Frank Herbert‘s 1965 science-fiction epic Dune had long been considered impossible to translate to film. Set 21,000 years in the future, in deep space, and on a planet made completely of sand (amongst gargantuan sandworms), it would require a budget of millions, special effects beyond the capabilities of the era, and more than all that, a director audacious enough to bring it to life.
In 1974, Chilean surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky was eager to accept the challenge. And while ultimately he wouldn’t succeed (where David Lynch eventually did, ten years later), his struggle to make Dune a reality would go down in history as one of cinema’s great “lost” projects.
Geeks Of Doom: What compelled you to tell the story of Jodorowsky’s Dune?
Frank Pavich: It was really just as simple as hearing about it. It’s this crazy, amazing, you-can’t-believe-it’s-true story and I read about it a little bit here and there online or there’s a couple of books that exist such as The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made — this is always in those books, and out of all those movies that are always listed, this to me is always the greatest movie never made — by leaps and bounds! Not only because it’s the wildest idea, or the most imaginative to me, but also because it’s the most fully realized of all those notorious unmade films.
Geeks Of Doom: I was frankly stunned at how complete — how close he came to actually realizing his vision…all of the personnel that he had assembled at the ready, it’s just a shame that it may never see the light of day.
Frank Pavich: It kind of has, through this documentary. One of the interesting things is that Jodorowsky feels that he has made it. In the film he doesn’t say that we were ‘drawing’ the pictures, we were ‘drawing’ the storyboard, he says “we were ‘shooting’… everyday we’d get up, and go for coffee and we’d shoot the picture — and [illustrator Jean Giraud] Moebius was my camera,” so in his mind he feels that he made the film because he developed the whole thing, he created it in his mind and transferred it to paper… so to him, it’s a job well done by this point.
Geeks Of Doom: How did you approach Jodorowsky, and what compelled him to finally allow his story to be told, and you to be the one to tell it?
Frank Pavich: That’s a good question, I wish I knew! I didn’t know him and I didn’t know anybody that knew him, so I just sort of reached out completely blindly, I located his literary agent and I sent her an email and she forwarded it to him so instead of hearing back from her, I heard back from him directly and he said, “I hear you’re looking for me, I hear you want to speak to me about Dune. You need to meet me face-to-face in Paris.” I think was just the right time — it was the right time in his life when he was willing to talk about it. He had put enough behind him that he had a different perspective than he may have had immediately after [losing Dune].
I think he’s a quick judge of people and personalities. To this day he’s never asked to see any of my other films. I think it was completely a personality thing — I like to think that he saw something in me that would treat the story with respect.
Geeks Of Doom: Did he make you take a tarot card reading, as he notoriously does with people he meets for the first time?
Frank Pavich: He did not ask me, and if he had, I would have declined. I was definitely too scared to get my tarot cards read during production, ’cause God forbid there was something in there that would kill the project! But once the film was done, and it was already playing in festivals, I said, “Okay, would you please give me a reading?” and he did, but I only managed to do it once the film was completely done and finished!
Geeks Of Doom: Place yourself in the mindset of the era — 1974 — three years before Star Wars would even be a thing. Having only Jodorowsky’s prior work (El Topo, The Holy Mountain) as a basis, would you, as a Hollywood studio exec, have risked millions of dollars to put Jodorowsky’s Dune on the screen?
Frank Pavich: No, because one of the things that was detrimental to the project was that he was truly just ahead of the curve. This was happening a little bit before Star Wars, and even when Star Wars was in preproduction and production, the studio though it was dumb — they were barely on board, ready to pull the plug at any minute. At that point in time, what was science fiction? It was 2001, and 1950s B-movies, and that was it. Today, every giant summer tentpole film is science fiction — that’s what makes a lot of money, but back then science fiction was not for wide audiences — nobody thought that it would work, so it totally makes sense that the guy that made El Topo and Holy Mountain comes in and they look at it like, “You’re crazy.”
