*** ½

It's the mid-1970s. Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky has never even read Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel Dune, and his filmography contains nothing but movies that might have ruled the midnight circuit (El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Fando and Lis) but were virtually ignored by the moviegoing masses in this country. But thanks to a strong following overseas (Jodorowsky claims that The Holy Mountain was number two at the Italian box office in its year, just under "James Bond") and a shared vision with French producer Michel Seydoux, the avant-garde writer-director is set to make a film version of Dune that he believes will turn cinema on its head. Yet as is often the case with visionaries, they discover that more financially conservative types don't often share their enthusiasm; thus, with no Hollywood studio willing to pony up the dough, Jodorowsky's film never gets made.

The entertaining and informative documentary Jodorowsky's Dune makes the case that filmgoers were cheated out of a cinematic masterpiece. That may or may not be the reality — after all, David Lynch's 1984 version of Dune was a disaster, but had it also never have been made, would we not be salivating over the promise of a Dune that combined the talents of Lynch, actors Patrick Stewart and Max von Sydow, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis and other notables? Yet the evidence presented in this new film does suggest that, at the very least, Jodorowsky would have made a hallucinatory, one-of-a-kind epic that, for better or worse, would still be heavily discussed to this day.

The star of Jodorowsky's Dune is, naturally, Jodorowsky himself, and he's a sprightly octogenarian, full of life and only too happy to talk at length (in both Spanish and sometimes faltering English) about the tortured history of his non-movie. He relates how he wanted 2001: A Space Odyssey wizard Douglas Trumbull to create his film's effects, changing his mind once he decided that Trumbull was a technician and not an artist; instead, he tapped Dark Star's Dan O'Bannon. He asked the renowned French artist Mœbius (aka Jean Girard) to storyboard his vision; his reward was a whopping 3,000 illustrated frames. Conceptual artists H.R. Giger and Chris Foss joined the outfit. The score was going to be composed by Pink Floyd, whose members agreed after Jodorowsky reportedly put them in their place. And the cast was rumored to include David Carradine (seen in photos with Jodorowsky during the prep stage), Mick Jagger and Orson Welles. Hard to top the participation of Welles? How about the great artist Salvador Dalí, who agreed to fill a major role? (Given the enormity of the egos wielded by Jodorowsky, Welles and Dalí, one wonders if any of them would have loudly quit in diva fashion and stormed off the set had filming actually begun.)

This engaging picture offers a behind-the-scenes peek at a possibly megalomaniacal filmmaker employing cinema as his own grandiloquent celebration, and in that respect, it nicely aligns with 1993's It's All True, about an unfinished Welles project (a documentary about Brazilian laborers), and 2002's Lost in La Mancha, about an unfinished Terry Gilliam project (a feature film about Don Quixote).

We'll never get to saunter into a theater to watch Jodorowsky's Dune, but Jodorowsky's Dune is the next best thing to being there.

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