Released in 1982, Blade Runner remains a pillar of science fiction standing shoulder to shoulder with the Star Wars series, The Muppet Movie, Tremors, Lawnmower Man and Jumper as being one of the greatest sci-fi worlds ever visualized on screen. With the release of the long-awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049: Blade Runnest, it’s time to look back at director Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece to find out how it was made and why it remains a beloved film.
A Novel Idea
Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which itself was based on the Presbyterian hymn “Jesus Don’t Make No Robots,” the movie took audiences members on a tour of the future and dared to asked the important question: Are flying cars filled with helium?
After the success of Star Wars, Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz, Hollywood was chomping at the bit to make another fantasy science fiction film, and Dick’s novel, about a futuristic cop and a surf contest to save the old library, was perfectly suited for the big screen. British director Ridley Scott, hot of the success of Alien was brought on board to bring the project to life.
“Before that, I had never heard of Blade Runner,” said Scott in a graduation speech he was rehearsing in front of a mirror. “I had never heard of it because the term ‘Blade Runner’ isn’t in the book. In the book, the cops are called ‘Gun Boys’ and so we had to come up with a new name. And just then my cousin’s toddler Benny came in and he was trying to say ‘Parade Plumber’ — I don’t know why — but he was trying to say it. But he had a speech thing because he was a toddler. So it sounded like Blade Runner. And I paid him $4 for that idea, which is a lot of money for a toddler so I really don’t feel bad about that.”
With a name ready to go, the only thing Scott needed was a cast of actors and a few flying cars. “Harrison Ford was not my first choice,” admitted Scott to his dentist’s receptionist. “I wanted the monster from E.T. to be in it. He could be the star! But that wasn’t in the cards. Which is a shame because people loved that magic turtle.”
Ford only agreed to play the main character of No-No Hotshot (named later changed to Rick Deckard) after Scott paid him an adequate sum of money for his service.
Actress Sean Young was offered the role of Rachel after winning a radio contest. “I was the eighth caller,” Young wrote in an unpublished poem. “It was my destiny. It was my everything. It was a cup of possibilities and I gulped and spit when I should have sipped and savored.”
To play the main villain. replicant Roy Batty, Scott asked Rutger Hauer to step into the role. “His name was Rutger Hauer,” Scott recently yelled into his Xbox 360 headset. “That name just sounds like a goddamn robot. Rutger? Are you kidding me with that name? Sure I hired him! Had to.”
With the main cast locked in, two things still stood in the way: What will the characters say and how will they make cars lighter than air.
Filming the Impossible
Filming provided more obstacles than director Ridley Scott anticipated. “Actors couldn’t remember their lines and the cars couldn’t fly on their own,” wrote Scott in his diary. “I don’t even think anyone even likes me!” But from lemons, lemonade is made. Despite setbacks with faulty props, budgetary issues, story problems, a witch’s curse and Harrison Ford’s infamous singing voice, Scott and his actors rallied and made the best of the situation. The first step, get the cars to fly.
“We wanted [the cars] to be filled with helium,” said prop designer Malcolm Goose. “But after three years of work, we realized it couldn’t be done. The cars were not going to fly. Helium leaks right out the trunk. Can’t do it. Not with helium. And the entire movie was almost ruined until we realized we could hold the cars up with string. Not many people know that we used string, and maybe I shouldn’t even be telling you this, but I trust you, Dan. I trust you like I trust my own wife. We’ve been married for 17 years and, honestly, it just keeps getting better. That’s the thing with love, it gets even better. And you find that special someone, and you hold on to her, Dan. You hold on to her because … so we used strings.”
And when it came time to memorize dialogue, fate once again took control. The film’s famous “Tears in Rain” poem was meant to be a joke, but when actor Rutger Hauer couldn’t remember the punchline, he felt embarrassed and muttered the line, “Time to die.” Thus, a classic quote was born.
