Dune (Jorodowsky)

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In the late 1970s, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky attempted to make what would have been the first filmed adaptation of Dune. Jodorowsky's film would have taken great liberties with Frank Herbert's text, but to make it he assembled some of the most creative minds of the time, including H.R. Giger, Moebius, and Christopher Foss in the design department, and Salvador Dali as Shaddam Corrino IV and, according to some reports, Orson Welles as Vladimir Harkonnen. In the end, it failed because the financing fell through, though had it been made it no doubt would have been a pinnacle of Jodorowsky's career.

The Producer, the Director, and the Genesis of the Project

The creator of the Dune Chronicles, Frank Herbert, generally was at a step removed from such proceedings. All news regarding the film industry's interest in the book was relayed to him by his film agent, Ned Brown, while Herbert himself continued to write at his home, with his wife Beverly by his side. By the time Seydoux and Jodorowsky were making their plans for Dune, he had already published its sequel, Dune Messiah (1970), and was about to begin work on the final draft of what would become Children of Dune (1976).

Herbert had already had his hopes raised when Arthur P. Jacobs, producer of the Planet of the Apes films, had exercised an option to make Dune in 1972 with David Lean directing, which not only would have done the book justice, but would also have brought in a significant amount of money that the Herberts sorely needed, both to keep a roof over their heads and to keep up with Beverly's rising medical costs (Beverly had recently had cancer treatment that gave her another ten years of life, but the complications dealt her health a severe blow). Jacobs' death in June 1973 left the future of that production in doubt. Ultimately, Jacobs' company, Apjac International, decided not to renew their option on Dune and Herbert was left out in the cold. The royalties from Dune were substantial, but apparently not enough to provide firm security, especially when factoring in Beverly's needs. A new offer to film the book came at just the right time.

Herbert himself found out about the project in December 1974 upon returning from a three-month car trip to Mexico with Beverly. His son Brian Herbert, in addition to taking up the task of continuing the Dune Chronicles in book form, wrote a biography of his father, Dreamer of Dune (2003), in which he gave the Herberts' perspective on the news:

Upon returning from their trip in early December 1974, good news awaited them. A French production company headed by Michel Seydoux was making a substantial offer for the right to film Dune. The offer was accepted, and their advance provided welcome financial breathing room ... Seydoux, a millionaire Parisian, obtained the Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky for the project. Jodorowsky, director of the controversial cult films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, was a brilliant eccentric with left-wing political views. The budget was set at $9,500,000, substantially lower than Arthur P. Jacobs' $15,000,000, especially considering inflation in the intervening years. But Jodorowsky planned to film in Spain and the deserts of Algeria, where costs were not excessive. He was confident he could come in under budget.

The Characters and Cast

Acording to Jodorowsky, it was only after the matters of production design, music and special effects were settled that he turned his attention to the casting of the film. Brian Herbert relates the basics of what is known about the casting in Dreamer of Dune:

Jodorowsky wrote the screenplay and proceeded with storyboarding, the creation of special effects, set construction, and costume-making. He also reached tentative casting agreements with an interesting group of actors. Jodorowsky intended to play Duke Leto Atreides himself, while Orson Welles would be Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Surrealistic artist and filmaker Salvador Dali would be the Padishah Emperor (Shaddam IV), David Carradine would be Imperial ecologist Dr. Kynes, and Charlotte Rampling would be Lady Jessica.

This is essentially correct, though there are minor areas where Herbert's and Jodorowsky's accounts differ. More to the point, because Dreamer of Dune focuses on different issues than the production of a film that was, in the end, never made, the details of the casting, which in one particular case are worthy of a soap opera, are left unsaid. It falls to Jodorowsky's Metal Hurlant article to elaborate on who was cast for which character. Equally, it falls to Jodorowsky to describe in what ways the characters remained the same as Herbert imagined them, and where they became radically different:

Duke Leto Atreides (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

In the film, Duke Leto (the father of Paul) would be a man castrated in a ritual combat in the arenas during a bullfight. (The emblem of the Atreides house being a sacred bull...)

