What happened to Jodorowsky’s Dune? The movie that was never made

Bruno Cooke September 10, 2020
What happened to Jodorowsky’s Dune? The movie that was never made
Photo by Laurent KOFFEL/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

What happened to Jodorowsky’s Dune? Why was it never made? Frank Herbert’s sweeping sci-fi literary classic, Dune (1965), has undergone various filmic transformations over the years, with Jodorowsky’s attempt in the Seventies, and Lynch’s film in the Eighties.

So far no film-maker has successfully – according to personal and popular opinion – pulled it off. Producers strangled Lynch’s vision, released in 1985, while Lynch himself has consistently been the most vocal detractor of his own film. 

Now, Denis Villeneuve is attempting a Dune reboot.

But what happened to Jodorowsky’s Dune? Why did he never get to realise his vision?

Jodorowsky’s Dune (1971-76)

Jodorowsky launched into the franchise in the Seventies with ambitions for a psychedelic ten-hour version, set to star Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dali and scored by Pink Floyd, among others. Sadly, this vision scared off producers. But wouldn’t it have been spectacular?

Screenshot from Jodorowsky’s Dune trailer

Frank Herbert himself, author of the original novel series, travelled to Europe to meet Jodorowsky and his pre-production crew in 1976. What Herbert found started a chain reaction that ultimately caused the collapse of Jodorowsky’s Dune.

$2 million of Jodorowsky’s $9.5 million budget was missing. Jodorowsky had already spent it on pre-production. While pre-production for major 21st century Hollywood productions can soar into the millions, this came as a bit of a shock for Herbert in 1976.

Script the ‘size of a phone book’

Herbert also found the screenplay would result in a 14-hour film. He later recalled: “It was the size of a phone book.” In contrast, Hollywood didn’t want the film to exceed two hours.

Two and a half years later, Jodorowsky et al scaled up the estimated budget to $15 million. If his film had been more commercially viable, he may have secured the money. However, foreseeing little return on the mammoth project, financiers baulked. Jodorowsky had no choice but to shut down the production.

Did Jodorowsky’s efforts go to waste?

In the 2013 American-French documentary film Jodorowsky’s Dune, Jodorowsky speaks in grandiose terms about the greatness of the original work. He compares it to Proust and assures us: “It was a great undertaking to do the script.”

The documentary notes Jodorowsky’s phone book script, extensive storyboard (allegedly composed of 3,000 drawings that depicted the entire film) and concept art were sent to all major film studios.

It goes on to argue these works inspired or in some way influenced later film productions such as Star Wars, Alien, Flash Gordon, Terminator and The Fifth Element.

While influence is impossible to quantify, it could be that George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Luc Besson are all in Jodorowsky’s debt. And if that’s the case, we too owe a debt of gratitude to the Chilean-French oddball for his dramatic and formidable vision.

Where next?

You can read a more thorough synopsis of the whole story, from the point of view of Jodorowsky himself, here.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.