“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” – Roy Batty
30 years ago Ridley Scott changed my artistic world. I genuinely believe Blade Runner was another one of those watershed moments in my formative cinematic movie going years. Although the main themes are based on Philip K. Dick’s brilliant Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which is more post-apocalyptic, and slowly paced in which Deckard is livelier and has a wife along with many other details. But I’m not going to dissect or theorise the book (I’ll leave that for others) but instead I’m going to look at why Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is such a monumentally and visually powerful film to me.
Released on Incept Date 25th June 1982, Blade Runner is considered ‘in my opinion’ one of the most influential science-fiction films of the 20th century. It was launched into my early Sci-Fi boom years when Star Wars ruled, which at that time filled me with optimism towards the future, but Blade Runner treated that outlook so much differently, instead we were shown an explosion of futurism blended with dark noir into a whole new visual style of movie making. This Future Noir, the Blade Runner look (which so many emulate today, even pop stars like George Michael with his Freak video) it was a look which lead us to one definite conclusion…the future wasn’t going to be happy place to be in. Blade Runner showed us a future where corporatism ruled, a planet in an ecological mess, and a population crushed into docile sheep, a rise of replicants more human than human, and our very perception of what’s real in jeopardy. It’s a wonder that Blade Runner didn’t twist my perception of the future and change what I am today.
It’s also hard to believe the film actual got made in the first place; when you look back how it all started, the script itself started nearly 40 years ago by a hot young script writer called Hampton Fancher in 1975 when he was given a lump of cash and told to go way and write anything, (lucky guy) but nothing materialised until his friend Jim Maxwell introduced him to Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DADOES), which initially he didn’t like, although he could see a commercial line through it, purely about a bureaucratic detective chasing androids through a city…after all, his bottom line was just to write a script which made money. Producer Michael Deeley was pursued at the time by Brian Kelley to make a film based on Dick’s DADOES, he read the book and wasn’t interested. Kelly told Faucher this who then said Deeley was “full of shit”, so he wrote him a 5 page synopsis, which he said wasn’t brilliant but was quite interesting. Phillip K Dick didn’t like the synopsis either, he didn’t approve of a detective chasing androids, because ‘understandably’ he was really protective of the narrative within his book, mostly the themes about ‘what is human’ and ‘what makes us human’
From what I’ve read Faucher went away and wrote a smaller ‘low budget’ script about people taking in just apartments, with the threads of a planet outside that was slowly dying with biological plagues, death of animals, pollution and over population. He presented this second script to Deeley in ‘carrot-on-a-stick’ manner saying that other studios were now interested…there was no need, he thought it was “darn good” and within 24 hours it was a goer. The script at this time was called Dangerous Days, which the 1997 ‘Making of’ DVD was later called. Faucher originally wanted to call it Meccanismo after a comic book he’d seen in London at the time, he showed it to Deeley as it illustrated the grunge future style he was after, I’ve tried to source this comic book he reference’s but alas couldn’t find it anywhere. The title was later changed to as we all lovingly know it as Blade Runner after a title used by William Burroughs for a small book.
Here’s a great coup d’état, they all only wanted ‘one’ director at the time to film it and that was the brilliant Ridley Scott, so they went to see him while he was mixing Alien in London (I’d have loved to have seen that) but he declined, as he was moving onto Dune next, but not long after, Ridley’s older brother Frank died of cancer and not a man to mope about, the life and death themes of the Dangerous Days script he’d read suddenly appealed to him more than Dune (lucky for him), a film in-which he could get himself immersed in and forget the loss of his brother in this dark futuristic urban film noir.
On a side note: bring us to the present day 19th of August 2012, He’s about to embark on Bladerunner 2 and yet again has he’s lost another brother to cancer, Tony Scott who was his fellow business partner in Scott Free Productions committed suicide by jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which spans San Pedro and Terminal Island in Los Angeles after learning he’d got an in-operable brain tumour .. Been a superstitious type, it makes you wonder if Blade Runner is a cursed film for Ridley.
Back to Blade Runner, it was time for the money boys to come on board, and after various Dog and Pony shows with movie execs, Allan Ladd Jnr (the man behind the Star Wars money) was to lead it from the Warner Brothers side with 7.5 Million for the US Distribution rights and financiers Bud Yorkin & Jerry with the rest for all the other rights, including future DVD, which was a good move at the time, even though they couldn’t see it. They also included quite a nasty ‘over-budget’ clause.
Thankfully Ridley had his own firm ideas about Faucher’s ‘The hunter falls in love with hunter’ interior script and wanted to go outside the door to see this world that supported android tech, so he brought in some of the ace Heavy Metal comics with the works of ‘the late great’ Jean Moebius in them and said that this is the future noir we need, he also referenced other Sci-fi stylist of the time like Dan O’Bannon. It sounds like Hampton wasn’t happy at this, after all, this had been his baby for so long (10 Drafts so far) but Ridley wanted to ‘create a little bit more light in the corridors’ so they brought in David Peoples to refine the holes and fill in the dialogue, which he added the brilliant Roy Batty ‘Memories in the Rain’ closing speech which Rutger Hauer contributed to it as well. Hampton by all accounts ‘with his tail between his legs’ agreed Ridley was right about Peoples, and that the script had now become a much grittier film for the characters and the sub nature of the film…without this there would have been no Blade Runner. Yet again bringing us to the present day, it seems Hampton isn’t finished with Blade Runner, as he’s now working on a draft script for Blade Runner 2
With the script ‘finally’ in place, they needed actors, and they where so many that where on scouts list at the time, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum (the actor Faucher had in mind when he wrote the screenplay) Nick Nolte, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peter Falk (laughs) and Dustin Hoffman who became the preferred choice and worked with them for a few months progressing his character, but Ridley thought it was heading in the wrong direction (thankfully), so Barbara Hershey introduced him to Harrison Ford who was filming Raiders at the time in London, he was perfect thought Ridley, there was only problem, Deckard wore a hat which they had to ditch because the Indiana Jones trademark associated with Harrison. Rutger was the easy one, he didn’t even do a screen-test and as he was the only one in the running for Roy Batty. When it came to Sean Young, who I believe has the perfect looks for Rachael, but at the time was quite young and lacked good acting skills, so she had to be coached prior to shooting (and while shooting). The best character for me is Gaff played by Edward James Olmos, he had so much depth, and style, all of which Olmos did himself, from the wardrobe, the eyes and right down to the Gutter Speak, which he devised using a Hispanic, French and Hungarian dialect, it was so unique, nobody even knew what he was saying on set or what it meant, It wasn’t until the film came out in Hungary where they realised his opening speech to Deckard meant something completely different to them..
Ló fasz actually meant Horses Dick in Hungarian. 🙂
Next came the best bit for me, the designing of this Future Noir film, Production Designer Lawrence G. Paul was given a large eclectic old Warners’ backlot gangster street as his canvas to basically make his own rules, he had vintage designer Mentor Huber for the sets, Sherman Labby for story boarding and Tom Southwell for all the graphics, branding and signage, but Ridley kept saying use Heavy Metal as your inspiration. So next came his best move of all in my opinion…Syd Mead… the great futurist industrial designer of cityscapes, urban development & vehicles, originally brought in on a £1500 a day 15 day contract, working purely on a one-2-one basis with Ridley, but this then progressed into weeks and weeks of work (which alarmed the budget guys at the time). They had a seemingly elitist relationship, which worked in a way that until Ridley was happy, would any of Syd’s concepts filter down to Larry Paul’s team to progress.
One of the beauties of this concept work was that he wouldn’t do a single object, he had to do it institute, so his final renders also created the mood, the architecture, the lighting…he became The Blade Runner Stylist. This was precisely what Ridley needed, for his set was the Landscape to him, the “landscape proscenium” was a character to him, sometimes to the irritation of actors and one famous critic said of Blade Runner
“He seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that’s the trouble this time, Blade Runner is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story” Roger Ebert June 2, 1982
You could apply the same critique to his new film Prometheus.
I’ve read that the actual filming through to the final editing was what can only be described as traumatic for everyone involved, mostly due to Ridley’s exacting ways which the American crew couldn’t get to grips with, but most of all the pressure applied by the money men Yorkin & Perenchio didn’t help with their bond completion company taking ownership of the film when it ran over its budget. There was also the wrangle at the end over the voice-over, which Ridley didn’t like, sadly this was taken out of hands and then released to the film going public without his approval. Having seen and own quite a few versions of the film myself ‘with & without’ the voice-over, it all comes down to personal preference, for me it depends on my mood at the time as I quite like both.
I witnessed my first screening of Blade Runner in 1982 at my favourite Picture House ‘The Lyric’ and was totally hooked with just that brilliant New American Dictionary description of a replicant in the opening credits.
replicant\rep’-li-cant\n. biologically produced synthetic
human with paraphysical capabilities [also (slang) rep,
skin-job, tit-job (fem.)] adj. having skin/flesh culture. See
also robot (antique), android (obsolete), nexus (generic).
Sadly it didn’t go very well at the box office that year, with some saying it was a rather Sci-Fi ‘Art Film’, a film of future dystopia which the audience couldn’t stomach, which was no surprise as they’d just been a fed a happy comfort food film like ET. The film roster for that summer was also unusually full of ‘squeaky clean’ films like Poltergeist, Tron, Rocky III, Officer & a Gentleman, Firefox & happy Sci-Fi films like Star Trek II. The audience weren’t prepared for this future noir were everything wasn’t pristine, although I have to say Ridley’s stab at this visually stunning future is ‘still’ probably the most accurate of all future films to date.
Sadly Philip K. Dick’s died on March 2, 1982, only months before it opened, but he summed up the film in this extract from a letter written to Jeff Walker following a screening he had with Ridley in December 1981 of the film’s first twenty minutes.
“Let me sum it up this way… I did not know that a work of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner. Thank you… it will prove invincible.
Cordially, Philip K Dick”
Most of the people involved were recently asked to sum up what they thought of the film and their experience, collectively it just about sums up Blade Runner
Sean Young (Actress)
“When it first came out it was too intense to let in, the darkness and the poverty and the projection of what life would be like in 2019”
Syd Mead (Concept Designer)
“What Ridley created was very intense, this Multi layered investigation into how that world might be”
Darryl Hannah (Actress)
“You have all the tools, colours, toys…everything at your disposal to transport you to an imaginary world”
Hampton Fancher (Joint screenwriter)
“It was a bitch, working every night, all night long, often in the rain, so it wasn’t the most pleasant shoot”
“The chaos of that production…everybody hated it, people don’t want to be in movies after working there”
“It’s like all those things informed us in a magical way almost”
Rutger Hauer (Actor)
“It was enormous, overwhelming, beautiful, enormous, great and …erm…I was living it”
Douglas Trumbull (Special Effects Coordinator)
“I don’t think people on this crew understood how far Ridley was pushing the medium”
David Peoples (Joint screenwriter)
“How do you prepare the audience for seeing something very different…now time has prepared them”
Edward James Olmos (Actor)
“It was so dark, and so intense and so beautifully constructed”
Ridley Scott (Director)
“I was absolutely about coordinating beauty ‘shot-by-shot’ ‘frame-by-frame’…my weapon is that camera and I will get what I want to. If your there with me, great!, if you’re not there with me.. TO BAD!”
4 thoughts on “30 Years of Blade Runner”
Fantastic post – this movie truly did set the bar for how the world “looks” in a multitude of futuristic films since, this year’s release of Total Recall being a good example. When I think of what the industry had to work with, it still makes my jaw drop that they were able to accomplish what they did. For a certain generation of us it was, as you said, a turning point in our artistic vision that left us hungering for more, awestruck in anticipation of that future and redirecting us from that awful glitz of the disco decadent early 80s…
Thanks for the great and insightful reply, its showing on TV tonight in HD, even though I’ve got it on VHS, DVD & Blu-Ray now, I will probable stay up and watch it.
I’ve heard the film Looper has a lot of great Future Noir and Blade Runner ‘esque’ qualities … I need to watch it and find out 🙂
Just watched that the other night – not bad at all, nice premise and a bit more original plot line than most hollywood fare – alot of references/nods/appropriations to the genre, so there is a tendency to go “oh look, doesn’t that remind you of…” in the slow bits!