Alejandro Jodorowsky, one of cinema’s most psychedelic visionaries, is one of the film’s unsung heroes.
Aside from Ridley Scott, the creative minds to which Alien is most indebted are Dan O’Bannon and Swiss artist H.R. Giger, both of whom worked diligently on the project way before Scott ever signed on to direct. And how did O’Bannon and Giger first connect? Through Alejandro Jodorowsky, of all people.
With his one-two punch of surrealist acid-trips-on-film, El Topo (1970) and Holy Mountain (1973), Jodorowsky, a Chile native, had solidified himself as one of the movie world’s weirdest, most indecipherable, and most daring auteurs. After the success of his two aforementioned pics, Jodorowsky wanted to “redefine science fiction,” and he turned his sights to an adaptation of Dune, author Frank Herbert’s intergalactic exercise in grandiose storytelling.
For help with Dune’s special effects, Jodorowsky reached out to O’Bannon, simply because he liked the latter’s film Dark Star. O’Bannon, a big fan of Dune, jumped at the opportunity, and it was during his brief stint on the ultimately failed Dune process (Jodorowsky’s ideas were, sadly, much bigger than his means) that he met Giger, another of Jodorowsky’s hired hands.
In the wake of Dune, O’Bannon got to work on his own original sci-fi project, called Starbeast, which was eventually re-titled as Alien and put into production under hotshot director Ridley Scott’s watch. And when Scott expressed concerns over the script’s initial alien designs (in his mind, they lacked “elegance” and “lethalness”), O’Bannon showed the filmmaker a book of his pal Giger’s work, titled Necronomicon; Scott was particularly blown away by the painting Necronom IV, which displayed a spitting image of what became Alien’s chief antagonist.