himself. Jodorowski is not exactly a modest man and he can talk the project up to a ridiculous degree now, making it seem like it was more than it actually was.
This mythical status is likely one that the actual project would not have warranted had it been made. I think the people who are saying that this would have been an amazing film are probably people who have never seen Jodorowski’s films. If they were to actuially sit down and watch El Topo or Sante Sangre I suspect their estimation of Jodorowsky’s abilities to make what he wanted out of Dune would go down considerably.
Still, what we have left over from this project is interesting in itself. The pre-production art that was generated by Foss, Moebius and Giger stand as a testimony to the unrealized project, but even taken on their own, the pieces are remarkable. If not straight illustrations of Frank Herbert’s world, they serve as a kind of “riff” on Dune, an alternate take, if you will.
When the project was cancelled all was not lost, however. Jodorowsky and Moebius would later use the ideas they developed during their time working on Dune to create the comic book series The Incal. Dan O’Bannon would eventually write a screenplay for the first Alien film and would be instrumental in bringing H. R. Giger onto that project, thus helping to introduce his work to the rest of the world. Chris Foss was also brough on to work on that film athough his designs were not realized in the final production.
Dune was eventually made into a film in 1984 by the American iconoclastic filmmaker, David Lynch. A superior adaptation was done for the SyFy channel in 2000.
As for Pavich`s documentary, as of now Jodorowsky’s Dune has no U.S. distributor or release date but it’s safe bet that this movie will become a film festival favourite in the near future.