On June 1982, one of the most influential Sci-fi movies in Cinema history was released. It was based on a book written by prolific Science Fiction writer Phillip K Dick; Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and it was a financial failure. But how come one of the highest regarded Science Fiction movies in history became a box office flop? What was it about this particular movie that drove people away from movie theaters at the time? And why did it have such a resounding critical re-appraisal after having had such dismal returns at the box office? Was it a movie ahead of its time? Too intricate, and complex in its storytelling to reach out to audiences? Blade Runner’s road to achieving the cult status it enjoys nowadays was a rocky one, to say the least. It is a journey worth taking, and we’re going to do it together. Nothing that I’m going to write about here is gonna be an eye-opener for those of you who, like myself, know the movie by heart. Countless pages have been written about the subject, and some very interesting and astounding visual accounts on Blade Runner’s movie making process have also been done over the years. When talking about Blade Runner lore, two names come to the fore; those of writer and film historian Paul M. Sammon, who wrote, what is to me, the definitive account on the making of Blade Runner; Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, and Film Restorer and Documentary maker, Charles de Lauzirika, and his efforts on compiling the largest assortment of Special features and Documentaries for Blade Runner’s 5-disc DVD, and consequently, Bluray Boxed sets, chief among them, Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner; a treasure trove of Blade Runner factoids and trivia, that digs deep into the nitty-gritty of what it was like, for all those involved, to make this astounding picture. This is my very humble personal account of what I found most fascinating about the making of this movie, and my personal thoughts on the movie overall. So, let’s begin.
Hampton Fancher was a Hollywood actor, who thanks to his relative success in the Industry, and having recently come into some money, was well-off enough to think about becoming a producer instead. Through a friend of his, he learned of Phillip K. Dick’s work, and especially his novel; Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?. PKD was a struggling writer in a genre that at the time was frowned upon; Science Fiction. The bulk of his literary work revolved around the idea of state control, what it means to be human, how easily that humanity can slip away it the midst of a society increasingly obsessed with technology, and the fatal consequences that can derive from the misuse of said technology. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? tells the story of Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter in a desolated and polluted Earth of the future, in which the vast majority of Society, those who can afford to do it anyway, have emigrated to Off-World colonies like Mars. In this future, set in the year 1992 in the first edition of the book, 2021 in later editions, artificial lifeforms who are practically identical to human beings called Androids, or Andys in the book, are manufactured by big corporations to fight Humanity’s space wars, and to serve the human colonists in whatever capacity they see fit. Some of these Androids escape to Earth from time to time, and it’s up to people like Deckard to hunt them down, and kill them. Almost all animal life on Earth is extinct, and it’s a great sign of social status the possession of a real animal, but for those who can’t afford that, they have to resort to buying an artificial one, like Deckard, who owns an artificial sheep. After having been informed that a bunch of new model of Androids, the NEXUS-6, have escaped from Mars, and are hiding somewhere on Earth, Deckard sees this as the perfect opportunity to earn enough money so him and his wife can buy a real sheep, like they’ve always dreamed of.
So it was that after having read the book, Fancher decided that it might be interesting enough to turn it into a movie. With that in mind, he set about trying to secure the rights. He found PKD, and secured a meeting. The thing was that some Hollywood producers had already tried to option the book, but PKD was extremely unhappy about the scripts these people had shown him, and didn’t want to have anything to do with Hollywood. Unable to convince him otherwise, it was only years later that a fellow actor, Brian Kelly, talked to him about wanting to produce a movie, and, in a last ditch effort, Fancher sent him in PKD’s direction. Surprisingly enough, PKD liked Kelly for some reason, and agreed to option the novel. It was now time to get down to business, and write a script they could use to show around and get people interested in. Actress Barbra Hershey, a good friend of Fancher’s, talked him into writing the script himself. Fancher had never thought of himself as a writer, but wrote an eight-page treatment, taking many elements from the source novel, which is what Kelly showed to a friend of his, British producer Michael Deely. Deely had recently achieved some success with the Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), and although he didn’t like Fancher’s first treatment, or the first draft of the script he wrote after that, was still convinced that the story was intriguing enough to get a good picture out of it. Deely also had in mind the perfect director to bring PKD’s vision to life; Ridley Scott.
When Ridley Scott was first offered Blade Runner, he was still editing his second feature, Alien (1979). He’d also been offered, and had been working for some time on adapting Frank Herbert’s seminal Science Fiction novel Dune to the big screen. He felt that whatever he did next, he wanted it to be anything other than a Science fiction movie, and so rejected the picture. He did, however, upon reading Fancher’s script, find the story interesting, and always kept it in the back of his mind.
