Do you imagine Dalí playing an opulent galactic emperor, Welles a morbid obese villain, and Jagger his ruthless nephew?
The seventies were definitely an age of experimenting. Naturally, cinema wasn’t free from that trend, so there are tons of films that prove how far filmmakers were willing to go when talking about expanding the mind. Not only were writers and directors following the social interest in psychedelia, but they were also in search for tools to become a more modern society. It was in this context that the movie we're going to talk about, better known as "the Bible of Science Fiction," was born. But why is this adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune so amazing? Why is this film the core of the genre and a source of inspiration for future filmmakers?
To start with, let’s talk about the process. Created by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, the idea of Dune was more than showing a great Sci-Fi movie. He wanted to create a masterpiece that would make the spectator experience true religiousness through a film that emulated the effects of an LSD trip. It sounds like quite an ambitious project if you ask me. With that in mind, he started working on the story when one of his friends, the multi-millionaire French producer Michel Seydoux, told him he had carte blanche to make a film. In 1974 he started working on the adaptation. Now, this was rather a "slight" adaptation because, as Jodorowsky has claimed over the years, he hadn’t read the novel nor had the intention to do so. He has explained that he had heard of it through friends, and he had liked the main idea of the book but had no interest on making a faithful copy; on the contrary, he used some of the foundations of the story and developed his own strange and surreal plot.
In case you don’t know his filmography, he isn’t a regular creative; on the contrary, he’s more of an I-do-whatever-I-want sort of guy, which has made him one of the most controversial figures of the past decades, but that’s another story. The thing is that he had a quite formed idea of what he wanted, and if things weren’t just as he had envisioned them, he wouldn’t make the film, and of course that included his peculiar cast. He knew how to approach them and did everything on his hands to convince them to work on his project. For instance, he knew about Salvador Dalí’s eccentricities and approached him with the art of tarot reading. Through that, he convinced him he was the perfect choice to play the Emperor. As for Welles, considered one of the most important actors on the media, he convinced him by promising him that the chef of his favorite restaurant would prepare his meals throughout the shooting of the film. As for the rock legend Mick Jagger, he went to a party he knew Jagger was attending and convinced him that this would be the best project to take in the film industry. Finally, he hunted Pink Floyd while they were taking a break from their studio session and talked passionately about his film until they agreed to make the score.
He had his story and his cast; now he needed a team of creative people to make something concise and presen it to the main studios to get the funding and means to make it. For that matter, he reached Moebius, Chris Foss, and Giger, who hadn’t actually worked in the industry yet but had an amazing talent that matched Jodorowsky’s vision. They worked untiringly for some months and created about 20 books filled with the art of this spatial scenario that had no comparison with anything done at the time. However, no matter how amazing this project seemed to be, the main studios didn’t think the same, so all of them backed off, since they didn’t really see it as a profitable project. On the contrary, they believed the movie was a huge risk, not only in monetary terms but also due to the investment of time and effort. The film was thought to have a duration of about 15 hours. I mean, there wasn’t still the concept of long series, and Jodorowsky really wanted it to have a movie format. Despite his effort and passion, the project was canceled, and this became one of the best movies never made in the history of cinema. However, its importance wasn’t shut as the project was.
Jodorowsky's team, instead, worked in the production of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), and as you know, they did an amazing work in the art department. Years later when one of the books made for Dune was found, people could distinguish many elements of their favorite movies in it; thus it was called the Bible of science fiction. In that way, many visual ideas that are seen in Alien, Star Wars, Contact, Flash Gordon, and even Raiders of the Lost Ark are thought to be taken from all this job that never saw the light, well, at least in the form of a film as it was expected. In Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, they explain that for the filmmaker the movie was done. He wanted to create something prophetic, and at the end of the day, the idea fulfilled its purpose, or at least in Jodorowsky’s mind it did.
The adaptation of the movie was made by David Lynch in 1984, and although it is said that he got a glimpse of what the Chilean director had created, he used his own style and personality. However, critics didn’t receive this movie that well. After all, perhaps the story was destined to never become a successful product, but if it really inspired other movies as it’s thought, perhaps its essence reincarnated just in the religious and spiritual way its creator wanted it to happen. As he said, "I wanted to make something sacred… the coming of an artistic, cinematographic god.”
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