There are those who think of cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s extensively prepared but ultimately unmade adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel “Dune”—of which David Lynch’s later film was one of the eighties’ moist notorious bombs—the greatest movie never made. Frank Pavich might not go quite as far as that, but his documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune” certainly sides with those who feel that had it actually reached the screen, it would have been remarkable. Through extensive interviews with the octogenarian Jodorowsky, others with his collaborators (or people who knew some of them no longer alive) and access to Jodorowsky’s elaborate pre-production book (some storyboards of which he animates), Pavich reconstructs the aborted project. “I knew as soon as we had the idea to make the film that we were going to animate stuff,” Pavich explained during a recent Dallas interview, “because I knew there was no footage. But the reason this is such an interesting project was that it was so realized, and because it was so realized, we could take that and bring it to life, and animate some of it.”

Getting access to Jodorowsky, Pavich explained, was not difficult: “I just searched and searched and searched. I was lucky enough to have the Internet”—as Jodorowsky hadn’t in the mid-seventies, when he was trying to find people he wanted to work on the planned film—“and I eventually found that he has an agent in Spain, an agent that apparently represents him for acting—which is weird, because I didn’t know that he acted in films outside of his own, but apparently he does, or is available to, anyway. So I just sent her an e-mail, and [asked] if it were true that you represent Alejandro Jodorowsky, who was not even a real person to me, more mythical. And a few weeks later I woke up one morning and opened my e-mail, and there was an unread message from Alejandro himself.

“I was overjoyed, but also terrified, and didn’t read it for a good week because it very easily could have been ‘No,’ or the most devastating thing would have been, ‘Oh, someone else is already making this movie.’ So I kept it closed for a week and said, ‘Oh, I’m going to pretend in my little fantasy world that I get to meet him and make this film.’ After a week I finally had to open it, and it was a very short message saying ‘I hear you’re looking for me, I live in Paris, and if you want to speak with me about this project you have to come to Paris—we need to meet face-to-face.’ Fantastic.”

So Pavich travelled to France. “I got to his apartment and they buzzed me in,” he recalled. “We had to walk up four flights, and I was already kind of nervous and sweaty and out-of-breath, which probably made me look insane. Someone let me in—I don’t remember who, probably his wife—and led me into this room, and a minute or two later comes shuffling in this man, white-haired—a beautiful, wonderful man, Jodorowsky. That was the first confirmation that yes, this is a real person, he lives and breathes, a carbon-based life form.

“We sat across from each other. They had two chairs set up, and he had an ottoman between the chairs, and the big ‘Dune’ book was on that ottoman. But he had it facing him, which was kind of like a tease, I think—‘This is what you’re here for, for this book,’ but not inviting me to open it, because it was facing his direction. And I don’t believe I was allowed to open it that first time. He never asked me what I’d done before. I think he just bases things on intuition and perceived personality. I was just this crazy person coming into his house, overly enthusiastic and speaking to him about this film, and he basically agreed [to it] in that meeting.

“We interviewed him over the course of three years. I first met him in 2010, and then our first interviews were in 2011, and then we went back in 2012 and 2013. In 2011 we sat with him four separate times, plus getting him back together with [producer] Michel Seydoux, and in 2012 and 2013, I think it was one sitting apiece—probably seven or eight interview sessions overall.”

At one point during the sessions Jodorowsky’s cat sauntered in, prompting the director to pick it up. “It’s the happy miracles that happen,” Pavich said. “We were thrilled. He said to me recently, ‘I like the cat. I like that you keep that in there.’ It’s kind of like a Bond villain, a little Blofeldy, holding this cat. But we also kept that in because it shows how sharp he is. He’s telling this story about [Douglas] Trumbull, [whom he considered to do the special effects but eventually decided he couldn’t work with, settling on Dan O’Bannon], and then the cat comes up. He picks it up, pets the cat a little bit, and then goes right back into his story. He never faltered for a second. He was completely on point, firing on all cylinders, for sure.” But regarding Jodorowsky’s involvement in the later construction of the documentary, Pavich said, “He was very hands-off, he let us do whatever we needed to do.”

Jodorowsky chose the cast for his vision of “Dune” on the basis of their personalities—as Pavich remarked, “Who better than Orson Welles for that role? Who better than Salvador Dali for that one?” How well might such eclectic actors have worked out? “I wonder,” Pavich said. When told that Dali would do whatever he could to sabotage things, Pavich remembered Jodorowsky saying, “‘We’ll just let him do whatever he wants. We’ll follow him around, and we’ll make it work.’ He was already willing to adapt…and pay him, originally, a hundred thousand an hour, and then the deal was for a hundred thousand per minute on screen—probably less money in the end, but a bigger statement for Dali to stand on the rooftops and exclaim.”

But as Pavich explained, the project collapsed when no studio would agree to finance it: “I think it was because he was just too far in advance for them. ‘Star Wars’ hadn’t come out yet. So the idea of a big-budgeted science fiction space opera epic—it hadn’t been proven it could make money. Fox also thought that ‘Star Wars’ was stupid and weren’t really behind it.”

So the decision was made to sell the option on Herbert’s book. “They said, we spent two million dollars during these two years [of pre-production], let’s try to get some of it back. So Michel Seydoux sold the option rights to Dino De Laurentiis. And as Michel tells the story, they met in Los Angeles for the signing in De Laurentiis’ office, and they sign all the paperwork, and he turns around to Raffaella, his daughter who’s behind him, and says, ‘Raffaella, this is for you.’ So that’s how David Lynch’s film got made.

“As soon as ‘Star Wars’ becomes a hit, it’s ‘Let’s bring back “Star Trek,” and this, and that.’ And then they say, ‘Let’s bring back “Dune.”’ And who do they get to direct it? Not the Michael Bay of his time, but kind of the Jodorowsky of the eighties, David Lynch—which I find interesting, because people kind of laugh at the idea of Jodorowsky going to Hollywood and pitching his vision of ‘Dune.’ How could he think they’d have done that, this crazy director coming in and making a science-fiction film? Jodorowsky came with a filmography that included ‘El Topo’ and ‘Holy Mountain.’ David Lynch came with a filmography that included ‘The Elephant Man’ and ‘Eraserhead.’ And let’s give this guy the giant-budgeted science-fiction movie—they thought they were going to make billions.”

What was Jodorowsky’s reaction to Lynch’s film? “He only went to see ‘Dune,’” Pavich said, “because it was still something very close to him.” And he added, “He defends Lynch. He says it’s not David Lynch’s fault. As he said, David Lynch is ‘a big artist.’ He blames De Laurentiis, the producer. “

Pavich ended the interview with heartfelt thanks to Jorodowsky and the hope his documentary does him justice. “Jodo never asked me what I’d done before,” he said, “but I’d like to think he picked the right person to tell this story, because maybe somebody else would have done it differently, maybe somebody else would have concentrated on the negative aspects, how Hollywood stole from him—not that Jodo feels that, but anything can be told in a certain way.

“It’s those alternate time-lines. What would have happened if we’d never met? What would have happened if his ‘Dune’ had been made? And the permutations that fall along those lines. I’d like to think that we’re on the right one, I hope.”