(Taste of Cinema): 7 Famous Sci-fi Movies Influenced by Jodorowsky’s Dune

Dune (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

As Alejandro Jodorowsky tells about his never made Dune, his energy radiates through the screen with an irresistible strength. Watching Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary directed by Frank Pavich, we do not get the impression that Dune was a failure or a doomed project.

On the contrary, Jodorowsky’s passionate commentary speaks of an exceptionally inspired work, during which a diverse group of strongly talented people contributed with original ideas to a visionary dream. Together they created the plans of this trip-like science fiction fantasy, which, even unmade, inspired some of the greatest sci-fi movies that we know today. But how could a film never made become so inspirational?

Jodorowsky, founder of the chaotic Panic Movement in theatre, started his career as a film director in the 70s with films similarly surrealistic to his theatrical work. After acid western El Topo he received $1 million to direct his next film, which was Holy Mountain, another psychedelic, surrealist work of art. Even though it generated limited return, this was the film that drove Jodorowsky into the attention of Michel Seydoux, who became the producer of Dune.

Jodorowsky, who had never read Dune before, wrote the script in 1974 and began his hunt for people who could make his dream come true. His first great discovery was comic book illustrator Jean “Moebious” Giraud, who became his “camera” and drew the storyboard of Dune frame by frame. Next he had to find the person who could work on the special effects.

Although first he wanted to get Douglas Trumbull, the special effects designer of 2001: A space Odyssey, with an unexpected twist he decided to hire Dan O’Bannon, who had only participated in one film as a visual effects designer. Chris Foss, known for his science fiction book cover artwork, and Swiss painter H.R. Giger also joined the visual team, and, according to Foss, thanks to the incredible, inspirational energy of Jodorowsky, they produced some of their best pieces of work while working on Dune.

For Jodorowsky, science fiction was a theatre and Dune was his “Prophet”. With his film he wanted to change how young people looked at the world. Unfortunately, he never succeeded in making this film, as all studios he approached rejected the plans of a 12-hour long psychedelic movie, and he refused to cut it. However, thanks to the 20 copies of the phone book-sized storyboard with countless beautiful drawings of scenes and design concepts,

Dune continued to live on even after its failure. Furthermore, Jodorowsky introduced some exceptional young talents like O’Bannon, Moebius and Giger to the film industry, and these people carried the legacy of Dune into their future projects. This is how Dune happened to be one of the most influential films never made, and here is our list of the seven greatest films that probably wouldn’t exist without Jodorowsky’s Dune.

1. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)


The film that most directly shows signs of being influenced by Jodorowsky’s Dune is Alien. In 1974, Jodorowsky had managed to gather the greatest minds of film, music and popular art to work on the plans. In the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune the director said he needed his ‘spiritual warriors’ for the film, and every single person on team was handpicked so that they would share the director’s passion and psychedelic dreams.

Jean “Moebius” Giraud, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and Dan O’Bannon worked on the visuals of the film, and the cast even included names like Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and the band Pink Floyd. Although Dune, that could have been ’the greatest achievement in science fiction’ (according to Nicolas Winding Refn), never became reality, it did not evaporate into nothing without leaving its legacy behind.

When the project failed, O’Bannon, who would have been working on the special effects of Dune, went on to work on a script that would later develop into Alien. He found himself greatly inspired by the nightmarish paintings of H.R. Giger, who admittedly used art as a way of self-therapy to express the dark images of his subconscious.

O’Bannon said in an interview that he “hadn’t been able to get Hans Ruedi Giger off his mind” after leaving Paris, and therefore ended up writing a script essentially about a Giger monster. He then advised Ridley Scott to get Giger on the team for the film, and with the addition of Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Chris Foss as a concept artists, the four made sure that at least a fraction of what has been created during the pre-production works of Dune would be seen by millions on the screen.

Looking at Ridley Scott’s film, it is apparent that the Alien Xenomorph has its roots in the design of the Harkonnen Castle that Giger produced for Dune, since atop this construction there is a head-shape with a lengthened skull very similar to that of the Alien Xenomorph.

2. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

a new hope

George Lucas was not afraid to dream big when he started working on Star Wars. He wanted to reproduce the fantastic tales of his own childhood and at the same time awaken the inner child that is there in all of us.

Although his project was personal and strongly fuelled by his love of graphic novels and fantasy stories, it was also essential for him to produce a big hit, a film that would be loved and enjoyed by people of all age and background. In order to achieve this he merged the classic elements of western, fantasy, war movies and adventure film in a gigantic cosmic tale and used the latest computer technology to bring to life creatures never seen.

The result was a record-breaking blockbuster that cost $11 million but in the forthcoming years produced $190 million only from US sales. Yet, Star Wars, the all-time favourite sci-fi saga that established the popularity of the genre in the film industry would perhaps never been able to have the same frenetic success without Jodorowsky’s Dune.

At the time sci-fi fantasy was not the obvious choice for a blockbuster, but Lucas already had some experience in sci-fi with THX 1138, and it seems likely that he would have had a chance to see a copy of Dune’s storyboard that Jodorowsky had sent to all major studios.

This material potentially served as an inspiration for the concept design of several Star Wars creatures, including Jabba, who strongly reminds us of Baron Harkonnen in his monstrosity. Not only does the character design evoke Jodorowsky’s Dune, but the first scene of A New Hope, often regarded as one of the best ever opening scenes, appears to be influenced by the opening scene of Dune as Jodorowsky imagined it.

The first scene of Dune would have been a long shot, admittedly inspired by The Touch of Evil by Orson Welles, starting with the camera traversing the universe, slowly zooming in to reveal galaxies, then stars, then planets and finally, spaceships in combat. Compare this to the opening of A New Hope, where the establishing still of a planetary body and its moon is made dynamic by a tiny space ship moving into frame as it is chased by an enormous star cruiser.

Both directors create the sensation of motion through space, but George Lucas decided against the long shot and divided the sequence into multiple scenes.

3. Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997)

contact opening

Robert Zemeckis became known as a director mentored by Steven Spielberg, who was also the executive producer of his first two films. The real breakthrough in his career was Back to the Future in 1985, the sci-fi comedy that since became a cult film. He is often being labelled as a director mainly interested in special effects, although his biggest success was Forrest Gump, which did not particularly build on after-effects.

This was followed by Contact, which almost had nine times the budget of Star Wars ($90 million) and involved the work of almost all major visual effect companies, including Industrial Light & Magic, Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital and Pixar’s RenderMan. Until 2004 the opening scene was the longest computer generated long shot in live action film – evoking Jodorowsky’s opening scene for Dune better even than Star Wars.

Comparing it to the plans of Dune’s opening scene, one has to realise that it is literally the reverse of the greatest long shot never made. Zemeckis’ shot starts with a close-up of the surface of Earth and a medley of contemporary music and other radio sounds.

As the camera moves farther away from the planet Earth the radio signs become older and older, and at the same time the solar system shrinks into a single spot of light in the Milky Way only for the camera to further retreat and show other galaxies and a wide shot of the universe.

Without Dune this monumental opening scene would perhaps never have been made. However, it is probable that the limitations of 70s technology would have prevented Jodorowsky from realising his vision quite as fully as Zemeckis in the 90s.

4. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

the long tomorrow

After completing Alien with a team of creatives who met when working on Jodorowsky’s Dune, in 1979 Ridley Scott was hired by Dino De Laurentiis to take over and complete the doomed project. He was planning to alter the script left behind by Jodorowsky to allow the movie to be shot in two parts, but after seven months he dropped the project due to the illness of his brother. Scott argued that Dune would have been a two and half year project, which was too lengthy considering the circumstances.

This is how he came to do Blade Runner instead, but he did not turn his back on Jodorowsky’s Dune completely. Although Blade Runner is primarily based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, it is also influenced by the comic The Long Tomorrow, a story written by Dan O’Bannon and illustrated by Moebius, two key figures of Jodorowsky’s team who worked with Scott on Alien.

As Moebius said in an interview, O’Bannon was hired to work on the visual effects of Dune once the shooting started, hence for the greatest part of the pre-production he did not have much work to do. To kill boredom, he started drawing and eventually came up with the storyboard of The Long Tomorrow.

This noir set in the future attracted the attention of Moebius who also got involved in the side project. Ridley Scott borrowed several visual elements from this graphic novel and used it to create the dark, dishevelled cityscape of Blade Runner.

5. Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)


The prequel of Alien was long awaited by fans of the trilogy and it was expected to reveal the mystery of the ‘Space Jockey’, the skeleton discovered by the crew of Nostromo when they landed on the alien planet following the distress signal of a derelict spacecraft.

The skeleton that briefly appears in the first movie was designed by H.R Giger in 1976, and similarly to the Xenomorph, carries signatures of the concept art produced by Giger for Jodorowsky’s Dune. Prometheus starts by introducing the species that will later be named as ‘Engineers’ since they were responsible for the creation of human kind. It turns out that the ‘Space Jockey’ in the first movie was the skeleton of one of these Engineers.

Even though Giger was not part of the production team of Prometheus, his work continued to inspire Ridley Scott, as evident in both the film’s creature designs and alien architecture. In particular, Scott introduces a pyramid in Prometheus that strongly resembles Giger’s drawing of the Harkonnen Castle and not just the alien crowning its peak.

Whilst clearly homage to Giger’s work, the pyramid also serves as a conciliatory note to Dan O’Bannon, whose original Alien script featured a pyramid shaped building but which, due to time restrictions, had to be left out.

6. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)


The Terminator is an example of science fiction action film at its best. The role of the humanoid robot was the best ever played by Arnold Schwarzenegger: it did not require intensive facial expressions, but rather impeccable physical appearance.

Although Cameron initially imagined the humanoid robot as someone who would blend in the crowd, during an interview for the role of Kyle Reese he realized that the Austrian body builder’s exceptional look would be much suitable for the humanoid robot than the human saviour. And hence the movie established both director and actor’s fame in Hollywood.

However, at the beginning The Terminator was not expected to be a big success. Cameron, a fairly unknown director, with only the low-budget horror movie Piranha II on his record, knocked on the door of several studios while eventually he managed to find a producer in the person of Gale Anne Hurd.

Although the story of The Terminator was promising, even the distributing studio, Orion, did not expect a record-breaking return. But Cameron had the key to success: he had a great science fiction story about a big war between humans and robots but in order to make it into a low-budget film he introduced time travel, and created a pure action movie with breathtaking special effects – which were his specialty.

Nonetheless, The Terminator could have never been made without the work of a few others. In terms of the story Cameron admittedly borrowed from Harlan Ellison’s Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier, but the fact that the writer was uncredited in the film led to a dispute.

Later an out of court agreement resulted in an acknowledgement of Ellison’s work to be added to the film, and an undisclosed sum paid to the author. A less controversial reference is the POV shot of the cyborg that Cameron uses to enhance the artificial nature of the character – this element is very similar to some sequences of Jodorowsky’s Dune storyboard.

7. The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999)

the matrix

At the time The Matrix came out, it was hailed as a unique piece of science fiction with the potential to redesign the profile of the genre. Many of the film’s visual effects were ground breaking but creatively; its successes were founded on the Wachowski’s utilisation of elements borrowed from other films and stories in a way that produced something entirely new and revolutionary.

Bullet-time, the special combat scenes, the cyberpunk universe outside of the matrix and the matrix itself are motifs that can be discovered in other works. Low-budget action movies such as Kill and Kill Again and computer games like Max Payne introduced bullet-time well before The Matrix turned it into a meme, and several elements of the combat scenes were borrowed from martial art films and Hong Kong action movies.

The matrix, a world created by an artificial intelligence, was invented by William Gibson in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer, and last but not least the cyberpunk universe of Zion and the rebels is a legacy of Blade Runner and Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Films like The Matrix prove that Jodorowsky’s Dune, although unmade, was never a doomed project. In fact, Dune was indeed the “Prophet” that Jodorwsky meant it to be. Thanks to the 20 copies of the storyboard that circulated among film professionals it managed to influence some exceptional films, and through these films reinvented the genre of science fiction.

Author Bio: Melinda Gemesi has been a freelance film critic since her second year as a Film Studies Student. She holds an MA in Film Studies and Online Journalism and is currently living in London. In her free time she is working on a literary project about which you can find out more on thestoryhunt.tumblr.com.


sursa: Taste of Cinema

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