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In the mid-70s a relatively unknown Chilean director amassed one of the most intriguing ensembles in film making history for an adaptation of one of the most elaborate and profound science fiction novels of all time.
Among the star studded group was Mick Jagger, H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Moebius, Orson Welles, Pink Floyd, David Carradine, Salvador Dali and Chris Foss to name but a few. These “spiritual warriors” were to change the way we look at film, to change the way we look at the world and to change the way we look at ourselves. At the helm of this ambitious project was Alejandro Jodorowsky, an experimentalist who delved into the surreal and produced a number of strange and wonderful films (El Topo and The Holy Mountain), thus becoming one of the first cult figures in underground cinema.
It was the success of The Holy Mountain in art house cinemas across Europe that gave Jodorowsky the opportunity to make “whatever film he wanted”. He chose to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece Dune, an epic novel set 21,000 years in the future where galactic empires fight for the few remaining resources space has to offer. Ironically, Jodorowsky had never actually read the book but knew that this was the film he needed to make.
Jodorowsky’s Dune tells the amazing story of how that film was never made and wistfully gestures at what could have been. Jodorowsky himself, now 85, recounts in wonderful detail how he collected his band of creative talent with beautiful sincerity, a huge beaming smile and a twinkle of genius in his eyes flickering between his broken English. With Jagger, Carradine, Dali and Welles on board to act and H.R. Giger, Moebius, O’Bannon and Chris Foss providing the design and look of the film, Jodorowsky created a science fiction world of unprecedented grandeur and visual genius as he worked his thoughts into a storyboard thousands of pages long. So long in fact that some theorise the film, if shot as the storyboards had planned, would have lasted over 14 hours and was comprised of visual effects and techniques so far beyond the realms of technical possibility at the time that modern film makers would struggle to recreate them today.
This documentary captures the essence of film making for the sake of making films and shows the creative process in all its wild and passionate glory but ultimately when Jodorowsky went to Hollywood to get the remaining funds to actually shoot the film he was met with blank faces rather than blank checks. A few years later the rights to the book lapsed and Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Dune was over. All that remained was a book of storyboards.
Jodorowsky was failed by too much ambition, vision and artistic creativity for Hollywood. Modern cinema will never see the purpose and imagination presented in the storyboards for Dune again as Hollywood is no longer about the expressive medium of original film. It’s about money, and reboots, sequels, prequels and popcorn are all Hollywood needs. In the documentary Jodorowsky sums it up better than anyone as he laments on the failure of Dune and the constraints the almighty dollar has on artists and society in general, he says:
“This system makes us slaves. Without dignity, without depth. With a devil in our pocket. This incredible money in our pocket. This shit. This nothing. This paper which has nothing inside. Movies have heart, have mind, have power, have ambition. I wanted to do something like that. Why not!?”
The storyboards for Dune became a thing of legend amongst up and coming sci-fi film makers around the world and slowly but surely the influence of Jodorowsky’s vision began to manifest itself in the decades after his production collapsed. Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Terminator, Masters of the Universe, Contact, Prometheus all show the fingerprints of Jodorowsky’s storyboards.
It was a magnificent vision unseeable but a magnificent vision none the less.