For movie fans hungry for glimpses behind the scenes, Jodorowsky’s Dune is tantalizing: Avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky unveiling his aborted 1970s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, a legendary film that never was, making for twin stories—Dune itself (a concept album bigger than a phone book) and the man who dreamed it all. Jodorowsky unselfconsciously likens his film to “the coming of a god,” with serendipitous meetings and enthusiastic production design by artists on their way up. (Among other alums, Dan O’Bannon would later pen Alien, conceptualized by Dune artist H.R. Giger.) And Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s storyboards are evocative—particularly one torture sequence—though Jodorowksy admits many of his conceptual darlings veered away from Herbert’s books and into an experience Jodorowsky wanted to create.
It’s no mystery why Dune ran aground: Jodorowsky refused to make any changes, and studios saw a 10-hour script and impossible dollar signs. But with Jodorowsky’s psychology then in focus, there are deeper life/art intersections that beg for more time—particularly revealing is that Jodorowsky wanted his son Brontis to play young messiah Paul Atreides, assigning martial artists and tutors to teach and inspire enlightenment in the preteen. It’s a fascinating parallel Jodorowsky seems hardly to consider. Brontis appears, but apparently has little to say about his personal Gom Jabbar.
Still, this Dune would have been an impressively passionate flick, and its influence on later sci-fi is obvious, from artists who took their pet concepts to other projects to the graphic novel collaboration with Giraud in which Jodorowsky resurrected much from his derelict epic. Jodorowsky’s Dune ends up somewhere between the haunting imagery of missed opportunities and a long lunch with a chipper cult leader happy to explain what you missed. While the latter might distract, the former’s an entertaining secret history of a movie scattered to the winds, seen again for the first time.