When the Dune project fell through, Scott decided to have a second look at the script. At that time, Scott had also suffered a personal loss. His older brother Jack had died of Cancer, and Ridley was desperately trying to cope with it by burying himself in his work. At that time, Fancher had already written a few more drafts of the script, and had changed the title several times too, from Android to Mechanismo, before finally settling on Dangerous Days, which was the working title the script had by the time Ridley came on board. But still Scott wasn’t satisfied with the title, and that’s how the title Blade Runner came about. While searching for a new title, Fancher came upon Blade Runner (a movie), a short science fiction story written by American writer William S. Burroughs. Fancher suggested the title to Scott, who loved it, and with the help of Deely, immediately set about securing the rights to use it. Burroughs agreed for the name to be used for a fee, and that was that. As soon as that happened, Ridley started suggesting changes to the script. In his opinion, the movie was a small affair, that took place basically inside small rooms, and in a few locations. Ridley wanted the characters in the story to live and breathe in the outside world. He wanted to, as he put it, “know what was outside the window”. Fancher had no idea, as he’d never thought about any of it, and that is when Ridley brought in Future Visualist Syd Mead, Production Designer Lawrence G. Paul, Art Director David L. Snyder, and Production Illustrator Tom Southwell, to flesh out the future world which the characters were going to inhabit. Scott also took inspiration for such revered works of art as the popular Heavy Metal comic strip, whose designs he would use to inspire his crew to come up with the look he wanted for his movie. Syd Mead was instrumental in this. At first, he’d only been brought in to design the vehicles for the movie. His designs were used to create the iconic look of the Spinner, the police cars, taxis, and Deckard’s sedan, but when drawing these vehicles, he would also design and draw the cityscapes and background environments around them, which gave Ridley a design standpoint from which to create the rest of the city. It was also Ridley’s idea to come up with a retrofitting look for the buildings’ set decoration. Ridley’s idea was that in the future no one would bother to fix something that was broken, choosing instead to work around existing buildings, and technology to keep everything going. His inspired idea of having tubes, and plumbing hanging outside of, and becoming part of the buildings’ architecture, became a source of inspiration for architects all over the world, and became a very important design fixture in movies taking place in the future and music videos from then on. It was actually a decision born more out of necessity than anything else, as we’ll see later on. In the meantime, the filmmakers’ deal that had been secured with Filmways, which was the production company that had agreed to finance the movie, fell apart.
Scott and his crew of Conceptual designers had already been working for several months on the picture, Filmways had invested $2 million dollars on the project, and the production was all but ready to roll cameras in two weeks, but the ever-increasing budget that went from $12 million dollars, which is what Filmways could allocate to the movie, to $20 million dollars, meant that Filmways had to pull the plug. That left Michael Deely, Scott, Associate Producer Ivor Powell, and Production Executive Katherine Haber, scrambling for someone to finance the movie in a very short time. Scott and his team of designers and Illustrators headed by Larry Paull and David Snyder put together a portfolio with all the conceptual design work they’d done so far, and went around to all the studios to try and get the financial backing to shoot the movie. This is how the three-way partnership deal came about, in which Alan Ladd Jr, who at the time was working for Warner Bros. agreed to put up around $8 million dollars of the budget, which gave Warner the Theatrical exhibition rights, Chinese Producer Run Run Shaw put up another $8 million for International distribution rights, and The tandem corporation made up of Jerry Perenchio, and Bud Yorkin would put up the rest. Yorkin and Perenchio had also taken a completion bond deal, which meant that if the movie was to go over budget, they would have to put up the rest of the money to complete the picture, which also meant that it effectively gave them Final cut control of the movie, on top of home video distribution and ancillary rights.
Ridley’s constant demands of changes on the script, had begun to take their toll on Hampton Fancher. Scott was constantly coming up with new ideas and designs, and wanted those changes implemented in the script, which resulted in Fancher writing a record-breaking eight drafts before he finally decided he’d had enough and quit the project, due to creative differences, and probably too, out of sheer exhaustion. That’s when screenwriter David Peoples came in. Peoples was a well regarded screenwriter, better known for the Oscar-nominated Documentary The Day after Trinity ( John H. Else, 1980) about the creator of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and came highly recommended by Ridley’s brother, Tony Scott, who would also go on to have an illustrious career as a filmmaker with titles like The Hunger (1983), Top Gun (1986), Days of Thunder (1990), and Déja Vú (2006). Scott and Deely set the writer up at the Chateau Marmont in LA, and gave him a copy of the script. As soon as he read it, he realized that Fancher’s last draft was so well written, there was nothing he could really do to make it better. He told both Deely and Scott about this, but soon found out that what Ridley really wanted was to have a screenwriter at hand to make the changes he wanted in the script, as Fancher had been unwilling to do so out of frustration. Peoples immediately realised that this wouldn’t be an easy task, as Scott was constantly coming up with new ideas on the spot, and Peoples was constantly rewriting lines of dialogue for the actors, both suggested by the actors themselves, as well as Ridley. Scott felt that the word Android had been over-used in both science fiction novels and films, and it was thanks to Peoples’ daughter, a Biology student, who told her father about replicating cells, that the title was changed from Android to Replicant. Scott had wanted from the very start to go with a film noir style for the movie, that would resemble the hardboiled feel of such classics as The Big Sleep ( Howard Hawks,1946), and The Maltese Falcon ( John Huston, 1941), but set in the future. A common fixture of this kind of movies was the use of a voice-over narration by the protagonist, an often-used storytelling device that would serve as sort of a guiding hand for the audience into both the story and the protagonist’s inner thought process. The voice-over had been a part of the scripting process as far back as when Fancher was still involved in the project; something that the actor who was to eventually portray Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford, was very much against.
Fancher has admitted that he had Robert Mitchum in mind to play Rick Deckard while he was writing the script. He felt that he perfectly embodied the cynicism and toughness required to play the part, and was at the time, still fit enough to do it. For better or for worse, it was never to be. Another actor who was seriously considered for the role was Dustin Hoffman. He was interested in the role, and had endless discussions with both Deely and Scott about it, but they both felt that the further Hoffman discussed his own ideas about the movie, the further the project was moving away from its original concept. Harrison Ford was fast becoming a major Hollywood star at the time due to his participation in the Star Wars movies, Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), and The Empire Strikes Back ( Irvin Kershner, 1980), and was also currently working on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), with Steven Spielberg. It was while he was there on the set of Raiders at Elstree Studios, London, that he was contacted by Deeley. He agreed to meet with the filmmakers at a nearby hotel, and after that meeting, he accepted to do it.
