In the early '70s, Chilean-born director Alejandro Jodorowsky was riding high as a cult-film king after the polarizing head-trip indulgences "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain." Inspired by the fantastical world of author Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic "Dune" (though Jodorowsky hadn't read it), he began assembling a wildly ambitious adaptation, only to see its high-toned grandiosity, popcorn surrealism and budget concerns doom the project.
The new documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune" is director Frank Pavich's enjoyable retelling of that ill-fated Xanadu. Interviews with now-octogenarian Jodorowsky, a gregarious, white-bearded wizard with a disarming grin, reveal a man who let "Dune" consume him while he sought out "spiritual warriors" as collaborators: artists H.R. Giger and Jean "Moebius" Giraud, the band Pink Floyd and a cast of icons including Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dalí.
The pre-planning stories are an entertaining mix of ego-stroking and headstrong abundance, but also a tantalizing glimpse at a pre-"Heaven's Gate" movie era when big imaginations were nurtured, costs and filmmaking realities be damned. Pavich makes a convincing case that Jodorowsky's footstool-sized, bound storyboards made enough sandworm-like rounds in Hollywood that its images and ideas were appropriated by others. ("Alien," on the other hand, is acknowledged as a direct descendant, considering its many ex-"Dune" creatives.)
We may never know if the midnight movie maestro's "Dune" would have been a game-changer or a head-scratcher. (Or both.) But the documentary about it is speculative catnip for cineastes of all stripes.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violent and sexual images and drug references.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: At the Landmark, West L.A.