I have moaned endlessly here about the aborted production of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky. I fucking love that book! I love the movie. To me, it’s the sci-fi equivalent of The Lord of the Rings. No novel in its class builds worlds like it does. I’m also a big fan of the madness of Jodorowsky. His movies make absolutely zero sense to me. I’ve gleaned some meaning from them over time but he’s about the only filmmaker in my collection that is even more cryptic than David Lynch. If you’re just joining us, then allow me to elaborate:
In 1974, Jodorowsky was fishing for a project to follow up The Holy Mountain with. He had read Dune and came up with this insane vision for a movie that would run 14 hours in length, reconsidered the entire god damn plot, filled in blanks that he felt Herbert had left out and he planned to cast it with the wildest cast of people you could conceive of. Salvador Dali was set to play the Emperor Shaddam IV, Orson Welles was set to play the Baron Harkonnen and Jodorowsky’s son, Brontis, was set to play Paul Atreides. Mick Jagger, Herve Villachaize and David Carradine were also down. Each of the worlds in the movie had a different production designer assigned to them with H.R. Giger doing the designs for Giedi Prime, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud doing Caladan and sci-fi cover artist, Chris Foss, was set to presumably do the designs for Arrakis and the Fremen. It doesn’t end there, either! This was set to be a crazy prog-rock opera of unheard of proportions with Magma and Pink Floyd set to compose the soundtrack.
Does this not sound fucking awesome?
Maybe now you’ll understand why it’s such a tragedy to me that the movie never rolled a single frame of film. Dune went into preproduction for two years and Jodorowsky preproduced himself in circles. The scope of the project was too big. The cast made crazy ass demands. Jodorowsky insisted on to-scale sets of spaceships and castles and shit. All the while, he burned millions of his wealthy investor’s generous financing before the guy decided that Jodorowsky was just too crazy and that this wild flick would never be produced. Following this, Dune passed through dozens of hands before it wound up in Dino De Laurentis’ hands and it was passed to director, David Lynch, who’d wowed the world with The Elephant Man and was shopping ideas for a sci-fi project to take on. If you can believe it, at one point, he was up to direct Return of the Jedi. Can you fucking imagine? This story is just crazy as hell.
It came apart all at once but rather than become this epic train wreck as big as the planned movie, the results of the project wound up in all these other weird places and were put to good use. Moebius and Jodorowsky approached the story again in comic book form and stripped out all the elements that were distinctly Dune. Jodorowsky wrote a story that sounds an awful lot like it, though, and it was published under the title The Incal. It’s incredible! He’d do it again when he expanded the story told in The Incal in his series, The Metabarons. Giger’s designs for the Harkonnen home world wound up in a Japanese ad for stereos, oddly enough, but his concept art found its way to Dune’s contracted special effects man, Dan O’Bannon, who would then take it with him to Ridley Scott’s production of Alien where it would spawn its own horror legacy. It was a massive experiment in filmmaking that went horribly wrong but wound up alright in the end. Jodorowsky’s output would go silent for a very long time while he pursued studies in the tarot, psychotherapy, spiritualism and comic books. I seriously cannot wait for this. A document of this story is going to be like peering into Jodorowsky’s brain. I’m hoping he does a little mime.
So what’s all this then? Why the long narrative before the point? Cannes is happening right now and there’s a ton of news coming down about movies I don’t give a fuck about but long time friend of the site, Troy Z, drew my attention to a recent io9 article about filmmaker Frank Pavich directing a documentary called Jodorowsky’s Dune that will tell the whole sordid tale. The story behind the movie is fascinating as hell and if I can’t have a maddening 14 hour interpretation of Dune, then I’ll take a third-person retelling of the story of the preproduction.