Fixing things on the fly is sometimes the best way to make great art.
“We had story problems with the original script,” Ford said to no one in particular. “For instance, we were filming the scene where Sean Young is taking the test and I asked Ridley, ‘How many feet does the character Rachel have?’ And he looks at me as if he’s never thought of that before. But if I have that question, then so will the audience, right? And so the writer came in and wrote a scene showing Rachel walking with two normal feet. Not duck feet or anything. And you can tell that it’s just people feet. That cleared that up. But imagine if we shot the whole movie and released it the way it was written? People would still never know about her feet. That really upsets me. More than it should.”
Changing the Future
The entire movie was filmed in two weekends, but when producers and studio executives saw the first cut of the movie, things once again became heated. “No one understood the damn thing,” said big-time Hollywood executive Joyce Crawford. “Here’s a movie about a cop, but he’s also in a car filled with, I assume, helium. Is he a cop? Is he a balloon man? None of that made sense to anyone in the room.”
It was quickly decided that narration was needed to clarify the movie’s plot and explain that the cars were, indeed, filled with helium. The studio also demanded a happier ending in which not only the characters of Deckard and Rachael fall in love, but they demanded Ford and Young fall in love in real life.
“That wasn’t going to happen,” said Scott in an email sent to me late last night, though he may have been denying my request for an interview. Still, the quote works here, and he did write it, so…that’s how that is.
Scott finally relented and allowed the stilted and uninspired narration to be added to the film, along with the happy ending. Years later, Scott would be able to release his true vision of the film, but more on that in a few paragraphs.
Are You There, Audience? It’s Me, Blade Runner.
With added narration and a happy ending, would audiences fall in love with this tale of balloon cars and the men who drive them? Not at first. Audiences of the time were not yet ready for this bold introduction into sci-fi noir. The film was a box-office failure, earning a meager $17.50 during its opening nine minutes. Many were confused by the film’s visuals and story. And Scott’s own cousin Benny cried after learning this was not about parades or plumbing.
Movie goer Phil Janos said of first seeing the film, ”AIl I see is this big white sign, but with no words on it or anything. Then the lights go out and then a bunch of still images appear on the screen in rapid succession. Must have been thousands of them pictures in a row. Just picture after picture after picture. With a lot of light shining through the pictures. It wasn’t really what I expected.”
Adding to the confusion, the film didn’t feature a bankable celebrity. “You have to remember, it was a different time back then,” Janos said while handing me my bowling shoes. “Everyone was really into Billy Joel and Billy Joel wasn’t in this movie at all. That was a shocker. I looked for him. I looked for him really hard. But he’s not there. Not even a song of his made it into the movie. And remember, this was in 1982!”
Critics were equally harsh. The Detroit Free Press called the movie “Just another Wizard of Oz but there’s a little bit of nudity.” And The LA Times warned parents, “The Detroit Free Press is right with regard to the Wizard of Oz thing.” Not all critics were unkind. The New York Times said the movie was brilliant, “despite its lack of purple colors.” And added, “Those cars are probably filled with helium.”
The biggest critic of the film was director Ridley Scott himself. “The narration? The happy ending? The power crystal? That’s not what I wanted in my movie,” Scott said in a police report regarding another matter altogether. “I just wanted to make a movie about a sad man and his balloon car. And I wanted the man to be able to disappear when he closes his eyes. What ended up on the screen? That’s filth. Filth!”
Only years later, when Scott was granted a wish by a gypsy whose life he saved, was the director allowed to release his own cut of the movie which not only removed the unnecessary narration but changed the power crystal into the character played by Edward James Olmos. Scott also added a more ambiguous ending.
From Dud to Stud
Over time, and because there wasn’t internet back then so what else were people supposed to do, the film found its audience. “At first I hated it,” I said into a Ridley Scott’s answering machine. “But then I realized it’s actually really good.” Many fans had similar reactions.
