Post Mon Aug 28, 2006 6:01 am

Old "New Voyager" article

Hope nobody objects to me posting this here - if so please delete. It's an old article from New Voyager magazine -- Issue 1, Autumn 1982.



Blade Runner ? Death of a Thousand Cuts
'Starburst's Alan McKenzie relates the inside story

The first time I saw Ridley Scott's magnificent science fiction film Blade Runner was in March. It was a merchandising screening and, as with most merchandising screenings, the cinema was virtually empty. The picture had not been before the British board of film censors at that time and the version of the film we saw was almost exactly the version that Scott had delivered to the Ladd Company. The movie was absolutely stunning, from the innovative opening graphics to the final shot of a lift door slamming shut. I remember thinking at the end of Star Trek ? The Motion Picture that effects technician Doug Trumbull would have to pour it on to outdo himself with his next film. With Blade Runner he has achieved precisely that. The visions of future Los Angles that reach the screen in Scott's new movie are pure 'state of the art', thanks to DougTrumbull and his unique 65mm motion control effects unit. The story of Blade Runner details the adventures of Rick Deckard, an ex-Blade Runner, or replicant hunter, attached to the Los Angles Police Department. When five Nexus 6 replicants, superior synthetic human duplicates, return to earth from off-world Deckard is drafted in, reluctantly, to track them down and 'retire' them. Deckard's job is further complicated when he falls in love with an even more superior female replicant, Rachel (Sean Young). More than that I won't say for fear of spoiling the film for New Voyager readers.

Three versions

Imagine my horror when, three months later, I attended another preview of Blade Runner. I could hardly believe my eyes. Was this the same film I had seen a mere 90 days before? Instead of Ridley Scott's stately build-up to a fugue of terror and violence I was watching something that rattled along with all the grace and artistry of a runaway locomotive. The portions of the film which Scott had set aside for mood and character development had been overlaid with a sub-Raymond Chandler voice-over narrated by Harrison Ford. (For those readers unfamiliar with the works of Chandler, it is generally recognised that, while he worked within the format of the low-brow detective thriller, his material always rose above the style by virtue of its sheer artistry.) This narration was full of non-sequiturs and just plain bad writing. More than that, the action sequences had been recut, tightening them up and removing some of the more suspenseful suggestions of violence. Character development scenes and plot exposition had been heavy-handedly underlined with excessive use of that same voice-over. All in all I had the impression that someone, somewhere, had tried to make the film more like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I hoped it wasn't Ridley Scott...

The film that Scott had set out to make was a sensitive and genuine science fiction fable. He and his team had created a totally believable SF backdrop for their story. The only way they could have achieved a more convincing atmosphere would have been to have waited 50 years and shot the picture on location in LA. What we had here was a film through which Scott's genius still shone, but partially masked by 'pacey' cutting and corny narration.

The true story finally came out. Blade Runner had been previewed in Dallas and Denver in the USA. Angry Raiders and Harrison Ford fans had stomped out in bewilderment when they realised that the film they had come to see wasn't 'Raiders of the Lost Androids'. At one of the screenings, can and empty popcorn packets had actually been thrown at the screen! Apparently, Ladd Company executives were thrown into panic. Here they were, $28 million of their money sunk into a science fiction would-be blockbuster and the paying public had reacted like animals. Hence the hasty re-cut and the stultifying voice-over. And that is the version on show in the United States.

Happily, I can report that after fellow Starburster Phil Edwards and I spoke to Ridley Scott, he turned out to be as upset at the tampering as I was. Further, Scott told us that the print released in Britain and the rest of Europe would be closer in style to that first preview I had seen. To prove his point, Scott urged us to see the final release print. With the exception of the dire narration, and the tacked on, tacky ending, the version of the film that recently opened in Britain is pretty much the same as that first preview print.

With three versions of Blade Runner that I know of in existence I began to wonder what had been in even earliercuts. For example, what had been in the first print that Scott had submitted to the Ladd Company? What had earlier versions of the script been like? Using quotes from interviews that Phil Edwards and I have done with Blade Runner Associate Producer Ivor Powell, and director Ridley Scott, I will try to outline the various versions of the film that have been under consideration at various points during the project.

Hampton Fancher's original screenplay was based on the Philip K Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick's story was a bleak look at a future society where animals are practically extinct and androids have been built in quantity to alleviate the mundanities of physical labour. Dekard's (changed to Deckard in the film) greatest ambition is to own a real sheep, rather than the android sheep he keeps on the roof of his apartment building. It is to this end that he hunts down renegade androids for the large bounties offered. The film-makers rightly decided that it would be a bit much to expect audiences to buy this whimsical premise. Ivor Powell told us that it would, 'probably have appeared a bit stupid'.

