After mid-1970s success of two “midnight movies” called “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” renegade director Alejandro Jodorowsky was offered the chance to make any movie he wanted. He toyed with a number of stories, including “Don Quixote,” the story of an hidalgo with lofty, but unrealistic ideas.
Instead the Chilean born Jodorowsky chose to make “Dune,” the science fiction epic by Frank Herbert. As it turns out, however, the director may have been better suited to the story of Cervantes’s impractical idealist than the maker of a giant Hollywood film.
To hear Jodorowsky tell it, his version of “Dune,” which never made it past preproduction due to budget and Hollywood’s reluctance to work with the avant-garde director, would have been more of a mystical journey than a film. He collected “spiritual warriors” like Salvador Dali (who demanded to be paid $100,000 an hour to appear as the Emperor of the Known Universe), Orson Welles (who was promised a private chef), special effects wiz Dan O’Bannon and conceptual designers Chris Foss, H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, to fulfill his vision, creating an amazingly detailed storyboard of the proposed film.
The story is mostly told by the people who in the room, lead by the 84-year-old Jodorowsky. It’s a talking head doc, punctuated by preproduction art and storyboards. For movie geeks it’s an essential glimpse into the mind of a legend. For others—including fans of Frank Herbert who gets a bit of a short shrift here—it may sound like the ramblings of a madman. Which it is, but an endearing madman who values art and spirituality above all else. He was so committed to making this movie, a movie he says might have changed the very fabric of humanity, that he was prepared to die for it.
Of course, that didn’t happen. David Lynch made the movie and one of the pleasures of “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is watching the elderly director describe his delight in realizing that Lynch’s film was a bit of a disaster.
As for whether or not the director’s vision for “Dune” would have been feasible, we’ll never know. Like many lost or never made films, it feels as though the legend of the project might be more entertaining than the film itself could ever have been.