And that’s what’s so crazy about this story, is that less than 10 years later, once Star Wars comes out and Empire Strikes Back and everybody wants a science fiction movie– any science fiction movie — they turn back to Dune, and who do they okay but David Lynch? David Lynch is essentially cut from the same cloth as Jodorowsky, so they were happy to hire Lynch — they didn’t look for Spielberg or whoever was the Michael Bay of that time. They went for this bizarre, avant-garde guy whose only previous films were Eraserhead and The Elephant Man. By that point, they were blind to making money! They made toys! They made Paul Atreides action figures! Coloring books for kids! Dune is so not a kids’ movie, it’s not even funny, but they were totally blinded by it, thinking it was going to make a billion dollars. It really almost sank them in the end.
Geeks Of Doom: Do you feel there is still room for a director of Jodorowsky’s passion in a modern Hollywood driven by commercial success?
Frank Pavich: On the surface, the cynic in me says “No, all Hollywood wants is money and Spider-Man Part Seven, and more superhero movies,” but then just a few months ago we had Noah — this giant budget 3D movie which is a Bible story with environmental and animal rights undertones and themes… and I can’t believe this movie got made! To me, Darren Aronofsky is to Noah what Jodorowsky is to Dune. I think if you have somebody who’s got a passion, sometimes that passion can get under the radar of these studios, so you never know who’s gonna come around the corner, and who can sneak something in.
Geeks Of Doom: Have you seen Jodorowsky’s most recent film, The Dance of Reality?
Frank Pavich: I saw it three times, and I loved it. I think you need to know a little bit about Jodorowsky first, I think that helps. Once you sort of know who he is a little bit you understand that this is a story about his childhood and you can understand the way he tells stories. I think once you understand what the film really is, which is, not just a story but it’s a way for him to really heal familial wounds — he wants to heal his relationship with his parents. It’s a way for him to go back in time and as he puts it, save his father’s soul. Once you put it in that perspective and watch it, it’s quite extraordinary! Obviously, I’m a huge fan of his films, but to me, this is truly my favorite of all his films, it’s the most personal, it’s really the most beautiful.
Geeks Of Doom: The central focus of Jodorowsky’s Dune is his massive production bible. Are there any plans for Jodorowsky to publish that bible, or otherwise make it available to the public?
Frank Pavich: Jodorowsky’s spoken about it and [Dune‘s would-be producer] Michel Seydoux has spoken about it, so the desire is there, but I don’t think anything has happened as of yet. Maybe they’re waiting for the documentary to come out in more areas, I’m not really sure. But they have spoken about it and I know that I get emails about that every day. People really, really want a copy of it, so if it comes out I’ll definitely be in line at the store, but we don’t have any definitive news.
Geeks Of Doom: Jodorowsky mentions in the film that he would love someone to take his bible, even after his death, and produce HIS Dune — even as an animated feature. Who do you feel today would be worthy of accepting that mantle?
Frank Pavich: I just am not familiar enough with animators and animated films to be able to give a good answer. Animation is just not my world. I absolutely have no clue who would be a good person to do that.
Geeks Of Doom: What extras can people expect to see on the Blu-ray?
Frank Pavich: There’s a good 45 minutes of extra material and some of it is deleted scenes — both deleted from our telling of the story as well as from his version of Dune — animated sequences, and stuff like that we just couldn’t fit into our narrative. Then there’s quite a bit of stuff that my editor and I put together specifically for the DVD and Blu-ray release. You watch the film, and even if you don’t know who he is, you really can’t come away without being completely in love with the guy. If anybody had complained about the film, it’s that they want to see more, they want to see more of Dune, they want to see more of him. So we cut together a bunch of different segments of him speaking about his views on Hollywood, his views on film, his views on religion, stuff like that. We’ve given him the time to regale the audience with these incredible stories that only he knows how to tell.
Geeks Of Doom: What’s your next project? Are you planning to work again with Jodorowsky?
Frank Pavich: I haven’t quite figured out what the next project is, as I’m still so involved with this one. I don’t think it’ll necessarily be something with Alejandro, but it has to be something that would make him proud of me. He really gave me this amazing gift, to tell this story. He let me do it completely; he wasn’t watching over our shoulders or anything. He really let us be free. So, he’s given us something incredible, and if given the chance to make something else, I don’t want to squander that chance. I want to make it something that is as important, as transformative as I think this story is.
People watch this film, and they come out inspired, they come out changed, they come out transformed. That’s what [Jodorowsky] always says is his goal for art and for film, and with any luck, I’ll hopefully continue that same course.
Jodorowsky’s Dune is now available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.