“The first time you see it, you think it’s dumb because where are all the dragons or laser guns and that stuff,” said movie fan Rick Crawford. “Then you see it a second time and you freak out because it’s the single greatest human achievement. And then you see it a third time and you still like it, but maybe not as much. And then you try to see it a fourth time because you talked the film up a bunch to Jen and now Jen wants to watch it, but you know Jen won’t really like it. And it’s, like, what are you gonna do? Because Jen is hot and she’s just getting over Tyler, so on one hand it’s the perfect time to swoop in and on the other hand, there’s no way she’s going to like this movie. I mean, it’s boring and most of the cars are on strings. So finally I tell her that my copy of the movie is broken so we watch The Shawshank Redemption instead and chicks love that movie. No joke!”
While the movie has finally found its audience, fans still debate the ending.
Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott continue to disagree on the film’s ending and meaning. Ford says the ending implies that his character, Deckard, was a man who can turn into a robot if he gets too angry or warm. Scott remains adamant that Deckard isn’t a robot at all, but is trapped inside a videogame and if you die in the game, you die in real life. Other fan theories expand on those ideas. President Bill Clinton has said of the ending, “He’s obviously a wolfman!” And after watching the film for a second time, singer Lady Gaga feels the ending is actually the beginning of the first Indiana Jones movie. “Ignore the dates and stuff, and it’s Indiana Jones. For sure. He looks just like him,” Gaga wrote in a hastily written birthday card.
The popular opinion is that by the end of the film, we realize Deckard is a robot because if you watch the film closely, you’ll notice Harrison Ford never brushes his teeth. And robots don’t brush their teeth either. So…duh.
Still unsatisfied with the film, Scott once again made modification and released a third version of the movie in 2002. Since then, more changes have been made. There are now fourteen official cuts of the movie:
The Theatrical Cut – Narration, happy ending, magic crystal.
The Director’s Cut – No narration, confusing ending, no crystal.
The Final Cut – Font size of end credits bumped up to 12.
The Lunch Cut – Narration added but at very low volume, Morgan Freeman shows up as Mayor Murphy, more songs.
The Only Cut – Ends with Scott looking into a camera and saying, “It’s a videogame!”
The Ultimate Edition – Same as Theatrical Cut but with a red dot in the upper left corner that indicates if a scene is important and you should pay attention.
Deep Cut – Halfway through the movie, Deckard goes on a trip to India to find his bicycle and along the way…finds himself.
Maximum Cut – All Harrison Ford scenes are replaced with a mirror because, guess what, you are the Blade Runner!
Unrated Edition – No narration except for ten minutes in which Ford mumbles something about a bachelor party he attended in 1997.
Extremely Rated Edition – Characters say, “Just kidding,” after anyone is shot or killed.
Blade Runner 1.5: Shadow Rises – After the credits, Thanos shows up and whispers, “Soon.”
Blade Runner: Back in Action— In this version, there are no verbs.
Blad3 Runn3r – All letter E’s in the movie are replaced with the number 3.
Blade Runner Sing-a-Long – All songs are remastered and presented karaoke style plus new song “Eyes Scream “ is added.
Scott is already planning the film’s 40th anniversary. “I want to release a version of the movie small enough to fit in your pocket,” Scott said as he watched the end of 2015’s Steve Jobs.
Love it. Hate it. Like it somewhat. There’s no denying the movie has inspired a generation of filmmakers and city planners. It’s the grandfather of all gritty, cyberpunk sci-fi noir balloon fiction and has paved the way for films such as Akira, The Hunger Games, Ex-Machina, Blade Runner 2049: Blade Runnest, and The King’s Speech. The legacy of Blade Runner continues to grow as more and more people discover this nearly forgotten movie, which was originally titled Uncle Joel vs. Them Helicopter People.
For more information on Blade Runner, look at the poster and see if you spot anything cool there. Is that the Millennium Falcon in the background?