Paul Atreides (Brontis Jodorowsky)

Alejandro's son was lined up to play the lead role.

Lady Jessica Atreides (Charlotte Rampling)

Jodorowsky kept the Lady Jessica much like she was portrayed in Herbert's book, especially where her personal tug-of-war between her loyalty to the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and her love of her concubine, Duke Leto, is concerned. But again, he uses the visual medium to make explicit what the book only implies. In this version, Jessica is outright depicted as the mother of a kind of virgin birth, which in turn escalates the Messiah-status of Paul:

Jessica, a Bene Gesserit nun sent like a concubine to the duke to create a daughter who would be the mother of a Messiah, falls so much in love with Leto that she decides to blow a link in the chain and create a son, the Kwisatz Haderach, the savior. In using her Bene Gesserit powers - as soon as the duke, madly in love with her, confides his sad secret - Jessica lets herself be inseminated by a drop of blood of this sterile man... The camera followed (in the script) the red drop through the ovaries of the woman and accompanied its meeting with the ovule where, by an miraculous explosion, it inseminates the egg. Paul was born of a virgin, and not by the sperm of his father but by his blood...

British actress and ex-model Charlotte Rampling (b. 1946) would certainly have been suited to the role. Without a doubt, she could have looked the part. It may even have been a stretch for her, since she more often than not portrayed villainous or "bitchy" roles, and the role of the mother of a Messiah-figure was far removed from these. In the end, however, Rampling refused in favor of her personal life:

I had seen Charlotte Rampling in Zardoz. I wanted her for Jessica. She refused the role. She wanted at the time to do two or three commercial films, her love life interested her more than art.

The facts seem to lend credence to Jodorowsky's claim. In 1972, Rampling had married actor Bryan Southcombe and bore him a son, Barnaby, and when Jodorowsky came to call on her they were living in a ménage à trois relationship with a male model, certainly more than enough to keep her from a film project as demanding as Dune promised to be. The couple divorced in 1976, and Rampling continues to act today.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Orson Welles)

Baron Harkonnen is an immense man of 300 kilograms. He is so fat and heavy that, in order to move, he needs to continually use anti-gravitational bubbles attached to his extremities... His delusions of grandeur have no limit: he lives in a palace constructed as a portrait of himself... This immense sculpture stands on a sordid swampy planet... In order to enter the palace, one has to wait for the colossus to open its mouth and stick out a tongue of steel (a landing strip...)

Clearly, the role required an actor of considerable presence, charisma, and the ability to be quite literally larger than life. Who better than Orson Welles? The famous (or infamous) writer-actor-director (1915-1985) was at this time often sought for hosting, acting and narrating duties, and was frequently seen on the talk show circuit. Always he sought funding for his own film projects, many of them regrettably never made. Certainly, if Jodorowsky was successful in bringing Welles on board, his fee for the role would have been put to use in what film he was planning at the time. But did Welles agree to the role before the film was cancelled? Many years after the fact, both Jodorowsky and Brian Herbert spoke separately about this bit of casting as if it were a done deal. No quote from Welles can be found on the matter. When he died at the age of seventy, he was still trying to get financing for films that would never come, a situation that Jodorowsky himself could have sympathized with.

Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (Salvador Dali)

In my version of Dune, the Emperor of the Galaxy is mad. He lives on an artificial planet of gold, in a palace of gold constructed according to the non-laws of anti-logic. He lives in symbiosis with a robot identical to him. The resemblance is so perfect that the citizens never know if they are facing the man or the machine...