Production Executive Katherine Haber was the one who suggested Dutch actor Rutger Hauer for the role of Replicant Roy Batty. She showed Ridley several of the movies the actor had done in Holand with famed Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, Turkish Delight (1973), and Soldier of Orange (1977). The actor had also participated in an American movie already, Nighthawks ( Bruce Malmouth, 1981), alongside Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams. Scott liked so much what he saw that he cast Hauer without screen testing him, which almost gave him a heart attack when the actor showed up in very strange wear, and his hair bleached white, the first time they met.
For the part of Rachael, an unknowing Replicant, and Deckard’s eventual love interest, several actresses were tested; but it ultimately came down to actresses Nina Axelrod and Sean Young. A young actor named Morgan Paull, who bore a striking resemblance with Ford, both physically and in his voice, was used by the filmmakers to screen test the actresses who were going to play the part of the Replicants. He not only tested with Axelrod and Young, but also with Darryl Hannah, and Stacey Melkin, who were going for the part of Pris, another member of Batty’s group of Replicant fugitives. In the end, Scott decided on Sean Young, based purely on her looks, as he thought she was the perfect visual representation of the Rachael he had in mind, and Darryl Hannah as Pris. Stacey Melkin was to portray the role of Mary, the sixth Replicant from Batty’s group, but her character was ultimately eliminated due to budgetary reasons. Scott was very much aware of the lack of experience of the twenty-something Young, and tasked Katherine Haber with working with her to try and get the best out of her. Paull had done such a nice job with the screen tests, that the filmmakers decided to offer him the role of Blade Runner Holden, who gets nearly killed at the beginning of the movie by Leon, the other male Replicant member of Batty’s group. This role was to be portrayed by actor Brion James.
Actress Johanna Cassidy was chosen to play the role of Zhora, the last female member of Batty’s group. The beautiful, talented, and athletic actress was the perfect fit for the role. She also had the advantage of being comfortable around snakes, a very important characteristic of her character as she would be found by Deckard, performing on stage with a snake in a seedy nightclub. The actress was not only familiar with snakes, she also happened to own one, which was the same one that was used in the movie.
Edward James Olmos, most famously known for portraying the role of Lieutenant “Marty” Castillo in the hit Cop TV show Miami Vice (1984-1990), was chosen to play the role of Blade Runner Gaff, Deckard’s reluctant partner. Olmos was a creative force during the movie, and not only did he come up with the look and wardrobe for his character, which Scott equated to that of a well-to-do drug dealer, but was the driving force behind the creation of City speak, the jargon that his character speaks throughout the movie, a mix of Hungarian, German, Japanese and Spanish. As originally written on the page, the language most often used by Gaff is Japanese, but Olmos thought it would be an interesting idea to come up with a language for his character that would be heavily rooted in Esperanto. Scott thought it a brilliant idea, and let him go for it. It’s just a pity that it’s never really taken full advantage of during the movie, and most of his dialogue is mouthed in several scenes, but never heard out loud. It’s also barely mentioned in any of the subsequent cuts of the movie where the voice-over was scrapped, if at all.
For the role of Captain Bryant, Deckard’s superior, the filmmakers went with character actor M. Emmet Walsh. William Sanderson played the role of genetic engineer J.F Sebastian. Sebastian suffers from a rare condition called Methuselah Syndrome, that makes his glands age more quickly, giving him the appearance of being three times his age when he’s a little over twenty. This look was achieved thanks to Marvin G. Westmore’s incredible make up prosthetics, that give the actor’s skin the wrinkled look of an old person. Other roles went to James Hong, as Hannibal Chew, Tyrell Corp’s eye designer, and Joe Turkel, who plays the role of Eldon Tyrell. Hampton Fancher had Sterling Hayden, funnily enough another one of Stanley Kubrick’s alumni, in mind for the role. Turkel incidentally had shared the screen with Hayden in The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956), and would go on to play roles in two more Stanley Kubrick movies, Paths of Glory (1957), and The Shining (1980). It was his role on this last movie as the ghostly bartender Lloyd that called the attention of Scott to hire him for the role of Eldon Tyrell, much to Hampton Fancher’s chagrin, who would refer to Turkel simply as “the bartender from The Shining”. The actor at the time was going through a rough patch in his personal life, and had difficulty remembering his lines, so the crew would have cue cards at the ready, all around the sets, for the actor to deliver them. Incidentally he, along with Rutger Hauer were also the source of a rather embarrassing incident on set during the scene in which Roy Batty, infuriated by Tyrell’s lack of help, ends up killing him by gauging his eyes out and crashing his skull. Right before all that happened, Batty was to kiss Tyrell in the mouth, which resulted in Rutger sticking his tongue inside Turkel’s mouth in a moment of improvisation. It made for a few laughs on set, but a powerful scene on the screen. Turkel acknowledges the fact that Rutger might have noticed that he was having a hard time, and that was his way of diffusing the tension; for which he was very grateful.
To say that Blade Runner was a difficult shoot would be an understatement. As Harrison Ford so aptly described it; “It was a bitch”. At first Scott was adamant that the movie had to be shot on location, and they actually went scouting for locations in New York and Boston. Even though Scott was very much in love with New York’s architecture, especially the Chrystler building, he soon realised that it would be impractical to shoot in any of those places, as the uncontrollable conditions, and expense of having to close off entire neighbourhoods for weeks on end, would not do. Scott reluctantly agreed to shoot in the Warner Bros backlot in Burbank California, in what was then known as the New York City set, which was somewhat fitting, as that had been the location where the aforementioned noir classics from the 40s that Scott was trying to emulate, The Big Sleep, and The Maltese Falcon, had been shot. On walking through the set for the first time, Scott was very disappointed by the small size of the sets, and that even using all of them might not be good enough to achieve the visual scale he was aiming for. Several changes had to be made to hide the architectural shortcomings of the set, the first of which that the bulk of the movie would have to be shot at night, so the visual effects guys wouldn’t have to matte out the nearby wooded hills for starters, and secondly, as the crew couldn’t very well struck out the old sets to build new ones, firstly for practical reasons, and secondly for budgetary ones, it was decided that all the set decoration elements that had to be used to transform the New York City set into the Los Angeles of 2019, would have to be retrofitted onto the exterior of the existing buildings, going back to the aforementioned idea that in the future, nothing would be thrown away, but rather re-used and retrofitted to keep a society already on the verge of economic collapse going forward. With Larry Paul and his crew already working on the sets way before the time Principal Photography started, and realizing many of Syd Mead’s designs, (which ranged from futuristic-looking cleaning trucks, taxis, Spinners, park meters which could electrocute offenders if they attempted to tamper with them, and some iconic props like the Voight-Kampf test machine, Deckard’s blaster..), the sets were pretty much done for the most part by the time Ridley, the cast and the rest of the crew showed up on set. The Pre-production crew had enjoyed a rare and unprecendented long period of nine months of preparation for the project due to an Actor’s Guild strike at the time, which allowed for the bulk of the on-set work and designs to be ready. The crew, however, would soon find out that working with someone like Ridley Scott, with such a penchant for detail and perfect framing, was going to be no picnic. The long shooting hours, mostly at night, under constant rain and fog created by oil smoke machines, was far from ideal. Scott was constantly changing the sets, took a long time to set up the shots, and when he finally did, he would do as many as 15 to 20 takes, until he was satisfied. Yorkin and Perenchio were starting to worry about the production going over schedule, and consequently budget, which would mean that they would have to supply the additional money needed to finish, which didn’t make them in the least happy. The crew wasn’t very happy either, as they felt underappreciated by Scott. It also didn’t help matters that during the course of an on-set interview Scott had done for the British Newspaper The Guardian, when asked by the journalist who did Scott prefer to work with; British technicians, or American ones, Scott responded British. Ridley was accustomed to working with British crews in his home country, and being used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it, he felt somewhat restrained by the way the American crew worked. He was denied the possibility of handling the camera, as per Union regulations in the US, something that frustrated him to no end, and was pretty much a “hands-on” director when it came to the art department, having studied graphic design, and worked as a set designer. Art Director David L. Snyder recalls that upon meeting Ridley on set, and introducing himself as the Art Director, Scott gave him a sidelong look and replied; ” Too bad for you, mate”. The whole crew got wind of this interview, and the next morning Makeup artist Marvin Westmore had T-Shirts made with the phrase; ” Yes, Guvnor. My ass”, in reference to what how the British crews would address Ridley when he requested something; “Yes, Governor”. When Production Executive Katherine Haber learned of this, she also had a few shirts made with the phrase; ” Xenophobia sucks”, in reference to Ridley and the British team being treated different because of their nationalities. Fortunately, the episode lasted for half a day, and by the end of it, the crew was back to business as usual. This, unfortunately, didn’t stop the on-set friction. Some of the members of the cast were also unhappy, with some of them like actor M. Emmet Walsh complaining about the set ups taking too long, and being asked to wait for hours with nothing to do. But the most problematic situation arose with the constant clashing between Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott. The actor was unhappy on a number of levels, not the least of which was the direction, or lack thereof, of the actors on set by Ridley. Ford was an actor who was very involved in the creative process of any movie he participated in, and would be in constant talks with the director on how to approach his character, or a particular scene. Unfortunately, there was no such rapport with Scott, who according to Ford, was more concerned about the visual look of his film than about any of the characters, or the actors portraying them. It is true that Scott wasn’t particularly gifted at that time with dealing with actors, but with a movie already behind schedule, and Yorkin and Perenchio breathing down his neck, and trying to rush him to wrap up shooting, Scott felt that he did the best he could given the circumstances. He also knew that Ford was an actor experienced enough to be able to deliver the goods without a leg-up. Other things like the lack of chemistry between the two leads, the fact that Ford may have resented the fact that Scott was paying more attention to Sean Young, on account of her lack of experience, and certain aspects of the script concerning Ford’s character he wasn’t happy with, only added to the mounting friction on the set. From the very beginning, Ford was unhappy about Young’s casting, thinking her too green for a role of this calibre, and he also fought hard to have certain passages of the script re-worked and re-written. His chief complaint was that his character was a detective who does no detecting, and after having read Hampton Fancher’s last draft before David Proples took over, I can see how he would think that a valid complaint. He also thought that the use of a voice-over was a clunky, inefficient, and redundant way of explaining the story, and his character’s motivations. He thought that it might be more intelligent and useful, to put some of that dialogue in images instead of over-explaining everything. Scott and Peoples did work around the problem, and came up with a few scenes that addressed many of Ford’s complaints but, as lack would have it, the voice-over narration would become a bane in Ford’s existence throughout the whole project that would not die off that easily.
The production was also not without its shortage of problems off-set. Several locations, other than the Burbank New York City set, had been chosen to shoot several scenes. The exterior of the Ennis House, a landmark building in LA that had been designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright was chosen as Deckard’s apartment block, while the interior was recreated in one of Burbank’s sound stages, Union Station was going to double as the Police Headquaters, and The Bradbury, a world famous building in downtown LA, and the filming site of numerous movies and TV shows, was to double for J.F Sebastian’s derelict apartment building. The interior of the Ennis House was considered at one time to be used to film all those scenes taking place in Deckard’s apartment, but it was decided that it would be easier and more controlled if it was shot on the sound stage. In fact, the interior of Deckard’s apartment was recreated to such a level of detail trying to mimic Lloyd Wright’s architecture, that to many of the cast and crew it really felt like a lived-in place, with its low ceilings, art decor furnishings, and even the block-like masonry that was an exact copy of the interior of the Ennis House. The problem would be lighting such a tight and enclosed environment. That’s where the genius of Director of Photography Jordan Cronenweth came to the fore. Being unable to fix any lights from the visible, low ceilings, Cronenweth resorted to lighting from the floor up, bouncing light from the ceiling. Using the excuse of the 2019 Los Angeles being a place with very dense air traffic, he also took the opportunity to shoot Xenon lights from outside the windows of the set into the interior, giving the impression of there always being Spinners flying by outside the tall buildings. This trick was also used in the Bradbury building. That way it gave Cronenweth an additional source of light that was already written into the story. Although all the interiors of J.F Sebastian’s apartment were going to be shot on the set, the crew still needed the exterior of The Bradbury building, and its entry hall, with its never-ending rows of stairs, for some exterior and establishing shots. The crew always shot at night, never during business hours. They would get in at 6 o’clock in the afternoon, and had to be out of there by 6 am the next morning. To give the place the look of it being a derelict, and abandoned building, the art department would come in, trash the place, putting up huge sprinklers to simulate the constant rain, and fill the floor with small pieces of cork, to simulate debris. The use of cork would make it easier for the clean up crew to clean the place, without the use of excessive water, or inflicting irreparable damage to the floor. For the scenes that take place inside the eye designer shop, Hannibal Chew, instead of choosing a real location, or shooting in a sound stage which would have to refrigerated, Scott decided to shoot the whole of the scene inside a meat locker. The crew had to get in a few days earlier, set up all the furnishings, and then blast the whole interior with water, and let it freeze until there were stalactites hanging from the ceiling, and the props. The problem, apart from the unbearably freezing conditions in which the cast and crew had to work, was that as soon as the crew got in and starting setting up the lamps to light up the set, the temperature in the room would rise to the point in which the stalactites would start melting, and falling on the floor.
In the end, the movie went over schedule and over budget, forcing Yorkin and Perenchio to cough up the additional money to finish the shoot. They were so infuriated by the slow pace of Scott’s shooting that, in a fit of rage, issued a letter to Michael Deely informing him that both his and Ridley’s services were no longer required, and that they would effectively take over the production, and edit the movie the way they saw fit. Of course this was easier said than done, as the whole of the post-production, with additional pick-up shots that would have to be done at Shepperton Studios in the UK, still had to be done. All of that had to be supervised by Scott, and after consulting with his Union representative, Scott soon found out that they couldn’t just simply fire him. And so it was that Scott went back to London to supervise the final edit, shoot additional scenes, and oversee one of the most crucial aspects of the whole production; the special effects. The bulk of these were done by Douglas Trumbull and his Special Effects house EEG (Effects Entertainment Group). Trumbull was a highly regarded figure in the field of special and visual effects, and his credits included the visual effects for movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture ( Robert Wise, 1979). Trumbull’s crew had a very limited budget to produce the Visual Effects, and had to be very inventive with what they had. They ended up using miniatures from other movies like the top of the Los Angeles PD HQ building on which Gaff’s Spinner lands, which was actually part of the top of the Mothership that was utilized by Spielberg on the Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and parts of the Tyrell pyramid were also used for various shots representing some of the city’s skyscrapers. The so-called Hades landscape, the visually mesmerising first shot of the movie, was actually a forced-perspective table top miniature, as too was the Tyrell Corporation pyramid. The scale of the Hades landscape miniature was achieved by using oil smoke to create a haze-like effect, and give the impression that the city went on forever on the horizon, controlling the amount of smoke that there would be on the shot at any given time by using electric fans connected to smoke detectors, thus having always the same quantity of smoke on-screen, and avoiding a stuttering effect. To pinpoint the buildings in the miniature, hundreds of little lights were connected to electric cables that run under the table, while the flames being thrown up by the industrial chimney stacks were optically added to the image later on by layering all the different elements that composed the image with several passes of the motion control camera. Having to print, rewind, and re-print elements on the same negative, it was decided that the crew would be better served by using 65 mm film stock. It could then be sized down to 35 mm, once all the visual effects elements had been added onto the scene, thus avoiding the generational loss that occurs when film stock is exposed several times to add optical effects, and the overall quality of the image degrades. The Tyrell Corporation too was another table top miniature, illuminated by so many pinpoints of light, that some of the circuits fried, burning down half of it in the process. Fortunately, by the time this happened, the crew had already achieved all the shots they wanted with it. The flying Spinners were a combination of miniatures, a life-size fiber glass one for close ups that was elevated with a huge crane, optically removing the wires it was attached to later on, and a mock-up, which was basically just the front part of the vehicle with all the dashboard screens, buttons, and steering wheel, mounted on a gimble, to rock back, forth, and sideways. Some things like water and air could be thrown at the windshield to recreate rain and wind. As the mock up was mounted inside the sound stage, everything that could be seen through the windshield had to be added later on with front projection. When the crew was at first testing the optically added shots of the Spinners flying throughout the futuristic cityscape, the matte lines of the Spinners were too visible, giving up the illusion. To work around this problem, the crew came up with the rather ingenious solution of adding a lens flare on top of the flying vehicles, which created the necessary visual edge to sell the effect. The shots of the futuristic billboards, strange-looking buildings, and the advertising mother blimp, were a combination of miniatures and matte paintings. The magnificent matte paintings by Mathew Yuricich’s crew are some of the most eye-catching ever seen in any movie, ranging from the sunset seen outside of Tyrell’s office window during Rachael’s Voight-Kampf test at the beginning of the movie, to the jaw-dropping ones seen in and around the exterior of the Bradbury building during Deckard and Roy Batty’s final confrontation.
Another important element to be completed during post-production was that of the musical score composed by Greek musical genius Vangelis. Vangelis had already started work on the movie while it was still being shot, but his unique working method, in which the composer insisted on doing everything by himself, meant that it took him a long time for him to finish his scores. He did manage, however, to turn in some musical cues for Scott to use on-set during filming. Scott would have his crew strategically set up speakers all around the set, and would play Vangelis music to inspire the cast and crew, something they were very grateful for, as it helped them fully immerse themselves in the story. Scott was also adamant that a particular scene involving a unicorn was shot at Elstree, and incorporated into the final cut of the movie.
Ridley Scott and Phillip K. Dick
PKD had learned through the trades that the movie was being made, but no one from the Studio; Hampton Fancher, Ridley Scott or Michael Deely had contacted him. He was very unhappy about this state of affairs, and made some very scathing comments on the press about the way the property was being handled, and went down particularly hard on Fancher’s script. PKD didn’t like the noir treatment to his story, and much less the voice-over. He was, however, quite gracious and satisfied about David Peoples’ draft. In his opinion, Peoples breathed new life into the story and characters, got rid of the voice-over, and made something, in his opinion more akin to his original text. Wishing to make amends with the writer, Scott extended an invitation to PKD to come visit the set, so he could see for himself some of the things they were working on. The writer came over with a friend, and after a private conversation with Ridley Scott, they were shown around the set, saw many of the props, and even had the opportunity to see a 30-minute showreel of some of the special effects shots the crew had put together with the Vangelis score. PKD was mesmerised by what he saw, much to the delight of Scott, but especially the special effects crew, and had nothing but good things to say about it all. Scott had been somewhat hesitant to meet PKD, as at the beginning of the production, he had made some unfortunate comments about never having read Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep? in its entirety, because he’d found it a struggle to get through, and didn’t really understand what it was all about. Whatever disagreements both men had, it’s clear that they sorted them out during that brief private meeting. He would later tell a close friend of his that, “he was as excited for Blade Runner to come out, as a kid is on Christmas eve”. Sadly, PKD would never get to see the adaptation of his book on the big screen, dying of a stroke four months before the movie came out.
First sneak previews and reactions.
The movie was screened for an audience in two sneak previews that took place in Denver, Colorado, and Dallas, Texas. The results from those two screenings were puzzling, to say the least. Half the audience liked what they saw, even if they were a bit at a loss as to what it was that what they saw meant, and the other half flat out rejected the movie. It was quite demoralizing for all those involved, but especially Yorkin and Perenchio, who wanted several changes for the final cut of the movie, chief among them, the inclusion of a voice-over narration by Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, that they thought would clarify, and help flesh out the story, and the main character’s motivations. Now, Ford had been dead-set from the very beginning against the use of a voice-over, as he thought it would over-explain things happening on-screen; something he felt would be better done by putting those words into actions, and let the audience come up with their own inclusions. Scott, on the other hand, was quite receptive to it at first, as it would serve to create the noir-like atmosphere he wanted for the movie from the very beginning. They had tried, once and again, to come up with the right dialogue for Deckard, but could never quite seem to crack it. Everyone, from Hampton Fancher to David Peoples had had a crack at it, and several variations of the voice-over were recorded many times, much to Ford’s chagrin, who was however contractually obliged to do it. In the end, they gave it one more try, and ended up hiring an screenwriter, TV writer and producer by the name of Roland Kibbee, who was a friend of Bud Yorkin’s. Ford didn’t like the dialogue at all, and legend has it that he recited the voice-over badly, in the hopes that they wouldn’t be able to use. Ford still claims to this day that he did his very best, in spite of the circumstances, and conducted himself professionally at all times. Whichever way you see it, the end result was the same; a clunky, over-explanatory tacked-on mess. Funnily enough, there are people who saw it back in the day, and even some newcomers, who actually like the movie better with the voice over.
Another last minute change that was also required by the producers was that of a happy ending. Yorkin and Perenchio thought the original ending to be too dour and pessimistic, and forced the happy ending on Scott. Kathy Haber was in charge of shooting some additional footage for this happy ending in Monument Valley, Utah, but what was filmed was unusable because of the persisting bad weather conditions. In the end, Scott and a small crew went up to Big Bear mountain, California, to shoot the footage of Deckard and Rachael riding in Deckard’s sedan through a forested mountain road, which was complemented with some aerial footage that was provided by Stanley Kubrick. The aerial footage was actually outtakes from the aerial footage Kubrick’s crew had shot for the opening shots of The Shining (1980). With these changes implemented into the original cut, plus the trimming down of various sequences that were deemed too violent for audiences, the movie was released on June 25, 1982.
Critical and financial reception.
Financial reception wasn’t that bad during the first two days, but bad word-of-mouth quickly killed off the movie’s chances at the box office. It also didn’t help that the movie was released at the height of Summer, with E.T the Extraterrestrial ( Steven Spielberg, 1982), having come out only a few weeks prior. A combination of bad marketing, and worse box office timing, stopped the financial success of the movie dead on its tracks. Its main selling point, that of the presence of new Hollywood star Harrison Ford, seemed to work against its favour. Audiences were expecting another action adventure outing by Ford, much in the same vein as his participations in the last two Star Wars movies. His character was anything but heroic, and his fans weren’t quite ready for that. Audiences clearly weren’t ready for the kind of movie they were presented with either. Everyone agreed that it was a visual feast, but that it was dragged down by an incomprehensible plot, unsympathetic, flat characters, and slow pacing. Famous film critic Roger Ebert went down quite hard on the movie, voicing some of the same opinions expressed above. Over the years, he would come to re-evaluate his opinion on the movie, finally caving in, and regarding it as one of the best Sci-fi films in Cinema history. This process of critical and financial re-appraisal of the movie, however, would still take a few years to catch on.
Critical and financial re-appraisal.
It was actually with the advent of home video in the market that people started looking at the movie with different eyes. With people being able to pause, rewind and pore over the movie’s intricately detailed visual, and artistic merits, the movie found a new market in which to flourish. Only a year after its disastrous theatrical release, some art house theaters, and drive-ins around the country, were hosting midnight screenings. Slowly, but surely, the movie was acquiring cult status, and gaining more and more critical appraisal from most critical circles. Its popularity was further boosted when the movie was edited on Laserdisc by Criterion in all its widescreen glory, something that audiences couldn’t do with earlier iterations of the movie in both VHS and Laserdisc. It was also the first time that US audiences got to see the International cut, which included the bits of violence and gore that had been trimmed from the US theatrical cut. That Criterion LD became a top seller, and a highly regarded collectible item until in 1990 there was a special screening of the movie that had a surprising twist in store for attending audiences.
Workprint, Director’s cut and Final cut.
In early 1990, the Fairfax theater manager requested a 70mm copy of Blade Runner to be screened as part of a revival festival. While looking for it, Michael Arick, a film preservationist who worked for Warner Bros. at the time, stumbled upon a rare copy of the movie that had been thought lost in the Warner vault. It was indeed a 70mm blow-up, one of the very few struck for theatrical exhibition, but not only that. It was a print copy of the very same cut of the movie that had been screened in those early sneak previews in Denver and Dallas; the Workprint. For starters, the condition of the copy was very rough, it had a very different opening credit sequence, alternate takes and dialogue, a louder sound mix, no voice-over narration, except for a little bit at the end when Batty dies, and the last act of the movie, which concerns Deckard’s and Batty’s final showdown, had no music by Vangelis, instead using some cues from Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968) score, and some additional music that James Horner had composed for Oliver Stone’s The Hand (1981). Audiences were thrilled about this new print, and relished the opportunity to see a cut of the movie without the clunky voice-over narration. As soon as other art house theaters around the country learned of this new cut, they wanted to book screenings for it. The new print played very succesfully, wherever it went. To the point that the Warner Bros. executives had started to advertise it as the Director’s cut of the movie. When news of this reached Scott, he asked to see it, but soon realized what it really was, and that his famous unicorn scene, which was never really integrated in any cut, was still missing. It was then that a long process started in which Scott wanted to have this cut restored with the unicorn scene included in it. The unicorn scene, much to Fancher’s and Yorkin’s chagrin, was a visual statement by Scott in which the filmmaker all but spelled out the fact that Deckard was in fact a Replicant. Unfortunately, the original unicorn footage that Scott had shot in England couldn’t be found, and the technicians working on the restoration had to make do with outtakes from that footage. The cut was hastily put together, and released on September 11, 1992 in the US, and later on, the rest of the world. It was a smash hit with audiences, but had a lukewarm reception from the critics. The movie was definitely a better version than the original theatrical cut. The voice-over was scrapped, and so was the tacked-on happy ending. Gone too were the extra bits of violence present in both the International Cut, and Workprint. The unicorn scene was finally put in, even if it wasn’t the original footage, and the Worprint’s original ending with the elevator doors closing on Deckard and Rachael, was left as was. What the director’s cut mostly did was sparkle the never-ending debate of whether Deckard is a replicant or not, which still persists to this day. It was also a bestseller both on VHS and Laserdisc, and became the definitive version of the movie for a long time. Still, Scott wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t until the year 2007 that Charles de Lauzirika, a documentary filmmaker, maker of special feature content for DVD and Blurays, and frequent collaborator of both Scott brothers, Ridley and Tony, took it upon himself, and with Scott’s blessing, to not only restore the Director’s cut to how Scott wanted it to look and sound like, but also offer audiences an unprecedented array of documentaries, special features, and audio commentaries that would give those who loved the movie, a unique and never-before-seen glimpse into the moviemaking process of one of the most fascinating movies of the 20th century. Several edits and tweaks were done to the Director’s cut, with many visual and sonic blunders Scott had never been satisfied with being corrected; like the out-of-synch verbal exchange between Deckard and the Egyptian snake vendor ( Harrison Ford’s son, Ben, agreed to come in, and stand-in for his father’s chin so the Visual effects wizards could finally match Deckard’s lips to his actual words), Zhora crashing through the window display after she’s been shot by Deckard, which is clearly a stunt-double wearing an ill-suited wig, that can been clearly seen in all other versions of the movie ( Johanna Cassidy gladly agreed to come in, and redo her scenes as Zhora on a green screen stage), and the dialogue between Bryant and Deckard at the beginning of the movie, where he explains to Deckard that two Replicants, instead of one, got killed trying to break into the Tyrell Corporation was finally corrected, which always left dangling in the air the identity of a sixth Replicant whom we never get to see (the sixth Replicant was called Mary, was going to be played by actress Stacey Melkin, and was always present in all versions of the script until she was written off due to budgetary reasons). Another thing that was reinserted were the extra bits of gore that had been excised from the Theatrical and Director’s cuts, and Scott was finally able to find his original unicorn footage. All in all, this is for many people nowadays their preferred, and definitive version of Blade Runner.
