Back to IndieWire

5 Things You’ll Learn From ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’ From Nicolas Winding Refn’s Thoughts, The Original Cast & More

5 Things You'll Learn From 'Jodorowsky's Dune' From Nicolas Winding Refn's Thoughts, The Original Cast & More

The fact that Alejandro Jodorowsky — coming off the double whammy of 1970s cult favorite mind benders “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” — even got near bringing Frank Hebert’s “Dune” to the big screen perhaps speaks to the wackiness of the 1970s movie world. That it actually got as far as it did, hiring an insane set of collaborators, an equally ambitious cast and actually reaching the stage where sets were going to be built, is even more miraculous. But alas, the production fell apart and has gone on to become one of the great unmade movie stories in cinema history. The mind still reels at what it could have resulted in, but the new documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” gives a pretty good insight into what could have been a game changing sci-fi epic.

Playing in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, the movie let’s the man himself tell the saga of what happened, and rounds up key collaborators, family and friends including producers, artists and even Nicolas Winding Refn (and it should be noted, “Only God Forgives” is dedicated to Jodorowsky) for their reflections. Director Frank Pavich‘s film is not only an account of the making of an unmade movie, but also a bit of tribute to the filmmaker himself, and his pretty infectious spirit of rebellion and shaking up the status quo. For anyone who loves a good movie about the movies, this is one that will be well worth seeking out once it lands stateside.

While we caught the movie at Cannes, the bummer is that at our screening, there were no English subtitles. While this largely wasn’t a problem (Jodorowsky mostly speaks in English in the film, and our man Kevin Jagernauth’s basic understanding of French helped in getting the gist of any segments spoken or subtitled in the language), we didn’t think it was fair to give a full review to the picture. So instead, we’ve rounded up some of the more intriguing highlights and factoids presented in movie, and you can check them out below.

Nicolas Winding Refn has actually seen Jodorowsky’s rare “Dune” book of complete storyboards
In talking about great unmade movies, many times they are projects that merely existed on paper, but couldn’t really come together. But that’s hardly the case with Jodorowsky’s “Dune.” The filmmaker assembled a team of artists in Paris — guys like H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Chris Foss and Jean Girard/Moebius — who dove into extensive work on the movie, while Jodorowksy himself got busy on the screenplay. The result is the famed “Dune” book — of which they are apparently only two in existence — laying out Jodrowsky’s vision of the movie from beginning to end, in complete storyboard form. One of the few people to get a personalized tour through it? Nicolas Winding Refn. “Jodorowsky’s Dune” begins with a great anecdote by Refn about joining Jodorowsky for dinner one night, and late in the evening, having the filmmaker flip through the book with him, explaining everything he would he would have done. “It’s awesome,” Refn says about what the movie could have been.

Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to top Orson Welles
In what was just one element of what would’ve been a visual feast (the spaceship designs are seriously out of this world), Jodorowsky planned a huge tracking shot to open the film, one he was hoping would rival Orson Welles‘ “Touch Of Evil.” Jodorowsky playfully shared his admiration for that picture, but also his desire to take things even further. Of course, it would been a bravura piece of moviemaking, with a single shot traveling through the space and stars, eventually into the galaxy “Dune” is set in, and continuing, closer and closer, until eventually landing of the bodies of dead space smugglers who had been carrying the valuable “spice melange.” Damn.

The cast would have included David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, Salvador Dali and more
In addition to the spectacular visuals Jodorowsky was putting together, his cast was going to be…eclectic…to say the least. In the lead role of Duke Leto? David Carradine (about whom the director reveals a hilarious story involving vitamins) but that was about the only traditional actor in the bunch aside from Udo Kier, who was going to play Piter De Vries. As for the rest? Well, Mick Jagger agreed to take on Feyd-Rautha, Orson Welles was to play Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Brontis Jodorowsky (yes, the director’s son) was going to play Paul Atreides. 

But perhaps the greatest coup was landing Salvador Dali, who made the rare decision to take a role in the movie, playing Shadom Corrino IV, the emperor of the galaxy. But he was making outrageous demands from the start, including a pay rate of $100,000 per hour as well as wanting input on the visuals of the scenes (Jodorowsky worked around this by welcoming Dali’s input, while planning to only use him for one hour, and replacing his character with a mechanical robot that would be explained in the script). Dali’s muse, Amanda Lear, was also given a part as Princes Irlan. All told, had that actually gotten through, it woulda been a helluva red carpet.

Pink Floyd and Magma were sought for the soundtrack
The music of the movie was going to be similarly epic as well. Jodorowsky’s plan was to have a different artist compose a score for each planet in the “Dune” universe, with Pink Floyd sought as well as French prog rockers Magma, for the Planet Harkonnen. 

Alejandro Jodorowsky thinks his version could still be made…as an animated film…
As the movie reveals, pre-production on “Dune” had reached the point where they were ready to start building sets, but ultimately, they couldn’t find the cash to make the movie. Part of this may have been nervousness on Hollywood’s part, but the also the sheer hubris of Jodorowsky’s film which would have neared the 12-hour mark. Nevertheless, he was still heartbroken the movie couldn’t get made, but it’s influence lives on. The comic book series “The Incal” by Moebius and Jodorowsky, features some of the visual influences that would’ve been used on the film, and as the documentary highlights, lots of the work done on “Dune” was appropriated for other pictures ranging from “Flash Gordon” to “Prometheus.” (The doc provides some interesting artwork-to-scene comparisons to make the case).

While Jodorowsky himself won’t be making “Dune,” he states that he believes another director could take on his work, and produce his vision as an animated film, something that would certainly be a much more realistic prospect. But perhaps this movie best exists in dreams…there are plenty more fascinating factoids to be found in “Jodorowsky’s Dune” which will hopefully find its way to these shores soon.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: News and tagged , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox