David Lynch could never be called a bad filmmaker. Some may even throw the word ‘genius’ his way, and not without merit. But for anyone who’s ever endured his fractured take on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi magnum opus Dune, you’d be forgiven for thinking Lynch may not be all he’s cracked up to be.

To Alejandro Jodorowsky’s credit, when the topic of Lynch’s take on Jodorowsky’s two-year labour of pre-production love comes up, his touch is jovially light. “It was awful!” he laughs, unable to contain his mirth as clips of the film are inter-cut with his excitable visage. “But it was the studio’s fault, not the director.” It’s this last line that offers Lynch an olive branch because, as this solid documentary attests to, when visions go far beyond what any studio dare dreams of, compromises and failures are almost pre-destined to happen when it comes to the final green light of frightened, meddling studio execs.

That’s not to say they have an easy job – any person with their finger on the trigger of tens (or now hundreds) of millions of dollars is never going to pull it without at least some idea that the film in question may do well. And Jodorowsky’s Dune could never be deemed a shoo-in for box office success. For anyone unfamiliar with the Chilean-French director, his two previous features – El Topo (1970) andThe Holy Mountain (1973) – are all but masterclasses in cult cinema (El Topo, as noted in the film, practically gave birth to the ‘midnight movie’ phenomenon). Throwing convention to the wind, his wide-eyed temperament is that of a kid who’s had too many E-numbers (even at a sprightly 84 his passion is plain to see). He saw Dune as a film that would change the world, he hand-picked the cast and crew, and he left a cinematic legacy that’s hard to ignore.

duneH.R. Giger, Orson Welles, Chris Foss, Salvador Dalí, Dan O’Bannon, Mick Jagger. Names that will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in cinema, art or music, brought together by a man so possessed by his fever dream that he labelled them his ‘spiritual warriors’. All of them said yes to a film that truly had to be seen – at least on paper – to be believed; the storyboards and concept art the documentary pores over were on such a colossal, ambitious-beyond-reason scale that you can’t help but empathise with the studio suits who balked at what Jodorowsky was planning. Spielberg may have released Jaws the same year Dune would have been unleashed, kickstarting the high concept blockbuster revolution that was to change cinema for better or for worse. But as various interviewees attest to here (from Nicolas Winding Refn to Amanda Lear) it’s interesting to wonder what might have happened to cinema had Dune been made. Star Wars came out only two years later, and barely scratched the surface in terms of the ambition and vision that Dune came laden with (yet it is alleged that it casually cribbed scenes and storyboards from the gigantic book that Jodorowsky and artist Chris Foss passed around Hollywood – the montage of films that take cues from scenes they had planned, dropped in towards the documentary’s climax, is eye-opening in the extreme).

While the documentary never does anything revelatory in terms of style, it simply doesn’t have to. What Jodorowsky and his motley crew put together before the plug got pulled is so beautifully crazed and staggeringly eccentric that director Frank Pavich merely has to show Foss’s concept art or leave the camera rolling on Jodorowsky as his emotions take hold. This alone is enough for us to get a taste of what might have been: the demented and glorious vision of a man seemingly unbound by convention or logic, an electric dream that could still see the light of day if anyone is brave enough – or insane enough – to touch it (Jodorowsky still has hopes that someone may make his film, whether he’s around to see it or not). So forget Lynch’s effort and revel in what truly was the biggest, boldest, most luxuriously lunatic sci-fi film never made.

By David Petty

Available on Region A Blu-Ray and on-demand