Book vs Film
The final film bears little resemblance to PKD’s original text. The book takes place in the year 2021, according to the most recent edition (1992 in the original print), after the end of a third world war called World War Terminus. The Earth is a desolate place on the brink of ecological collapse, and most of the population has emigrated to Off-World colonies, and use human look-alike androids, with limited life spans, as slave labour for the most hazardous chores. A virtually empathic mode of religious cult called Mercerism is all the rage, and the population have home devices called Mood Organs to regulate their moods on a regular basis. Almost all animal and insect life on the planet is extinct, and it’s considered a great sign of social status to possess a living animal. Those who can’t afford one, have to make do with artificial ones. That’s actually Deckard’s main goal throughout the book; to earn enough money to buy a real Sheep, to replace the artificial one he owns. It’s a more intimate affair, Deckard is married, many of the characters have different names, Rachael is still a Replicant, but she and Deckard don’t end up together, even after they have an intimate affair, the Replicants are portrayed are selfish, cold-blooded assassins, and the overall story goes in a very different direction. What Scott does is expand the universe of Deckard’s text, filling it up with visual and storytelling nuances. The core of the story is still there though; what’s the difference between an artificial being and a human, and when do the two of them start to blend, and become indistinguishable. The animal theme, even though it was an idea that Scott really liked, was something that could never fully be integrated into the story to his satisfaction. Rachael has a very different role in the movie, and the Replicants take on a whole new dimension, making them more sympathetic than the Blade Runner who’s hunting them down. Mercerism, and things like the Mood Organ, disappear completely, which I think is for the best, as it would’ve been very tricky to recreate, and make it come across on the screen in a way that people could understand it. So, which one is better? Neither. They’re both great Sci-fi stories in their own right, and I enjoyed them as separate entities. What’s important in this case is that the main theme of the book is elegantly portrayed on-screen, which is the best one can hope for given how PKD’s style of writing doesn’t necessarily lend itself to an easy adaptation.
Blade Runner is a Sci-fi masterpiece, plain and simple. It doesn’t make for easy viewing, its themes are rich and complex, and so are the characters. When I first saw this movie ( a VHS rental I might add), I must admit I was somewhat dissapointed. I was a lot younger and dumber back then, and didn’t fully appreciate what the movie was trying to tell me. Quite frankly, I was expecting a run-of-the-mill Sci-fi actioner, especially having Harrison Ford in the lead. Fortunately, it didn’t take me that long to come around, and on second viewing (a public TV airing this time, and in widescreen to boot!), I was thoroughly enthralled by the whole affair. Of course, like everybody else, I was blown away by the visuals the first time I saw it, but this time it was the philosophical themes of what makes us human, the story and the wonderful characters that drew me to it. Harrison Ford is playing against type, something that he admitted, was what really attracted him to the project. He does a very good job with it, and would really get to expand on his character on the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (Dennis Villeneuve, 2017). I completely share his misgivings about the voice-over now, although I have something to confess. The first time I got to see the Director’s cut, if there was one thing I really missed, was Deckard’s narration. Sure, it was over-explanatory and clunky in places, but it provided the viewer with some bits of information about the character, and everything surrounding him, that we wouldn’t have known otherwise; like the fact that Deckard used to be married, information about the character Gaff, City Speak, and even some bits of inner dialogue to further support the theory that Deckard may indeed be a Replicant. Throughout the numerous drafts written by both Fancher and Peoples over the years, it was never mentioned, or even suggested that Deckard might be a Replicant. It was only by the inclusion of some visual clues peppered throughout the movie by Ridley Scott, that the idea started to take hold; like Deckard’s collection of old photos on his piano, the voice-over bit in which he says that he thought it a better idea to become a hunter rather than hunted, and what most thought it to be an on-set technical mishap at the time, but a deliberate one according to Scott, in which Ford accidentally walked into Sean Young’s mark during the kitchen scene between the two actors in Deckard’s apartment, after Deckard has retired Leon, and the light which was purposefully reflecting into her eyes, and which belies the fact that she’s a Replicant, also reflects on his. Of course, all of this was further cemented when the Director’s cut was released, and the unicorn scene included. All of a sudden, Gaff leaving a tin-foil origami unicorn by Deckard’s doorstep is, to me at least, irrefutable proof that Deckard is a Replicant. Which is all the more confusing, given the way the sequel went. Whether Deckard is a Replicant or not, I think it ultimately boils down to which of the five cuts one chooses to watch. As for me, after having seen all five available cuts of the movie, I find myself strangely drawn to the Workprint. It may be down to it being the one which is the most different from all other subsequent versions, but I think is a combination of different factors. The rough nature of the cut, louder music, alternate takes, and the only bit of narration recited by Harrison Ford in the entire movie, and the only one that is unanimously praised as being what the narration of the Theatrical cut should’ve been like, which he does right after Batty dies. It’s true that Vangelis hadn’t finished the soundtrack by then, and that editor Terry Rawlings was forced to use tracks from Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner as temp music for the final confrontation at The Bradbury, but it’s this disjointing element what makes it so unique, among other things. All other versions of the movie are really re-works of the Theatrical cut. I think all the actors do a superb job, especially Rutger Hauer and Sean Young. Him for his wonderful contributions in creating his character ( the whole “Tears in Rain” speech being one of them), and Young for her magnetically intoxicating presence as Rachael, (which is quite surprising given how inexperienced, and hesitant she was on taking the role). Enough good things cannot be said about Jordan Cronenweth’s Cinematography. His unusual lighting style gave the movie the futuristic look Scott was looking for. A technological Hades, which is visually mesmerising, and nightmarish in equal measure. Very few movies from that time have aged as graciously has Blade Runner has. It was probably one of the last movies in the industry to use the old techniques to achieve its visual trickery, and it shows. Everything from Production Design to music contributes to make this a unique piece of moviemaking. A rare avis, the likes of which we don’t see that much these days.
Thanks for reading.