Make no small plans.
Said Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Probably. Certainly, at some point, in the mid-1970s, while the Chilean filmmaker was trying to get his gargantuan Hollywood adaptation of Frank Herbert's science-fiction novel "Dune" off the ground, he thought that. Jodorowsky, whose freakouts "El Topo" (1971) and "The Holy Mountain" (1973) are often credited with creating the midnight-movie genre, envisioned Pink Floyd doing the soundtrack, Orson Welles and Mick Jagger in key roles, surrealist Salvador Dali playing the ruler of the galaxy; he even secured their tentative involvements, as well as hired writer Dan O'Bannon (who later worked on "Alien" and "Total Recall"), French cartoonist Moebius and Swiss artist H.R. Giger, whose ghoulish designs would define the "Alien" franchise.
As filmmaker Frank Pavich explains in "Jodorowsky's Dune," a new documentary about the making of a movie that never got made, Jodorowsky was so confident that his "Dune" would change the direction of contemporary culture itself — the film would be regarded as the "coming of a god," he tells Pavich — that he didn't bother to read Herbert's novel, or take into account that Hollywood might not have confidence in him.
It's the oldest story in show business: An ambitious vision, thwarted by a lack of funding.
And yet, in Hollywood history, a handful of unrealized projects live on, the classics of an alternate reality: Sergei Eisenstein wrote a screenplay of Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" for Paramount (which found it too depressing); Sergio Leone spent years pitching a film about the siege of Leningrad (too pricey); Francis Ford Coppola's spoke for decades of "Megalopolis," about rebuilding New York City (too ambitious).
"It's the eternal what-if, the tantalizing question of what movie history might have looked like had these films actually gotten made," said journalist Simon Braund, whose new book, "The Greatest Movies You'll Never See," details unfinished dream projects by everyone from the Marx Brothers to David O. Russell. "These works exist as tantalizing because, never being made, they will never be screwed up. On the other hand, they also serve as a reminder: Even the greatest directors have projects that, for whatever reason, fall apart."
Indeed, Pavich, in a phone interview last week, said he believes that Jodorowsky's "Dune" would have changed the direction of pop culture: "'Star Wars' was having trouble getting made at roughly the same time. 20th Century Fox was very skeptical of it. So even if 'Dune' had been made and bombed, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Fox would have pulled the plug on 'Star Wars.' It's like the butterfly effect, only more so."
That, however, is not the lesson Pavich takes away from the story of Jodorowsky's collapsed epic. He said that the never-realized production was not a failure because the filmmaker's vision itself was so complete: "Maybe it was only meant to go up to that stage." What remains of the project is owned by Jodorowsky, a gigantic book of storyboards and designs, detailing everything from the first image of the proposed film to the last. "In this, Jodorowsky was successful in the work he was doing," Pavich said. "He sleeps well at night."
The following are four more famously unfinished projects. Ambien sold separately.
Director: Orson Welles
Pitch: An independent film made in Mexico, adapted from the Miguel de Cervantes classic. But much more meta: According to Braund's book, Welles himself would appear, reading Cervantes, meeting characters.
What happened: Welles shot pieces throughout the 1950s, into the late '60s; Frank Sinatra gave him $25,000 to finish. But Welles, whose unrealized projects are a laundry list of what-might-have-beens ("Heart of Darkness," "The Merchant of Venice"), could never settle on a singular vision, or an ending. He died in 1985.
The future: Footage has been shown at festivals, but the reels are far-flung, and Welles' point of view is lost.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Pitch: Arguably the most Napoleonic filmmaker of his time, fresh off "A Clockwork Orange" and "2001: A Space Odyssey," telling the story of Napoleon's downfall. Possibly with Jack Nicholson — or Ian Holm.
What happened: Kubrick, a prodigious researcher, did his homework and then some, and then, when MGM studios was sold, the new owners questioned the elaborate cost and pulled the film out of development.
The future: Steven Spielberg flirted with finishing it (before moving on to another Kubrick project, "A.I."). As of last fall, according to reports, HBO was developing the script as a mini-series, for director Baz Luhrmann.