Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Walt Disney Studios Films/Buena Vista

Who knew a documentary about a film that never was could be so entertaining? Even more so, the visionary director with such ambition and passion? That director is Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky and his passion project that would never be was a big screen adaptation of the Frank Herbert sci-fi tome, Dune.

A surrealist who began his career in the theatre, Jodorowsky enjoyed critical and commercial success as a filmmaker with two films, El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973). This brought him to the attention of French producer Michel Seydoux, who offered to make a movie -- any movie - with the director. Jodorowsky's choice? Dune, the infamous 'almost-making of' which is detailed in Frank Pavich's doco.

Jodorowsky's not exactly sure why he chose Dune since he, and most everyone who became involved in the project, had not read Herbert's seminal novel. But after Stanley Kubrick's 2001, and before George Lucas's Star Wars, Jodorowsky planned (or rather dreamt) of making a film that would expand the audience's mind; producing the effect of an LSD trip sans acid.

Scouring the world for his creative team of "spiritual warriors", Jodorowsky convinced artists and designers like Moebius, Dan O'Bannon, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger to pack up and move to Paris to work on his dream project. He also courted some impressive and diverse names for his cast: David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Orson Welles; the director going to great lengths to secure the latter two.

Most of this is recounted by Jodorowsky himself who, at age 85, is as energetic and enthusiastic as a man more than half his age. There are also talking head interviews with those involved, including Seydoux, Foss and Giger, and glimpses of the storyboards and animation -- beautiful, brilliant, bizarre -- which were the blueprint for the filmmaker's vision.

After a couple of years and with everything ready to go, Jodorowsky and Seydoux took their project to Hollywood; shopping the project -- in a bound book of sketches and panels, from first frame to last -- to every studio. And although met with positive responses, each studio baulked at greenlighting Dune. There is some contention as to whether this was because the budget for such an ambitious film would be too high (by 1970s standards), or that studio heads felt Jodorowsky was too much of a risk. But that's where that film, if not the dream, died.

Dune was eventually made in 1984. Directed by David Lynch and featuring a cast that didn't boast any of Jodorowsky's eclectic choices, it was made on a budget of $40 million and grossed $30m in the States. The film wasn't a huge success -- but has gained cult status in the intervening decades -- and Jodorowsky expresses his delight in witnessing just how terrible the film is.

Of course, there is no admission from anyone interviewed in the doco that the film as envisioned by Jodorowsky would have fared much better. (All signs point to Jodorowsky's Dune being a big fat turkey.) On a positive, some of the creative team would go on to be heavily involved in another seminal sci-fi film, Ridley Scott's Alien.

The greatest film never made? Probably not. But we could do with a few more visionaries like Alejandro Jodorowsky in cinema: filmmakers with passion and "spirit" who dare to dream big. Of course, like an author needs a good editor, a producer with a supportive yet firm hand is required to ensure the dream eventually becomes a reality.

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