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Film / Jodorowsky's Dune

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The greatest sci-fi movie that might have been...

"The mind is like a universe; it's constantly expanding."
Alejandro Jodorowsky

Jodorowsky's Dune is a 2013 documentary film directed by Frank Pavich. It covers the absolutely insane first attempt to adapt Frank Herbert's Dune in a big screen capacity in The '70s. While it was not made, the documentary showcases the wide impact of the unmade Epic Movie on Hollywood via the Production Posse that came together to work on it being hired for other productions.

Following the success of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky was given his choice of film project by his eager producer and friend, Michel Seydoux. Jodorowsky wanted to create a film that would expand the minds of the young viewers who watched it, and as such, chose to adapt the highly-influential Dune — despite not having actually read the book at the time. (He listened to a friend talk about the story and made an outline based around that and his vision, and although he later read the book for reference, the story is largely Jodorowsky's own.)

For the next two years, he sought out the means and manpower to make the feature film adaptation a reality. This film would have had a soundtrack by Pink Floyd and Magma. It would have had character designs by the then up-and-coming Mœbius and H. R. Giger. It would have had an All-Star Cast consisting of (but not limited to) David Carradine, Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí, and Mick Jagger. It would have been at least 14 hours long... That is, if it hadn't fallen through when Jodorowsky attempted to find a studio that would fund such a ludicrous mammoth of a production.

Tropes featured in Jodorowsky's Dune include:

