Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel Dune has had a huge influence on popular culture and has already had a film adaptation completed in 1984, made by one of the most creative geniuses of the last fifty years, David Lynch. With a new adaptation slated to come out this year, the 2020 version by Canadian-French director Denis Villeneuve, we take a look back at the 14-hour epic adaptation of Herbert’s novel by Alejandro Jodorowsky, famous for his films like The Holy Mountain and El Topo, that never ended up being finished.
With some critics calling it “the greatest film never made”, Chilean-born avant-garde Jodorowsky’s vision of what Dune should have been is truly mesmerising. He did not want to simply adapt the book and, instead, he desired to “change the public’s perceptions… change the young minds of all the world”. For his film, he cast artistic icons like Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali, popular figures who were not known for their acting skills.
The ambitious project had an air of grandiose about it. A castle was rented for Jodorowsky to write in and he hired one of France’s most accomplished comic artists, Jean ‘Moebius’ Girauad, to work alongside him. The opening shot of the film was inspired by Orson Welles’ 1958 noir film Touch of Evil and the music score was going to be provided by Pink Floyd, who had just released their eighth album, Dark Side of the Moon.
The 14-hour recreation of the sci-fi masterpiece as a psychedelic experience could not manage to procure the funds for production, with $2 million of the film’s $9.5 million budget already being depleted in the pre-production stage. Jodorowsky talks about his failed project in the 2014 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune. He lamented the fact that his vision was not successful because it was not “enough Hollywood”. In a 2012 essay, Jodorowsky writes, “The project announced to American the possibility of carrying out science fiction films to large spectacle and out of the scientific rigour of 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Adding: “The Dune project changed our life. When it was over, O’Bannon entered a psychiatric hospital. Afterwards, he returned to the fight with rage and wrote twelve scripts which were refused. The thirteenth one was Alien.”
He reflected on his failures and learnt how to “stand’ even after such a crushing experience. “Like him, all those who took part in the rise and fall of the Dune project learned how to fall one and one thousand times with savage obstinacy until learning how to stand. I remember my old father who, while dying happy, said to me: ‘My son, in my life, I triumphed because I learned how to fail’.”
Watch the trailer for Jodorowsky’s documentary here: