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The Greatest Film Never Made
Jodorowsky's Dune is a love letter to a movie that never came to be.

The annals of film history are stuffed with examples of films left unmade despite the best efforts of those involved. From Tim Burton's woe-begotten Superman Lives, with Nic Cage in the lead and a screenplay from Kevin Smith, to Stanley Kubrick's epic, long-gestating Napoleon project— we've either luckily dodged or been robbed of collaborations so unique as to boggle the mind. But perhaps no unmade film looms as largely over the cinematic landscape as Alejandro Jodorowsky's adaptation of Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction epic Dune.

Fresh off the mind-bending cult successes of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, the Chilean-French surrealist turned his attention to the novel, which he freely admits he knew nothing about when he initially decided to adapt it. He enlisted some of the most creatively-diverse help imaginable in doing so. With production design from acclaimed comic artist Jean “Moebius” Girard and H.R. Giger; special effects work from Dan O'Bannon, who cut his teeth on John Carpenter's Dark Star; original music to be composed by Pink Floyd and Magma; and one of the wildest casts ever assembled (Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Jodorowsky's own son and Salvador Dali as the mad emperor of the universe) Jodorowsky's Dune might remain a film ahead of its time even today. But luckily for us, Jodorowsky's Dune comes along at the right time, an entertaining documentary that examines this unmade masterpiece.

Even as he enters his 85th year, Jodorowsky remains as captivating as ever, leaving no mystery as to how he amassed such a massive talent pool to help create his vision. Amongst a film filled with spectacular production art and gorgeously-rendered storyboards, it's his charisma that leaves the biggest imprint on viewers. Whether he's relaying one of many hilarious anecdotes about convincing some of the more mercurial artists (Welles and Dali) to join his project; discussing his passionate belief that they were all out to change the young minds of the world through this film; or even at one point calming down his cat, Jodorowsky is never anything short of mesmerizing. His vision for a sci-fi epic, meant to change the hearts of youths across the planet, sounds audacious when spelled out here. When discussed by the people involved in making the film, it comes across as possible, even downright plausible.

It's easy to fall in love with the platonic idea of a movie though, and while the documentary is deeply enamored of both the man and his vision, it never becomes Pollyanna-ish about it. Talking heads discuss that it's hard to imagine how his vision could have been made corporeal. Star Wars started production shortly after this project and struggled to realize its less ambitious vision of a far-flung intergalactic epic. And for all of his charisma, Jodorowsky also proves to be an intensely capricious man— and as entertaining as his anecdotes were—it’s unsurprising that Hollywood studios weren't excited about the prospect of doing business with such a volatile personality. But the film ends with a brilliant summation of the numerous ways his vision of Dune spread across the landscape of sci-fi filmmaking, even without a single frame of film ever having been produced of it. O'Bannon, Moebius and Giger all went on to work on Ridley Scott's Alien, and the vision realized by that horrifying picture owes quite a bit to work created over the course of their collaboration on Dune. So it ends up that even in death, Jodorowsky's Dune has extended its tendrils into the majority of important sci-fi cinema in the intervening decades, and thanks to Jodorowsky's Dune, it has gotten the respect it so richly deserves.


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