Jodorowsky's Dune

USA/France | 2013 | Directed by Frank Pavich

Logline: The story of cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky's ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the seminal science fiction novel.

I’ve been waiting for this documentary for many, many moons. I didn’t know if it would be made. But it has. Thank you Frank Pavich. Thank you for delivering one of the most fascinating and inspiring documentaries in a long time. The story of Mexican director Jodorowsky’s attempt to make the ultimate science fiction movie from what is often regarded as the ultimate science fiction novel (arguable, yes, but undeniably one of the most acclaimed, respected, influential, and certainly the biggest-selling sf novel).

Frank Herbert’s Dune was published in 1965. Less than ten years later Jodorowsky  was looking for his next project with French producer Michel Seydoux who had been very impressed with the directors previous works, El Topo and The Holy Mountain. Alejandro decided it was Dune he wished to make into a movie, even though he hadn’t read the epic 400-page novel (did he ever read it??) Hollywood sold the filmmakers the rights for very little (probably because they suspected they would never be able to pull it off), and so Jodorowsky, determined to make the a mind-expanding piece of cinema unlike anything ever made before, set off on his quest to find his band of spiritual warriors.

Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would be like an LSD trip, but without actually dropping the lysergic acid. His vision would be an extraordinary psychotropic experience that would hypnotise, mesmerise, and transform its audience’s consciousness. First crew secured was Jean “Moebius” Giraud, the brilliant comic book artist, famous for his Heavy Metal strips and numerous graphic novels. Not only did Moebius design much of the costume design and look of the characters, but also he storyboarded the entire 300-page script to Jodorowsky’s exact descriptions.

Next on board was Dan O’Bannon, who moved to Paris to begin work on pre-visualising the movie’s special effects. Then Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger was employed to create the look of House Harkonnen and its people. British sf illustrator Chris Foss joined the team to design spacecraft and further architecture, as did Pink Floyd to score some of the movie’s music. The cast included Salvador Dali (to be paid $100,000 for each minute of screen time), Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, Amanda Leer, and Jodorowsky’s 12-year-old son Brontis, whom he (cruelly) forced to train in various combat skills for numerous hours every day for two years!

Fifteen million dollars was what the movie’s budget demanded. Jodorowsky and Seydoux had their complete storyboard and all the design sketches and paintings bound into an awesome book, which was then photocopied, and the two men did the rounds of the major Hollywood studies pitching their project. The studies were impressed with everything, except the director whom they deemed too crazy to risk all those millions on a three-hour art film.

Cult directors Richard Stanley and Nicolas Winding Refn are included in those who offer their thoughts on the plight of Jodorowsky’s Dune, but it is the 84-year-old man himself who provides the documentary’s cosmic aura of fascination. His English may be broken, but his communication has its own articulate clarity. One can’t help but feel utterly inspired about the creative process, despite how utterly disappointing it is that his extraordinary vision never came to cinematic fruition. The movie’s tagline may be “The story of the greatest science fiction movie never made,” but after you’ve watched his doco you’ll agree this is simply the tale of the greatest MOVIE never made.”

Big props to Kurt Stenzel’s awesome score, and it must be also noted, just as various interviewees mention, that much of Jodorowsky’s vision for Dune has fragmented and been absorbed into numerous other science fiction movies of the past forty years. The influence this shelved project has had is as epic as the source material. Jodorowsky’s Dune is the mélange you need to fuel your creative machine.


Jodorowsky’s Dune screens as part of the 61st Sydney Film Festival, Saturday 14th June, 2:15pm, State Theatre