1982. Director: Ridley Scott. Writers: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
With Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Darryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy
Warner Home Video
Available Dec. 18; list price $34.99
"It bore no relation to the book," Dick said of the Blade Runner script. "What my story will become is one titanic, lurid collision of androids being blown up, androids killing humans, general confusion and murder, all very exciting to watch." Then Dick was shown part of the movie and his rancor dissolved. "You would literally have to go five times to see it before you could assimilate the information that is fired at you," he said in late 1981. "The human brain craves stimulation. And this movie will stimulate the brain, the brain will not be lulled. ... The book and the movie do not fight each other. They reinforce each other."
Welcome to L.A. in 2019, when most people have deserted Earth for colonies on other planets, and the city has been left to the underclass, and a few renegade androids chased down by detectives known as "blade runners." Outside, the place looks like Hong Kong or Tokyo: geishas winking on giant neon signs, a crush of bodies scuttling through the rain, sushi bars and disco bordellos, the steam of all this aimless activity rising like stink. Inside, it's retro-chic: the cool, slat-lighted mystery of 40s film noir, with ceiling fans lazily circulating over a white-faced dame with a jet-black pompadour, her lips massaging a cigarette, her legs crossed in a richly upholstered chair. The movie is a bridge between, or rather a collision of, past and future: Raymond Chandler intersecting with a city planner's wet-dream nightmare.
In May 1982, a month before Blade Runner, I sat on a lunchroom terrace in Cannes with Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Melissa Mathison and producer Kathleen Kennedy. Their film E.T. was to play that night as the Film Festival's closing night selection. Mathison had brought her current beau, Harrison Ford (he also had a tiny role, as a teacher, in E.T.), and I complimented him on Blade Runner, in which he plays the detective, Deckard, and which I'd seen back in New York. He grunted that the movie was much better before he'd been forced to do a voice-over narration. The ending had also been changed, in the financiers' hopes of making the movie more accessible. That kind of emergency surgery rarely works, and Blade Runner played to disappointing business: $26 million domestic gross for a picture that cost something like $28 million. This film about the future would have to find its salvation there.
Some critics got Blade Runner right back then; I think I was one of them. But now that we're twice as close to 2019 as we are to 1982, the movie's achievements are clear, formidable, undeniable. They're here, for extensive, intensive study, in a four-disc box set that has four versions of the film: the original U.S. release; a slightly different version shown abroad; Scott's 1997 recut of the movie (with the narration removed); and his latest, absolutely-final-for-now superduper director's cut of the director's cut. Scott does the commentary on one track; the writers and producers on a second; the designers and effects technicians on a third. You also get enough exegesis six hours of making-of docs! to fill a Blade Runner doctoral dissertation, of which I'll warrant there've already been several. A recluse could spend his whole Christmas vacation immersed in this verbiage and visuage.
On the writers' track, we find Fancher and Peoples disagreeing about almost everything, as writers will, including the pronunciation of Chateau Marmont, the hotel where Fancher lived at the time. They also tangle over the best lines in the film: Each attributes them to the other writer. But it seems beyond dispute that Fancher came up with the noir angle; he also gave the movie a good title, Mechanismo, which producer Michael Deeley junked for Dangerous Days. (Not Dangerous Nights? Practically the whole movie takes place after dark.) And it was Peoples who, in a conversation with his daughter, came up with a classier word for the movie's androids: replicants.
The main making-of doc a sleekly managed, 1 hr. 22 min., eight-part colossus directed by Charles de Lauzirika explains how Fancher had written a kind of closet drama, with most of the scenes taking place within those 40s interiors. Scott kept asking, "What's outside the window? There's a world." Fancher's response: "F the world." Since Scott's main interest was in creating that world, he looked to Mead, designer Larry Paull and the art department for backup. And when Fancher was slow in producing rewrites ("They used to call me Happen Faster," he says), Deeley hired Peoples, who hadn't read the original novel. Dick, by the way, knew the movie wouldn't be faithful when he discussed androids with Scott. To the author, they were inhuman, unhuman simulations of us; to the director they were supermen who couldn't fly.
Fancher had written the Deckard character for Robert Mitchum, a noir star then in his 60s. The producers considered nearly every leading man of the day: Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Peter Falk, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds. They wasted months detoured on Dustin Hoffman. Somebody floated Arnold Schwarzenegger's name, and this was before he'd made his first hit, Conan the Barbarian. Then Scott and Deeley saw rushes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they had their star.
Scott cast Hauer as the android Roy Batty after he was shown the actor's early Dutch films. He tested several ingenues for the replicant Rachael and gave the role to Young "So perfectly right," says Deeley. "She could be an android. She may be an android, for all I know." Hannah, another cute kid without much screen experience, stuck on a blond punk wig, "puttied out my eyes" after seeing Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu and became the replicant Pris. Cassidy, one of the great underused beauties in movies of the time, was perfect as the snake lady. She's 62 now; in the extras, she still looks gorgeous.
The visual team of Blade Runner one of the last big fantasy movies to be made without much computer graphics finery worked directly for Scott, who sketched each of his prolific ideas on paper (they were called "Ridley-grams"). He plundered the imagination of "futurist" Sid Mead and stole from the work of the French artist Mobius (Jean Giraud) in Heavy Metal magazine. Production illustrator Tom Southwell saw a Japanese ideogram he liked and placed it in the window of the noodle shop. He found out it meant "origin" which, as Southwell says, is the theme, the big question of the film. Effects wizard Douglas Trumbull reveals that the explosions in the first shots came from effects he had created for (but were not used in) Antonioni's Zabriskie Point more than a decade earlier, and that the top of the police building was a redesign of the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Moral: Never throw anything away.
When Scott looked at the first four-hour rough cut, he told his editor, "I think it's marvelous. But what the f does it mean?" Fancher's take was less querulous: "You've ruined it," he said to Scott. The film's financial backers, Jerry Perenchio and Bud Yorkin, weren't crazy about it either. It was they who ordered up the voice-over narration (which Fancher had used in an early draft), to little box-office avail. Paul Sammon, one of several Blade Runner-ologists to speak in the extras, blames the flop on E.T., which was "happy comfort food" and, by its extraordinary success, pushed out all darker science-fiction visions. A young director, Joseph Kahn (Torque), blames it on Reagan. Yeah, well. In fact, Blade Runner was one of several dystopian science-fiction films to tank in the early and middle 80s. Tron, The Dark Crystal, The Keep, Labyrinth: none found a large audience.
But Blade Runner, which had a happy ending imposed on it by its money men, had a happy ending as a project. It became one of the most revered and influential fantasy films of its time. (Scott's previous movie, Alien, is another.) New technology video players, with their pause and slo-mo buttons brought new fans. Sammon: "When they could actually manipulate the film, just as Deckard manipulates Roy Batty's photograph, then they suddenly realized what an accomplishment it was." Viewers were finally ready to savor the pleasures of texture.
Now, could we please see the four-hour version? It's got to be somewhere.
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