When I fell in love with Blade Runner all over again
I’ve renewed my vows of love for Blade Runner.
It had been a long time coming, ever since the Swedish science fiction convention that was held earlier this year. After hearing a one hour long lecture by a knowledgeable fan, who praised the novel it’s based on (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick) as well as the movie in equal amounts, I realized that it was about time that I did a revisit.
Following his recommendation I began by reading Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by Paul M. Sammon, a 400+ page book that was written over the course of 15 years. It has everything: from a background story of Philip K Dick to the aftermath and the final editions that were released years and years after the original version. No detail is too small to include. And it doesn’t shy away from the ugly stuff: the conflicts (Ridley Scott was at one point more or less at war with the majority of the film workers, including Harrison Ford), the compromises that were made for budget reasons and as a reaction to the negative test screenings and the cool reception it had at its launch, from critics as well as at the box office.
I haven’t read everything that has been written about Blade Runner, but I can’t imagine there is any other book out there which is anyone near this in regards of amount of information. Or as Sammon says in the introduction:
“It’s only fitting that a book examining the history of one of the most compulsively detailed motion pictures ever made should spring from one writer’s equally compulsive obsession with that picture”.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
My next step was to read the soucre material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I had a vague idea of having read it before, but if so, it must have been very long time ago and the memory was deeply buried under the Blade Runner version of the story. Now I was curious to see how much in the film that originated from the book and on which points they were different to each other.
I won’t make a whole catalogue over the differences. It’s enough to say that there are quite a lot of them: the existence of Decker’s wife, his ownership of a mechanic sheep and his dream of one day owning a real one. And there’s a pretty obscure storyline about a virtual reality where people go to meet the prophet Wilbur Mercer, a part of the story I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, and which unsurprisingly was left out of the film.
But the core and the atmosphere of the story is the same: Deckard’s pursuit of the replicants – or androids, as they originally was called – and all the moral issues that come with this hunt, questions about what it means to be a human and what rights it gives us over other creatures – naturally born or manmade. Even the suggestion that Deckard himself in fact could be a replicant is raised a couple of times, though (I think) it eventually boils down to that he isn’t. I can definitely see where Ridley Scott got the idea from; it’s not something he picked completely out of the blue. The doubt was present in the origins.
The Final Cut
Next up was a revisit to Blade Runner itself, which I had seen a few times before, but it had been a while since last time. This time I watched a version I hadn’t seen before – or at least I didn’t think I had: the “Final Cut” (are we supposed to believe they’ll never touch it again?) from 2007. To be honest I had a very vague idea of all the available versions before I read Future Noir. I’ve been a bad fan, but from now on I’m going to keep track on which Blade Runner I’m watching, it’s a promise!
And what can I say? It was gorgeous. I loved every second of it, from the shock start “Let me tell you about my mother” until “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?” – this time without the glued on happy-car-tour from the theatrical release.
I loved the absence of voice-over. For me, who has seen the movie with the narrative voice, who has read all the background material and the book, it works perfectly well without any further explanations. But if you went into it blind, not knowing a thing about it, I can imagine it would be a little confusing, so I can see why they thought it necessary to include it at the launch.
I loved it for the look, the never-ceasing rain, the smoke, the darkness and the neon, copied so many times, but we all know where it comes from. I loved it for the eerie synthesizer music by Vangelis, probably not something you’d hear in a new movie, but perfectly fitting here.
It’s amazing how well Blade Runner has aged. All those handmade special effects, done with real models, lights and paint stand up well against modern CGI heavy movies. And the themes feel as relevant today as 30 years ago. It’s only the computer screens that look a little dated. Don’t they always?
As a final to my Blade Runner marathon I decided to watch the extra material, the documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner. The DVD cover didn’t say how long it was so I assumed it was a standard 25 minute behind-the-scenes. That kind of films are unfortunately usually rather dull and disappointing, consisting of a number of talking heads singing the praise of the movie in question without really saying or revealing anything.
My expectations were low, but fortunately they turned out to be exceeded in the most spectacular manner. It turned out that it was 3,5 hours long – almost twice as long as the movie itself – containing tons of footage from the film sets, drawings of scenes that eventually had to be cut out for budget reasons and interviews with all sorts of people involved in the production that are quite upfront and honest about the difficulties that the project went through. Of course I recognized some of it from the book I just had read, but thanks to all the pictures I’d say that the overlap is minimal. If you’re as crazy as I am about this film, you don’t need to choose between reading the book and watching the documentary. You want to do both.
My project had finally come to an end. You would think I was tired of the film after spending hours and hours in company with it. I wasn’t. It was rather the opposite: after a slow start with the book, I was now in a happy, intoxicated state of mine, showing all signs of someone who just had fallen in love. I was in a haze.
This was the story about how the relationship between me and Blade Runner was re-ignited. Before I went through this I thought that I liked Blade Runner a lot, based on my memories. I’ve always saved it a spot on my top 100 list of movies. But now I think it has climbed even a little further up.
And you know what? It’s not quite over yet. I’ve yet to listen to the three commentary tracks that came with the DVD and then there are all those other editions that I may or may not have seen that I should hunt down and enjoy.
This isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a marriage that without doubt is going to last for the rest of my life.
This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “restart” Here’s a list of links to the other participants (who all write in Swedish I’m afraid):