JODOROWSKY’S DUNE : WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Frank Herbert’s Dune is largely considered the Holy Grail of science fiction novels. Serving as a cross section study of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, it has not lost its relevancy. The scramble for the rights would culminate with David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation, but the cup he gave us left Hebert’s vision empty and almost ended the director’s career. However an earlier production approached the futuristic envisioning on as grand a scale as the galactic stage the story covers.
Painfully, Frank Pavich tempts us with what might have been in Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Billed as “the greatest film never made” in the 2014 documentary, Alejandro Jodorowsky acquired the rights in 1974 and undertook the project as though on a holy mission to overhaul the landscape of not only film but the world. Either way, Dune gave his artistic fanaticism plenty of foundation to do so.
21,000 years forward, mankind has settled numerous planets across the galaxy. All answering to one mad emperor, life mostly proceeds around a spice called Melange, which has enabled humans to replace technology with mental computing.
Found only on the desert planet of Arrakis, the Choam Corporation controls the trade, and each aristocracy’s wealth depends on it. Of course, distribution always run afoul of the planet’s indigenous population, the Fremen.
Valuing melange as part of their ritualistic culture, they use the environment to their advantage, but that’s overset by the story’s pseudo spiritual force known as the Bene Gesserit. They seek to drive human evolution forward, and plant messiah prophesies among groups like the Fremen to exert control.
Of course, the blowback creates a fanaticism that awaits a savior to shower liquid life on Dune. The parallels are glaringly apparent. Decadent overreaching empires, concentrated power that operates at the expense of human needs, failed utopian aspirations and religion serving as a power that undoes its own cause.
Jodorowsky definitely got the grandeur and excess exhibited his intent. Herbert quickly quantified the problem. “It was the size of a phone book,” he lamented the would-be 14 hour script.
But when seeking to change the world’s consciousness, that tends to happen. “Dune will be the coming of a cinematic god,” explained the Chilean born director.
Likening Dune to other great literature where the message must be unraveled, his challenge was converting the ambiguity into an optical world. And he wasn’t kidding.
The “phonebook” detailed Dune in a shot by shot kaleidoscope. Danish Film Director Nicolas Winding Refn could attest, and years later, in actually going through each page with Jodorowsky, a unique perspective was given. “I am the only person to see Jodorowsky’s Dune,” he said. “And let me tell you, it was awesome.”
Such work could only come from a crusader. “I went in search of warriors,” revealed Jodorowsky in the film.
Jean “Moebius” Giraud emerged first. “I used him as a camera,” said Jodorowsky. “He drew as fast as a computer.”
But Jodorowsky didn’t want a technocrat for special effects. That left 2001’s Douglas Trumbull off the director’s blue screen. “He lacked spirituality. He would make a technical film,” Jodorowsky said. “I told him,’ I cannot work with you.’”
His producer Michael Seydoux shocked, the duo ducked into a NYC theater for John Carpenter’s Dark Star, and Jodorowsky immediately punched his ticket stub. “That is my guy,” said Jodorowsky of Ed O’Bannon.
Tracking him down, the director’s pitch was equally abrupt. “I need you to sell everything you own and come to Paris.”
An actual castle awaited the crew but nothing exhibited excess like the grooming of the story’s messiah. “If Paul was to be the warrior prophet of change, his preparation had to mirror the book,” said Jodorowsky.
Thus, Brontis Jodorowsky trained six days a week to achieve the desired consciousness. “He wanted me to be the character,” said Jodorowsky’s son.
The 12 year old boy was onboard – just like everyone else under Jodorowsky spell. “He was always searching for the light of genius in everyone,” said Dune Art Director Chris Foss. “The motivation was then there to interpret on your own.”
Jodorowsky genius obviously traipsing the borders of lunacy sought the same of the mad emperor. “We met in hotel where there was a six meter painting dedicated to a fart,” said Jodorowsky of his sit down with Salvador Dali.
Some clever maneuvering and Dali was in. The same went for Orson Wells. “His favorite cook would be on set everyday,” revealed Jodorowsky.
Mick Jagger and Pink Floyd would follow, but this Dune did not unravel as the book did. “You must not respect the novel,” Jodorowsky coyly asserted.
Grandiose in his rationalization, he likened his process to getting married where respect underlies the love, but a child will never come if that persists to the bedroom. “You have to rip off her clothes and rape her. This is what I did to Herbert, but I raped him with love,” he explained
Nonetheless, the book was met with broad approval. “It’s superb. You’ve solved the technical aspects and the project looks economically feasible. But we don’t get your director,” Seydoux conveyed the consensus of the studios.
And Jodorowsky didn’t help his cause. “I will make a movie that is 12 hours long,” he told executives. “It has to be the way I dream it.”
Refn bitterly weighed in. “They were afraid of him.”
It’s no wonder. Unfortunately, his warrior ways forgot to not let the enemy know your plan of attack. More importantly, where was a spiritual lieutenant to reign everything in for pragmatic purposes. After all, what great work shines without an editor?
Even so, could this prophesy have been fit into a coherent message. South African Director Stanley inadvertently answers conundrum himself. “When you bring in ideas that may take decades to process and hope to change the consciousness of the audience and Hollywood, you have to be patient,” he reasoned.
Generational shifts aside, Gary Kurtz brought it home. “Someone should have talked those problems through before their presentation,” said the Star Wars Producer. “They feared it would go way over budget without an audience.”
Suddenly it was off, and everyone was hit hard. But Jodorowsky gallantly faded away. “Yes,” he emphasized, “we didn’t do Dune, and so what.” Quickly moving on, he joined forces with Moebius and converted much of the artwork to comic book form.
On the other hand, had they feigned their grand visions, this army may have been up to it – given what they went on to. “Hollywood started to use my group,” said Jodorowsky.
Concept Artist H.R. Giger and O’Bannon made Aliens and Blade Runner was strongly influenced by OBannon’s comic, The Long Tomorrow, which was illustrated by Moebius. Along with that momentum, the book made the studio rounds.
The ideas and imagery can be seen everywhere. Star Wars, The Terminator, Contact, the influence cries out according to Brontis. “I am Dune. I am Dune,” he expressed what he sees in so many films.
So Dune was a prophet and maybe we are better for the seed planted. But restraint on the part of the filmmakers would have felt so much better than the abstract whispers we got.
About the Author
Rich Monetti has been a fan of Science Fiction since he was a kid growing up watching reruns of Star Trek. So inspired, he hoped he too could be help usher in that type of future by concentrating his school work in Math and Science. He went onto to major in Computer Science at Plattsburgh State in upstate New York but always found himself a bit over matched by the discipline. It finally occurred to him that someone had to actually write Star Trek and other great Science Fiction, and he took up a career as a writer. Monetti has been a freelancer in the suburbs of New York City since 2003 and also dabbles a bit in screenwriting, while working part time in an after school program in Mt. Kisco, New York.
You can find a good sampling of his work at : http://rmonetti.blogspot.com/
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“Some clever maneuvering and Dali was in” is one way of explaining how Jodorowsky encouraged Salvador Dali to act in the film. A more straightforward explanation is that Jodorowsky agreed to pay Dali $100,000 (which would be worth about half a million dollars today) for every minute Dali appeared on screen. That doesn’t sound that clever to me, and explains why nobody wanted to give Jodorowsky the budget he demanded.