Jodorowsky’s Dune Documentary Gets North American Distribution

By Nick Venable | Updated

jodorowsky's duneWhen it comes to film directors with a track record of disastrously bad luck, Terry Gilliam is probably the greatest example there is. (If anyone else ends up making a Don Quixote film before I die, I’ll be so disappointed.) Gilliam could be joined on that list by French-Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, but Jodorowsky only had one exceedingly insane potential disaster to his credit: his failed interpretation of Frank Herbert’s best-selling novel Dune. Honestly though, this was such a balls-out project, it does a good job of making Gilliam’s imagination seem tame in comparison.

For anyone unfamiliar with this project’s story, or for those who want a detailed look at it, a celebration is in order, as Sony Pictures Classics has acquired the North American rights to Jodorowsky’s Dune, Frank Pavich’s documentary that chronicles the film’s pre-production excess. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was met with highly positive reviews, proving that almost every film, no matter how crazy, deserves somebody’s attention.

Pavich in a statement:

To have my first film distributed by Sony Pictures Classics is a dream come true. I’m incredibly excited to know that we will be working alongside the company that so fully supported such great documentaries like Crumb and Searching for Sugar Man. SPC has seen that, even though this is a documentary about a never-completed film, it is not a story about failure. It’s a story about ambition and how the power of art can effectively change the world.

Jodorowsky, the cult filmmaker who helmed such oddball classics as the acid western El Topo and the time-shifting thriller Santa Sangre, was given the chance to adapt Dune in 1975, two years after film producer Arthur P. Jacobs acquired the film’s rights and subsequently passed away. If you’re familiar with the David Lynch film and wonder how things could have possibly been any stranger, get ready.

Given a $9.5 million budget, Jodorowsky’s proposed cast list included such vastly disparate names as Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Hervé Villechaize, Geraldine Chaplin, Mick Jagger, and Jodorowsky’s own son in the lead role. (Dali reportedly wanted to be paid $100,000 per hour for his presence.) He was in talks with sci-fi artist Chris Foss, French artist Mœbius(Jean Giraud), and H.R. Giger, all of whom worked on storyboards, creature designs, and spaceship designs, among other things. Pre-Alien Dan O’Bannon was brought in to head the special effects department. Pink Floyd was attached to provide the soundtrack. I assume Jodorowsky tried to get God and Satan involved with the project, but they were unavailable for comment.

So why didn’t the film eventually get made? Financial reasons, of course. When Hebert showed up in Europe in 1976 to catch up on the production, he found that Jodorowky has already spent $2 million on the pre-production alone, and that his phonebook-sized script equaled out to a 14-hour movie. Can you imagine the marathons?

There’s no telling when the film will be released, but you can bet it will be limited enough that VOD will be the way most of us will be able to see it. Check out the trailer below and remember to keep your spice hidden.

And let’s just all take one more big sigh of relief that Peter Berg’s remake dropped off the face of Arrakis.