This week: the greatest sci-fi movie you’ll never see!
WHAT’S IT ABOUT: The sweeping tale of a desert planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange, the “spice of spices.” Melange is necessary for interstellar travel and grants psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields great power.
SOURCE: Ostensibly Frank Herbert’s 500-plus pages 1965 sci-fi epic, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
Would-be director Alejandro Jodorowsky however admitted in interviews that he was more interested in recreating the effects of an LSD trip than he was in being faithful to Herbert’s classic novel. (Jodorowsky didn’t even read the novel before agreeing to direct it!)
The end result would have owed more to Jodorowsky’s fevered and esoteric imagination than anything Frank Herbert ever imagined!
WHO’S INVOLVED? Hey, wait a minute! Wasn’t this movie made in the ‘Eighties?
Yup, that’s right. What we’re talking about here is an earlier attempt to film the novel that never came to fruition.
Dune’s movie rights were initially bought by a producer of the original Planet of the Apes movie. When he died a French consortium acquired the rights in 1974. The plan was for Alejandro Jodorowsky, who directed the cult “acid Western” El Topo, to direct it.
Jodorowsky may have only directed a minor cult flick, but he certainly lacked no ambition when it came to his plans for Dune.
The movie would have starred surrealist artist Salvador Dali as the Emperor Shaddam and Orson Welles as the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Surprisingly – or perhaps unsurprisingly – both agreed to star in Jodorowsky’s project: the director agreed to the $100,000 per hour fee Dali asked for and Jodorowsky offered to get Welles’ favorite gourmet chef to prepare his meals for him throughout filming!
The music would have been composed by Pink Floyd and avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen amongst others.
Dark Star scribe Dan O’Bannon would oversee the special effects while French comic artist Jean Giraud (Moebius), SF artist Chris Foss and Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger provided spaceship and costume designs. Remember this was several years before Giger would design the monster for a certain movie you might have heard of called Alien!
(Incidentally Dan O’Bannon would go on to write a screenplay called Star Beast, which was made into a movie called . . . yup, Alien.)
LAST WE HEARD: Probably sensing that Jodorowsky’s Dune was too grandiose – some reports have it that the film’s running time would have been in the 10 to 14 hours range! - the financiers pulled the plug on the project.
When the rights lapsed in 1982, producer Dino DeLaurentiis snatched them up and a Dune movie directed by David Lynch finally hit theaters in 1984 – almost 20 years after the novel’s publication!
In 2008 a remake was announced and went through several years of development hell before Paramount quietly pulled the plug in March 2011.
(In the interim the novel was also made into a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries.)
THE PROBLEM: “Byzantine” is usually the word most used to describe Dune. It is a daunting and thankless task to bring Herbert’s complex and rich fictional universe to the big screen. More recently Paramount tried to bring the project in at under $175 million, but couldn’t manage it.
Pierre Morel, who worked on the most recent attempt to film it, had it right when he said:
“There’s a lot of expectation, all the readers will be waiting for me with their shotguns. All the non-readers will also be waiting for us, because it’s such a complex, rich novel and you have to make it accessible to those who have not read the book. So, it’s a tough challenge . . .”
Jodorowsky’s imagination certainly matches that of Herbert’s, but the producers probably sensed that they were about to make the most expensive midnight cult movie of all time!
CHANCES OF GETTING MADE: Zero.
WHY IT’D BE GREAT: If the movie had been made back in 1974 – several years before Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner – it would have been one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made!
Even today the many spaceship, costume and other designs by Moebius and Giger are mind-blowing stuff. If you thought that the 1984 Dune movie was too weird for its own good, then God knows what you’d think of Jodorowsky’s movie!
For an inkling of what the finished movie would have been like you check out the wildly surreal and imaginative graphic novel, The Incal, as well as some of the images in our gallery below.
No doubt about it: Jodorowsky’s Dune is the greatest sci-fi movie you’ll never see!