With the news that Denis Villeneuve is remaking Dune (get hype!) I figured it's worth mentioning the version of Dune that you've never seen. So, here we are. The Grandaddy of recent documentaries. For those unaware (and don't worry, I'd never heard of him before watching this documentary), Alejandro Jodorowsky is a filmmaker who started in the late 50's experimenting with translating the psychedelic experience into the film format. In 1955, he studied to be a Mime with Marcel Marceau. He directed a bunch of avant-garde theater and in 1975, he managed to get the rights to a little book called Dune, maybe you've heard of it. You know, the one with the Sand Worms (Not Beetlejuice) and the weapons that charge from your voice.
Alejandro had a bold vision for the film adaptation of this epic novel (even though he'd never read it). He sought to make a film that gives LSD hallucinations without the LSD. He brought together a cast the likes of Salvador Dali (as the Mad Emperor), Orson Welles (as Baron Harkonnen), MIck Jagger, David Carradine & the director's own son as the main character, David. (Who trained for years in multiple martial arts to prep for this role.)
Orson had a bad reputation at the time, known for eating and drinking so much that he ate the movies. But Alejandro said, 'Orson Welles is a genius. He's the one.' So, Alejandro set out to hire Orson and found him in a gastronomic restaurant in Paris, eating with six bottles of wine. He asked the chef what was the best bottle of wine Orson might want and had it sent to his table. Orson initially refused the job, but Alejandro offered to hire the chef from the restaurant to cook for him every day if he'd just agree to act in the movie. Orson heartily accepted the role.
Next, Alejandro ran into Salvador Dali and immediately wanted to add him in the film. Dali had already been in two pictures, but his acting chops weren't going to win him any accolades. Alejandro decided to play to his ego. Dali wanted to be the highest paid actor and asked for a million dollars a minute. Alejandro convinced him to agree to a million dollars per minute on camera and then planned in quiet to shoot around him as much as possible.
Alejandro needed artists to help bring his vision to light, so he brought on Moebius (Jean Girard). Moebius was a respected Comic Book Artist based out of Paris, known for his comic series Blueberry (which was a western series following Lieutenant Blueberry).
Moebius was hired to create a storyboard for the script, translating it to the visual medium. Alejandro saw his talent and knew that he could help bring his vision to life, but he needed someone with a darker vision to bring Baron Harkonnen to life.
Next comes H.R. Giger. At the time, he was only just becoming the master artist we know today. Jodorowsky knew he needed someone outside the box to help bring the experimental side of Dune to light and had seen Giger's book, so he reached out. Giger made 5 paintings for the film to bring the Harkonnen's castle to life. There was a dark skull who's tongue would extend for your ship to land.
Then there would be a stairway with giant spears that came out of the walls to impale people who wanted to see the Baron.
This castle, mind you, is not in the novel and is purely from Jodorowsky's mind.
Lastly, Alejandro hired Dan O'Bannon, who had just made a science fiction film with John Carpenter (Dark Star). Dan brought would be in charge of the special effects and making the practical spaceships fly through the ether.
So, how is it that you've never heard of this version of Dune? They had enough money from France to produce the film, but the United States didn't give them enough distribution. To break even, they needed at least a thousand theaters and the large companies refused to show the film. Everything came to a crashing halt, despite all of these people having planned the next couple of years on making this insane film into reality. After this movie faded into dust, so much came out of it. If you look at the drawings, you'll see that it inspired Star Wars, The Terminator, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Masters of the Universe, Contact (Opening Scene), Prometheus and most importantly the version of Dune that you all know and love. Dan O'Bannon went on to write Alien with inspirations from H.R. Giger.
Despite knowing the outcome of this documentary, it's completely worth going on this experience with Jodorowsky. His passion for life and creativity are truly inspiring and a breathe of fresh air in this era of reboots and remakes.