  • Adaptation Inspiration: Alejandro didn't want to be beholden to the plot of the book, but deigned to use many of its themes, set-pieces, and characters in his largely original story.
  • Agent Peacock: Feyd-Rautha certainly seems to be this in illustrations, looking something like Jareth the Goblin King and in one sketch, even wearing what looks like tights and high-heels whilst performing a Slouch of Villainy with a sword in one hand.
  • All-Star Castinvoked: Jodorowsky's dream cast included Salvador Dalí as Shaddam IV, Padishah Emperor, Amanda Lear as Princess Irulan, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Gloria Swanson as Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, David Carradine as Duke Leto Atreides, Geraldine Chaplin as Lady Jessica, Alain Delon as Duncan Idaho, Hervé Villechaize as Gurney Halleck, Udo Kier as Piter De Vries, and Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha.
  • Animation Age Ghetto: Averted — Alejandro noted that he'd be happy to see the film, which was decidedly not for kids, to be completed as an animated film one day, even if he never lives to see it, as it would be a more practical way of realizing his vision at this point. He does not act as if animation is solely a medium for children.invoked
  • Astronomic Zoom: The movie would've opened with the MOTHER of all astronomic zooms, starting from establishing a galaxy in the blackness of space before we begin a very long shot that zooms into it, going through nebulas, spaceships and passing by other celestial bodies before finally arriving at the Emperor's homeworld and and following a character driving a speeder from above.
  • Born Lucky: The documentary points out that a lot of things went right for Alejandro during pre-production, via a variety of lucky coincidences that lined up perfectly.
  • Death by Adaptation: This version would have ended with Paul dying, but then he is "resurrected" by living on in the consciousness of everyone who knew him, and as he transcends he turns Arrakis into a flourishing planet that hurls itself throughout the cosmos to spread enlightenment.
  • Divorced Installment: In-Universe, as Jodorowsky ultimately reused many of his ideas for the film in an original work, The Metabarons.
  • Doorstopper: Jodorowsky's storyboards and design notes for the film were encompassed in a massive and colourful bible the size of a phone book.
  • Epic Movie: The film, if completed, would have been one of the largest examples of this in history; anywhere from 14 to 20 hours long, with an All-Star Cast that included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dali, art design by Moebius and H.R. Giger, a soundtrack by both Pink Floyd and Magma, revolutionary visual effects, and a budget well into the hundreds of millions of dollars (it already sounds massive in the 2020s, so one has to imagine that in The '70s). The main reason it fell through is because it was simply too big and too weird for any studio to take a chance on. According to the documentary, as a result, we got Star Wars instead.
  • Follow the Leader: Since Alejandro and the production team sent copies of the Dune concept art and storyboard book out to other studios, other Hollywood creators got to look at certain ideas presented in the unmade film and rework them for their own projects. The documentary points out several films that repurposed designs and storyboards meant for this movie in a montage, including A New Hope (which already drew inspiration from the Dune books), The Terminator, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Masters of the Universe, Contact, and Prometheus (which H. R. Giger was explicitly involved with), in addition to it being noted that some of Alejandro and company's work being repurposed for the 1984 adaptation.invoked
  • Food as Bribe: How Jodorowsky persuaded Orson Welles to play the Baron:
    Orson Welles had a bad reputation because they said that he liked to drink and eat so much that he ate at the movies. He ate a lot, and then he did not finish the movies, he was moody. But I said, "No, Orson Welles is a genius, he is the one." And since he liked to eat they say he goes to the gastronomic restaurants in Paris. Therefore, I sent a secretary to ask in all the gastronomic restaurants in Paris: "Where does Orson Welles eat?" And we discovered a restaurant and then he was eating. Six bottles of wine. He was eating. And then I asked to the chef "What is the best wine he want?" He say, "That." Then, "Send him a bottle." And then, he drink the bottle and he want to speak to me. And then, I speak with all the respect, because was for me was an idol. He say, " I don't want to do it. I don't want any more." I say to him, "I will propose something. If you do the picture, even if we pay what you want as an actor, I will hire the chef of this restaurant and you will eat, as here, every day." And he say, "I do it."
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Jodorowsky's work involves the use of hallucinogenics and the experiences and insights gained during trips. His intent with Dune was to create a cinematic drug that would make people think they were on a trip even if they didn't take anything.
  • In Name Only: Jodorowsky openly admits to having had no interest in making his adaptation faithful to the original novel and its themes, only using it as a jumping off point for his own ideas.
  • Loophole Abuse: Dali demanded an exorbitant salary for his role as the Emperor because he wanted to be the most handsomely paid actor in the world as an artistic gaff. Alejandro planned to get around this requirement by shooting only a few scenes with the eccentric artist only to replace him almost immediately with a primitive robotic duplicate with the in-universe excuse that the Emperor feared assassination and would thus go into hiding for most of the movie.
  • Mystical Pregnancy: Jodorowsky's idea for Paul's conception would have involved Jessica taking a drop of Leto's blood and converting it into semen she'd use to impregnate herself. And this was going to be shown on screen.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Dali demanded that his character, the Padishah Emperor, sit on a throne that was a toilet made of two intersecting dolphins, with one mouth for the genitalia, one for the anus, because Dali thought it distasteful to mix "the wee and the excrement" in his terms. He wasn't comfortable with full-frontal nudity however, so he asked to have a body double play the Emperor for the scenes in which he took a pee and a dump in the mouths of two ceramic dolphins.
  • Pop-Star Composer: The soundtrack was to be done by Pink Floyd, whose compositions would represent the progressive House of Atreides, and influential French progressive rock band Magma, whose compositions would represent the House of Harkonnen.
  • Real-Life Relative: Jodorowsky planned to cast his teenage son Brontis Jodorowsky as Paul. This would have averted Dawson Casting, as Paul was supposed to be 15 years old in the novel.invoked
  • Schadenfreude: After Jodorowsky's project was cancelled, he was initially frightened to hear that it had been turned over to David Lynch since he knew Lynch had the talent and style to do justice to a Dune adaptation, but after the release of Lynch's film, Jodorowsky was relieved to see that it flopped largely because of Executive Meddling.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Despite being able to secure $10 million for the project outside of the studios and getting a team of talent involved, the movie's pre-production was dead in the water once the studios (who would have financed the remaining $5 million needed to film the project) realized that Alejandro wanted to make a fourteen-hour movie, which they had no way of showing in theaters and he was not willing to compromise on.
  • Training from Hell: Jodorowsky subjected his own 12-year-old son Brontis to a very demanding training regimen in martial arts, swordsmanship and knife fighting to prepare him to play the part of Paul Atreides: six hours a day, seven days a week, and for two whole years. No word yet on whether or not Brontis had any choice in this or if he was okay with it.
  • What Could Have Been: The documentary describes details of his film and how it got close to being made. Some sequences are outright animated in order to show what the film may have looked like.invoked