Frank Herbert’s Dune is rightfully considered a classic of science fiction, so it’s only natural that there would be attempts to adapt it to other media. David Lynch’s Dune, released in 1984, was a critical and commercial flop. Although it’s gained cult status over the intervening years, it’s still a clunky film that fails to work more often than it actually does. Frank Herbert’s Dune, a mini-series that ran on the SyFy Channel in 2000 was a much more faithful and watchable adaptation, and was successful enough to warrant a sequel mini-series Frank Herbert’s Children Of Dune (which is based upon the Dune Messiah and Children Of Dune books). The most intriguing adaptation, however, is the one the public will never be able to see. It’s story is told in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is often considered to be the father of the midnight movie. His avant-garde, surrealistic films El Topo and The Holy Mountain lacked a mass appeal, but were able to find an audience in the often counter-culture midnight movie market. I’ve tried to watch both, and have never completed either. Not a knock on Jodorowsky or the films; I just can’t connect with them. Based upon their underground success, Jodorowsky was approached in 1974 to direct an adaptation of Dune.
Jodorowsky had not read Dune prior to developing the film, and it’s clear that the story he created deviated greatly from Herbert’s novel. His lack of adherence to the source material freed him to seek out other innovators to develop the film. French comic book artist Mœbius (Jean Giraud), book cover artist Chris Foss, and biomechanical artist H.R. Giger, all groundbreaking in their own right, contributed concept art for the film. Dan O’Bannon, who had worked on John Carpenter’s Dark Star, was hired as special effects supervisor for the project. His cast included Orson Wells, Gloria Swanson, Salvador Dalí, and Mick Jagger. A book of concept art and storyboards was given to Hollywood studios, but all passed on the project. Rumors abound that Jodorowsky as director is what scared them off.
Unfortunately, the project collapsed under its own weight and ambition. Shot as conceived, Jodorowsky’s version of Dune could have run 12 to 14 hours long. This is at a time before franchise properties; splitting the story into multiple, shorter films wasn’t seriously considered. Failing to secure funds from American studios caused funding to dry up. Eventually, the rights lapsed and were bought by Dino De Laurentiis. His daughter Raffaella ended up producing Lynch’s Dune, and we all know how that turned out.
Despite Jodorowsky’s version of Dune never being made, the aborted project still had an impact. O’Bannon, Giger, Foss, and Mœbius would all work in some capacity on Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, a classic of sci-fi horror. Jodorowsky himself incorporated a lot of his concepts for Dune into his titles for Humanoids Comics, most notably his series The Incalwhich featured Mœbius artwork. Ideas initially meant for Dune have been incorporated into many films, either consciously or unconsciously, and the documentary presents examples. Perhaps the biggest impact is the fact that Jodorowsky’s Dune exists. Few, if any, aborted films can claim 40 years after their initial inception, a documentary chronicling that journey was produced. And what an amazing journey it is.