Review: Jodorowsky’s Dune

I’m taking a break here by moving to a review of a most unusual film about an unusual film that never was. Perhaps the archetypical Nevermade movie, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to make Dune in the 70’s.  This is “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”

SHORT REVIEW: Must-watch film for media historians, writers, and filmmakers. Be warned of some odd and offensive language, however.


  • A fascinating exploration of the unmade 1976 Dune.
  • Provides insights on how the unmade movie seeded other ideas and brought people together.


  • Some parts may be offensive, including a creative/rape metaphor that I found pretty horrible.
  • It’s one-sided, focusing mostly on Jodorowsky.

As an Elder Geek, I kept hearing about the aborted attempt to make dune into a film in the 1970’s. I’d seen sketchbooks, heard stories, saw articles, but it was always some background noise at best. Sure some famous people like H.R. Geiger were involved in it, but it didn’t really strike me.

But, as I grew up I kept hearing about it. How there was this giant story Bible. How it had touched many other big names like Dan O’Bannon. How detailed the plans were. What if, what if it had been made?

I’d also see bits and pieces of art and characters, or see a sketch and hear “oh that was from Dune.” I’d hear how some big name had almost been involved in the film. Jodorowsky’s Dune was a ghost haunting media, leaving markings, keeping us aware of it.

Then I found this movie.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a film that is mostly an interview with the man himself, Alejandro Jodorowsky. A person of multinational background, he’s responsible for the famous “Acid Western” El Topo. His work before and after Dune is psychedelic and spiritual. When you first meet him in the interview you get a weird sense of a philosopher, a holy madman, a cult leader, and a kind of egomaniac.

Though at times fascinating, at other timed disturbing (especially when he talks about sex and creativity), Jodorowsky is obviously deeply in love with media, creativity, and philosophy. He also can spin a good tale, and though skepticism is warranted as he verges on hagiographic (not just for himself, but for others), he also has a lot to say.

If one consisders it, a kind of surrealist creative half-madman is probably the right person to have adapted Dune at the time.

The film leads us through both the chronology of the film’s production and non-production, and provides glances at the film that could have been – courtesy of one of the two remaining Story Bibles for the film. Early on it’s apparent the film was insanely ambitious, but also extremely creative, planning to take any number of chances with casting, style, and design to bring the equally unusual work to the screen.

There’s a sense that this entire bizarre enterprise almost could have happened – literally “just crazy enough to work.” You can see, even early on that, this could have made it as a kind of movie-stage-play-marathon film. A kind of Game Of Thrones of its time, the kind of thing that survived in theaters for years upon years.

As we go through the history, we see how Jodorowsky’s own work intersected with other greats – Moebius, H.R. Geiger, Dan O’Bannon, and others. We get to see artists concepts (which, Elder Geeks like me have seen before). A lot of work went into this thing even though it never got made, and you start getting the sense of just how it touched some people. Screenshots and art displayed were things I clearly remembered from my childhood.

How many artists, writers, designers got a little boost, made some connections, got inspired by this unmade maybe-masterpiece?

Soon you’re realizing how crazy yet intriguing the casting is. Salvador Dali as the Emperor (and saving money by having the Emperor’s Robot Stand-in). Mick Jagger as Feyd. Orson Wells as Baron Harokonnen. Mad, unlikely, perhaps, or perhaps a chance to be an amazing art film.

Again, you watch this and wonder “what if?”

You’ll also find how Jodorowsky planned to blatantly take liberties with the book. There’s strange Biblical bits, a completely different psychedelic ending. Some things are changed completely, others tweaked. He’s cheerfully, almost disturbingly unrepentant about this – noting that he feels an adaption is going to be different. Some of these changes feel very much to be the product of their time, though seeing them writ on the big screen could have been very influential.

Of course, all crazy things don’t last forever. We ultimately confront the grind down of the film, the lack of money, the seemingly inevitable failure. There’s little regret expressed in the film, which is inspiring and perhaps understandable – the idea of this movie was always a gamble.

In closing, the documentary takes the stand that this unmade movie was an inspiration to many, sort of a ghost haunting many careers. A design here, others collaborating on a film there. Jodorowsky reused some ideas in comics he worked on (yes, the man doesn’t just do movies). Dune lives on in many things – which, oddly, was a theme of the changed film.

This statement is presented as unusual, but it’s something I’ve heard again and that I agree with to an extent – I know it’s been echoing around science fiction circles for decades that it was influential. I can’t say how much, but the clear fact we’re even talking about it says something.

In the end, you get an understanding of an unmade potential masterpiece, just how weird the 70’s could be, and how ideas can influence others. But . . .

Is It For You?

If you’re any, ANY kind of film history buff you should have watched it already. It’s also probably a good gift for any film buff you know.

If you’re a writer, producer, filmmaker, it’s also a very good idea to watch it as you’ll get some good insights.

If you’re an artist or graphic designer, definitely. You’ll get to see all sorts of interesting imagery, presented in context.


– Steven Savage