Any director trying to adapt Frank Herbert’s “Dune” has a holy mountain to climb. Alejandro Jodrowsky and David Lynch were revered auteurs when they took it on, and both came up short. Now, it’s Denis Villeneuve’s turn, with the Warner Bros. sci-fi epic opening December 18. As the world awaits first footage, much about Villeneuve’s version remains shrouded in secrecy.
Nobody felt the pain of adapting “Dune” more than Jodorowsky, whose infamous production attempt In the 1970s is detailed in the 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune.” In a recent interview with IndieWire, the 90-year-old filmmaker said that despite the pain of that lost project, he still plans to see Villeneuve’s version — but remains unconvinced that anyone can pull it off well.
“‘Dune’ is a book that’s like Proust. It’s science fiction but it’s very, very literary,” Jodorowsky said. “It’s very difficult to find images to put in the film because pictures are optical. When I had the idea to do that, it was in an ecological [crisis]. I was feeling what all the people feel today. We’re in an ecological problem, because the Earth is changing, and your crazy President doesn’t believe that. That is ‘Dune’ in the beginning.”
The Chilean filmmaker’s epic battle to get the movie made — with such collaborators as H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Udo Kier, and Mick Jagger — served as the subject of Frank Pavich’s acclaimed documentary. The movie also chronicles Jodorworsky’s response when David Lynch went on to direct and release his version in 1984, a flop that both directors have since renounced.
“The first time they said it was safe to do ‘Dune,’ and [David Lynch] did it, I was ill, because it was my dream. They showed the picture in Paris, and my son said, ‘You need to see the picture.’ I was ill to do that. Ill,” Jodorowsky said. “And then they start to show the picture, and step by step, I was so happy, so happy, so happy because it was a shitty picture. I realized, ‘Dune,’ nobody can do it. It’s a legend.”
Jodorowsky said that nobody has called him to consult on Villeneuve’s “Dune” or glean horror stories about what went wrong. “When they’re doing ‘Dune’ [in 1984], for the publicity, they said, ‘The picture Jodorowsky cannot do!’ They used me in the publicity.” He said that hasn’t been the case this time around.
“They don’t want, because I’ll take all the publicity for me!” he said. “But in the darkness, they’re saying, ‘We’ll now do the big enormous picture Jodorowsky didn’t do! We’ll be fantastic! The director is a genius!’ Nobody can be a genius in Hollywood. Nobody. Because it’s a business.”
For Jodorowsky, his busted vision of “Dune” is all blood under the bridge. He plans to go see Villeneuve’s version “with pleasure, because it will be different. It’s not the same,” he said. “It’s impossible to do.”