The idea of a robot double for the Emperor (an interesting addition when one considers that in the Dune Chronicles, conscious robots have been illegal for more than ten millennia) was born out of necessity, due to the now-legendary financial haggle between the eccentric director and the far-more-eccentric celebrity painter. Jodorowsky wrote in the Metal Hurlant article of this clash of personalities:

The actor that I wanted the most was Dali, for the small role of the mad Emperor... What an adventure!... Dali accepted with much enthusiasm the idea of playing the Emperor of the galaxy. He wanted to film at Cadaques and use a toilet made up of two intertwined dolphins as his throne. The tails would form the feet and the two open mouths would serve, one to hold the "pipi", the other to hold the "caca". Dali thinks that it is in very bad taste to mix the "pipi" and the "caca".

The Negotiations Between Dali and Jodorowsky

He was told that he would be needed for seven days. Dali replied that God made the universe in seven days and that Dali, not being less than God, must cost a fortune: $100,000 an hour. Probably upon arriving on the set, he would decide to film each day no more than an hour for the same price. The Dali-esque happening would cost us $700,000. We asked him for time, a night, to make a decision and we left each other. That night, I tore a page from a book on the tarot; it had a card reproduced on it: the Hanged Man. I wrote him a letter saying that the film couldn't pay him $700,000 dollars ... For $150,000, I wanted three days and no more than an hour and a half of filming. I also wanted to have a polyethylene puppet, his replica, to use as his double in the film. Dali got angry. He cried: "I'll have you like rats! I will film in Paris, but the set will cost you more than the landscape of Cadaques and the cadre of my museum. Dali costs $100,000 an hour!"

Bitter, he calmed down and accepted the idea of reproducing him in plastic if the sculpture was given to his museum after the film. We decided to definitively finish with the contract the next day. I had a discussion with Jean-Paul Gibon and we arrived at the conclusion that it was impossible to haggle with Dali. I meditated for a long time and I made this final decision: I reduced the role of Dali to a page-and-a-half of script. I accepted his price, $100,000 dollars an hour, but I would only use him for a single hour. The rest, I would film with his double. Dali couldn't allow himself to go back on his price. We went to see him. I gave him the little page-and-a-half and Dali accepted the proposition because his honor was safe. He would be the highest paid actor in the history of cinema. He would earn more than Greta Garbo.

Dali enthusiastically showed me his wooden bed as the sculpture of a dolphin. A worker was there, already making the blueprint of the dolphin to make the toilet. As much for Dali as for myself, the card of the Hanged Man, on which some words were written, served as a contract. Dali liked the aristocracy and like all men of noble spirit, he respected his word.

The very mundanity of the contract - a scribbled-on tarot card - may account for the fact that the actual status of Dali's employment seems uncertain today. According to a biography of Dali by Ian Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali (1997), at the time relations between Jodorowsky and Dali fell apart in October 1975, the director "had hoped to" sign Dali, but the book says nothing as to him actually being signed for the role. In any case, the relationship would fall apart, when tragic political events in Spain made Jodorowsky realize he had come across someone far more outlandish than he could ever hope to be.

The September 1975 Executions and Fallout for Dali

When Agence France-Presse came to Dali (1 October 1975) to get his opinion on the executions and their aftermath, Dali answered that the rally in Madrid and the protests outside Spain were "the biggest present that could have been made to our Generalissimo Franco." He continued digging his own hole, finally falling into it with a shocking climax describing his well-established views on what freedom meant to him:

The success he's had today, with a crowd of more than two million people acclaiming him the greatest hero of Spain, could never have happened if there hadn't been these incidents. The hostility of the other countries has made him thirty years younger in a second. He's a wonderful person. This guarantees that the coming monarchy will be totally successful. We'll see then that Spain is a country where, in a few months, there'll be no more terrorism because they're going to be liquidated like rats. Three times more executions are needed. But there've been enough for the moment... Personally I'm against freedom. I'm for the Holy Inquisition. Freedom is shit, and that's why all countries fail when there's an excess of freedom. Lenin said so: "Freedom is no use for anything."

