The Impossible Film

By: Claudia F. Pérez

Have you heard the story of the greatest sci-fi film never made? It begins and ends with Chilean director, actor, “psycho-magician” and cofounder of the Panic Movement, Alejandro Jodorowsky.

In 1975, when Jodorowsky was enjoying the success of his cult films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, he was approached by the French producers who had acquired the rights to Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune. But what started as a seemingly perfect match—a fearless visionary and a beloved award-winning novel—ended as a majestic disaster. That’s the story told in Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, now available on demand.

Jodorowsky hadn’t even read Dune before deciding to embark on his ambitious two-year journey with producer Michel Seydoux in search of his “spiritual warriors”: the artists that would aid him to create the “movie as prophet”. If this sounds delusional to you, well, that’s because it kind of was.

In order to produce his 10-plus hour vision of Dune, Jodorowsky sought out none other than Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles to join the cast. Dalí accepted only after Seydoux offered him $100,000 per minute (after calculating that his total time on screen would amount to two or three minutes tops), and Welles acquiesced when Jodorowsky promised him to hire the chef of the very same Paris restaurant they were sitting at to do the catering. He also hired French illustrator Moebius to design the characters and (at some point) Pink Floyd to produce the soundtrack.

Impossible as it was to bring to life—Herbert described the lengthy script as “the size of a phone book”—the project collapsed for lack of funds before Jodorowsky could yell “Action!” Yet his vision was so daring and innovative, it cast its influence on many films made immediately after it. To begin with, the cowriter and main artists of Alien were part of the Dune project and applied what they learned to Ridley Scott’s classic. But the leaked storyboards are also said to have influenced Star Wars, The Terminator, Blade Runner and even Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The only letdown here is that Pavich chose the most standard format—talking head interviews interspersed with photos and storyboards—to tell such a fascinating and unconventional story. It’s only thanks to Jodorowsky’s gift for storytelling that the documentary succeeds in telling its tale: that some of the best things in the world exist only in our imaginations.

LOGISTICS: Jodorowsky’s Dune, on demand now

Claudia F. Pérez is Manero's correspondent in Los Angeles.