Jack Nicholson wrote the script for The Trip (1967) based on his own LSD experiences. Reportedly, his original script was completely different than the finished product. Some accounts insist it was a brilliant, honest, and illuminating work.
Peter Fonda said, “I sat here reading it one night and I started to cry. I said, ‘I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I’m really going to have a chance, that I get to be in this movie. This is going to be the greatest film ever made in America.’ It was so beautiful. Some of the ideas were so far out … When I finished reading Nicholson’s script I went to see him. We’d met a couple of times, but we didn’t know each other as friends. Straight out, I said, ‘Listen, that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever read. I think Fellini wrote it … I understand every single fucking word of it. It’s absolutely right on the nose.’ We began to have meetings with the studio and with the director, Roger Corman. But after we’d signed contracts, people were suddenly talking about ‘clarification,’ and Jack and I would tell them, ‘Don’t say that word. You don’t need to clarify, no exposition, no explanation. It’s a trip, and that’s it. It’s got the right taste, the right quality, the right everything.’ But we didn’t shoot [that] film. We shot a predictable film, a film with a beginning, a middle and an ending, and a moral at the end of it.”
Attempting to salvage some of the original intent, Fonda and Dennis Hopper went out to the desert - the Imperial Sand Dunes - to shoot psychedelic sequences on their own. It was Hopper’s directorial debut, albeit uncredited, as they were violating union rules.
“Dennis directed the desert sequences in The Trip and if he had directed the whole thing we would have made the movie Nicholson wrote,” said Fonda. “I thought we needed the script’s desert sequences which Corman had decided not to shoot, so I told Corman that I’d gotten some cameras and a friend who could operate them and that we needed the footage … The footage was beautiful. Dennis could have done the whole movie like that.”
Roger Corman recalls, “Peter came to me and said, off the record, that he and Dennis, if I would give them just a little bit of money, would drift down to the desert themselves and bring back those three minutes. They did, and what they shot was very good and was integrated into the film.”
Film critic Judith Crist called The Trip “an hour and a half commercial for LSD.”