Documentary tells of ‘Dune’ that might have been

Staff writerMay 9, 2014 

It’s his enthusiasm that grabs you.

Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky speaks with the fervor of a man possessed as he describes his quest to create what’s been called “the greatest movie never made” in the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”

Recounting his efforts to bring his vision of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science-fiction novel “Dune” to the screen in the early ’70s, the Chilean-born Jodorowsky is a mesmerizing presence in director Frank Pavich’s engrossing picture. He was 84 when much of it was shot.

Jodorowsky, now 85, didn’t merely want to make an epic out of Herbert’s epic-length classic. He wanted to make “the most important picture in the history of humanity,” a movie that would “connect with God.” This, from a man who gave himself the line, “I am God,” in his trippy 1970 cult phantasmagoria “El Topo.”

It was the underground success of “El Topo” among the stoner set that gave Hollywood the notion that maybe this wild man was the right guy to capture the imaginations and the ticket-buying dollars of the generation that had embraced Stanley Kubrick’s mind-blowing “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968.

With extraordinary intensity, Jodorowsky relates how he threw himself into the project, seeking collaborators who would be “spiritual warriors” to go into battle with him. He found visionary artists, Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger and French illustrator Jean “Moebius” Giraud, to create his images. He got Mick Jagger to agree to be in the picture along with Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles. He created a gigantic book of storyboard illustrations, its images brought to life through artful animation in Pavich’s film.

Based on those images and Jodorowsky’s impassioned descriptions of his creative process, it’s clear the picture would have been fantastic. But Hollywood, wary of this zealot and worried the budget would be too high, pulled the plug before a frame of film could be shot. Later “Dune” was made into a movie by David Lynch, but the picture was a mess and it bombed.

However, the DNA of Jodorowsky’s “Dune” can be found in images in many sci-fi pictures, including “Blade Runner,” “Contact” and, above all, Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” on which Giger and Giraud both worked. Giger won an Oscar for his visual-effects work in “Alien.”

Jodorowsky’s “Dune” never happened, but the visionary force behind it has lived to see how it has exerted a lasting influence on cinema.

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

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Cast: Alejandro Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, Nicolas Winding Refn, Gary Kurtz, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss

Director: Frank Pavich

Running time: 1:30

Rated: PG-13; some violent and sexual images and drug references

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