Embargoed for Friday release. ... Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel “Dune,” a galactic story of families, politics, wars, giant sandworms, and a very special drug known as spice, has been considered a classic since its publication in 1965, winning both the coveted Hugo and Nebula awards. It took the folks in Hollywood two decades to get it up on the screen, but as fans of the book and of science fiction movies know, that didn’t work out too well.
Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel “Dune,” a galactic story of families, politics, wars, giant sandworms, and a very special drug known as spice, has been considered a classic since its publication in 1965, winning both the coveted Hugo and Nebula awards. It took the folks in Hollywood two decades to get it up on the screen, but as fans of the book and of science fiction movies know, that didn’t work out too well.
David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation was a bloated, confusing mess, and was almost universally dismissed as a mistake. Now, all these years later, comes the revelation that the film was almost made 10 years earlier. (OK, some of us knew about it, but it wasn’t exactly mainstream news.) Chilean writer-director-actor Alejandro Jodorowsky, the darling of the early-’70s art house circuit, who dazzled and confounded hip, young audiences with the surreal and violent “El Topo” and the kinda philosophical “The Holy Mountain,” was told by French producer Michel Seydoux to make whatever he wanted next. Jodorowsky wanted to make “Dune,” even though he’d only heard about it and not read it. When he finally did read the lengthy book, purportedly in one day, without eating or drinking anything, he was convinced that his film would not only be important for humanity, but anyone watching it would be able to feel the effects of LSD without taking the drug.
“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is an illuminating documentary with the odd premise of telling the story of how, after two and a half years of intense preparation, the film, in Jodorowsky’s term, “evaporated.” So this is a “making of” movie about a film that was never made.
Too bad. Even though a producer said yes, every studio approached said no to financing it. From what we learn in contemporary interviews with 84-year-old Jodorowsky, as well as Michel Seydoux, illustrator-designer H.R. Giger, and others who signed on to the project, it could’ve been a doozy of a movie.
The tale of the Atreides family, the Harkonnen family, the Emperor of the Galaxy and, of course, the great desert planet of the title, certainly would have been a visual extravaganza (don’t forget about those giant sandworms), under the always opulent direction of Jodorowsky. But he also had grandiose plans – and agreements from – quite a cast. In a series of happy, chatty, and often excited interviews, he reveals that he had signed David Carradine as Duke Leto Atreides, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Salvador Dali as Emperor Shaddam IV, and Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. On a less stellar level, Jodorowsky’s son Brontis was to play the young protagonist Paul Atreides. But hold on, despite that one possible casting error, he also had Pink Floyd lined up to do the soundtrack.
What’s most interesting about the documentary is that Jodorowsky comes close to looking and sounding like he still wants to make the film, that he’s as ready now as he ever was. He mostly talks about it in English, but sometimes gets so wrapped up in the moment of reliving the experience, he unconsciously reverts into his native Spanish.
“My ‘Dune’ starts with a long shot,” he says, then chats about how much he admires what Orson Welles did with his celebrated long shot at the beginning of “Touch of Evil.” He also admits to having made many liberal changes from book to script, again stating, with no hint of bragging, “It’s MY ‘Dune’.”
Jodorowsky, on camera, is a great storyteller, for the most part remaining jovial about this movie that got away. Some bitterness peeks through only when he faces up to the fact that the Hollywood studios never got him or what he was trying to do with his film, and when he briefly mentions the Lynch version (about which he doesn’t say anything nice).
Jodorowsky and everyone else involved with the ambitious attempt at making “Dune” was disappointed that it never happened. So am I. You should be, too. But with the help of this documentary, you can at least watch it in your mind.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Directed by Frank Pavich
With Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michael Seydoux, H.R. Giger