Dali had long been a supporter of the Caudillo, and like so many who backed Franco, he may - or may not - have hated executions, but he hated civil war more, and was certain that a Spain without Franco's strong hand on it would collapse back into chaos. In the event, following Franco's death the following month, Spain pulled off its transition to a constitutional monarchy without incident, and Dali came to like the Caudillo's appointed successor, King Juan Carlos I, and support the King just as fervently. But Dali's remarks had provoked a thunderstorm of protest. The following day (2 October 1975), he tried to backpedal by explaining that he was against all forms of terrorism, and all death penalties, but since such penalties existed in some countries, "It's not for me to meddle in how the law is applied." He maintained, however, that it would be a mistake to bring democracy to Spain, and hoped for the return of absolute monarchy.

Dali had succeeded only in doing more damage to himself. And for Jodorowsky, whose own politics lay one hundred and eighty degrees away from Dali's, the painter had become a liability he did not want. Aside from being personally offended by the remarks, it is likely Jodorowsky risked much by keeping a lightning rod for harsh criticism attached to the film. Brian Herbert describes the following incident in Dreamer of Dune, which the Herberts learned of a year later amongst a list of bad news concerning developments on the project:

...Jodorowsky (a left-winger politically) and Salvador Dali (a right-winger) were refusing to work with one another, having had a vociferous argument in front of others involved in the project.

This "vociferous argument," held in full view of others, may have been the moment where the fallout over Dali's remarks came to a head. Whatever the case, Jodorowsky had been pushed too far and announced to the press that he had changed his mind about signing Dali to act in Dune:

I would be ashamed to use now in my work a man who in his masochistic exhibitionism demands the ignoble death of human beings.


H.R. Giger, who later designed the 'Aliens' in the Aliens film series, made artwork for the movie, as did English artist Chris Foss, whilst French comic book artist Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius, produced over 3,000 images for the film. Dan O'Bannon was to be in charge of the Special Effects.


German electronic music pioneer Karl Heinz Stockhausen, Pink Floyd, French progressive rock group Magma, and English avant-rock group Henry Cow were all mooted as possibilities for the music score, with Brian Herbert writing in Dreamer of Dune that Jodorowsky hoped to reach agreement with either Mick Jagger or Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack.

Changes from the novel

Alejandro Jodorowsky was keen to have very distinct differences between his envisioning of Dune, and the novel. For example, Shaddam was to be portrayed as insane, living in an artificial planet made out of gold and inhabited by robot versions of himself so perfect that no one could tell the difference between the man and his machines. Also, in his version melange was a blue substance “with spongy consistency filled with a vegetable-animal life endowed with consciousness.”


From Dreamer of Dune:

In October 1976, Mom and Dad made their third trip to Europe, largely to see what was going on with Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune movie project. They had been receiving secondhand information that the production was not going well ... In Paris, Dad and Mom met with representatives of the French film consortium holding the rights to film Dune, and received bad news. Jodorowsky's script was too complex, and would result in a mind-boggling fourteen-hour film. He had spent two million dollars getting the project under way, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the film could not be produced for anywhere near the $9,500,000 budget ... To make matters worse, Jodorowsky (a left-winger politically) and Salvador Dali (a right-winger) were refusing to work with one another, having had a vociferous argument in front of others involved in the project. Investors were getting wind of the production and personality problems, and funds were drying up ... When my parents returned to the United States they learned that Italian movie producer Dino De Laurentiis wanted to purchase the Dune film option from the French consortium. Dad had no objection, and as part of the new deal, he was retained as a technical adviser and paid to write the screenplay. De Laurentiis had recently produced the twenty-five-million-dollar special-effects extravaganza King Kong, and my father quipped, "Anyone who can make a giant ape should have no trouble with sandworms."

Long after the fact, in an interview for Louis Mouchet's documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky (1995), Jean-Giraud Moebius summed up his experience with the production in a manner that, perhaps, best summed up the whole attempt:

For me, Dune was not a failure. The film was not made, that's all. What remains is the wonderful preparation. We were all euphoric. The film remains what it should be, a mirage between the dunes.


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