Years before David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel earned its undisputed place as the worst film of his career, another visionary director came close to making a version of it that may well be the greatest film never made. Alejandro Jodorowsky, the psychedelic surrealist and creator of such trippy classics as Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre and the original ‘Midnight Movie’ El Topo, came very close to making a hugely (possibly too) ambitious version of the book, and the story of his film’s rise and fall makes for an intriguing documentary.
Extensive interviews with the vibrant Jodorowsky, now in his mid 80s, form the core of the film, along with animated versions of story board drawings by French artist Moebius and interviews with other key members of the creative team as well as Jodorowsky admirers including Nicholas Winding Refn and Richard Stanley. The storyboard book for the film has to be seen to be believed, as Jodorowsky and his incredible creative team (Moebius, HR Giger, and English sci-fi illustrator Chris Foss) meticulously set down every shot in the film and worked out costumes, set and other designs in great detail. Nicholas Winding Refn asserts that he is one of the only people in the world to have ‘seen the film’ of Jodorowsky’s Dune, as after dinner at Jodorowsky’s Paris home he brought out the Dune book and took him through the entire film (although when the book made the rounds of Hollywood studios while producer Michel Seydoux sought funding a fair number of suits must have had a close look as well, if not a detailed recounting from the creator himself).
Jodorowsky is an excellent interviewee, charming and passionate and possessed of the sort of indomitable spirit that harkens back to ‘60s notions of spiritual liberation and the desire to have a profound impact on humanity through popular art. In the end, the film did not happen for the usual reason: having seen or been made aware of his previous work, the money men in Hollywood were not going to finance a multi million dollar Jodorowsky film, and according to producer Seydoux, many liked the vision they saw in the book, but didn’t trust the director attached to it.
In an interesting coda, many examples are cited that may or may not be instances of the creative team recycling designs and ideas in other films; as one critic says, Jodorowsky’s Dune was like a meteor passing close to the earth that seeded it with many spores, as so much of this breathtaking project as conceived was genuinely inspired and original.