'Hampton Fancher is a very romantic writer. In his original script the relationship between Deckard and Rachel was much stronger and in the end she realises that there isn't much future for them because he's human and she is a replicant. She is standing on the roof and he realises that she might be going to do something stupid and he rushes to her. He gets up onto the roof and she's standing at the edge holding onto the real sheep that he's bought. There's quite a moving conversation between them in which she compares how she's feeling to the old android sheep. He thinks she's going to throw the real sheep over the edge, but she hands it to him and as she does, steps back off the roof, committing suicide. A very powerful scene. He hops into his spinner and zaps out into the desert wastelands which surround the city and sets down. He is just sitting there staring at the sands when he sees a movement which, of course, surprises him as there is no real animal life except for in zoos and private collections. A tortoise crawls out of the sand and he flips it over onto his back. He watches it for hours, like from dawn to dusk, watching this little animal trying to flip itself over, and finally it succeeds and goes waddling off. This, symbolically, says to him that humanity is going to make it.' It's interesting that the reference to the tortoise survives in the Voight-Kampf interview with the replicant Leon.

More changes

One aspect of Blade Runner that was filmed by Scott was excised by higher powers though vestiges of it still remain in the version on show in our cinemas. After Deckard has informed Rachel that she is a replicant he sits down at the piano in his apartment and tinkers around with the keys, his mind seemingly several million miles away. He absently peruses his family photographs lined upon top of the piano. This parallels the replicants' need to belong, displayed in their penchant for keeping photographs to strengthen their tenuous illusions of humanity. Into this scene, Scott had cut flashes, apparently from Deckard's own memory, of a unicorn cantering through a leafy glade. Earlier in the film it has been established that Gaff, the ambitious police officer, has a passion for making origami animals and leaving them behind him wherever he goes. At the end of the picture, Deckard is setting off into an unknown future with Rachel and discovers outside his apartment door crushed underfoot, an origami unicorn. The implication is that Gaff knows of Deckard's innermost secrets ... and the only way he could know that was if Deckard were a replicant, making all of Deckard's memories mere implants. The idea that you set a thief to catch a thief pleased not the powers-that-be. And on reflection, I think that would have been too bleak an image to end the film on.

I asked Ridley Scott about the strange tattoo marks that appeared on Rutger Hauer's body during the climactic battle between replicant and blade runner. He told me that this related to another scene that was missing from the film. In the opening sequence we see (should have seen!) the replicant Roy Batty (Hauer) sitting in a space ship encased in a suit of battle armour. One by one the layers of this armour peel open until Batty is exposed, connected to his armour by a series of filament skin implants. The tattoo marks denoted the points at which the implants were attached to his torso.

Ivor Powell told us of another altogether different opening scene.

'Imagine something like the massive pit excavation in 2001 and there was a massive high-tech furnace at one end and there was this mountain of bodies which were being shovelled onto a conveyor belt and being fed into a furnace. It looked something like a load of mackerel being poured out of a trawler. And then out of this pile of bodies, emerged Batty and the other replicants. And they "cream" the workers down there. I had a vision - although it wouldn't have been possible unless the actual site was on the moon - of Batty, rather like the Moonwatcher in 2001, looking upwards and actually seeing the Earth. He knew that was his target, his destination. It was where his creator was. The reason that that wasn't in the movie was that it would have cost a couple of million dollars to do and we already had enough footage.'

As with all scripts for movies. Blade Runner went through several opening sequences before reaching our screens. Ivor Powell related another variation on the opening sequence.

'That other opening scene (written by Hampton Fancher) showed a sort of farmscape - one of those mid-America endless landscapes - and a massive tractor tilling the soil. A spinner zaps in, lands and out steps Deckard. The farmworker notices him and Deckard walks towards this very old-fashioned farmhouse. Inside he looks around. There were photographs, clothes and soup cooking on the stove. The big bulky farmhand starts walking towards the house; he's about seven feet tall. The boardwalk outside the house literally sinks beneath his feet. He asks Deckard what he wants. Then he makes an aggressive move towards Deckard, who pulls his gun and blows him away. Deckard goes over to his body, heaves him over ?and this is real 'Ridley-ism' ? just pulls out his bottom jawbone and sees a number stamped on it. What it was, was a demonstration of what a blade runner does; the farmhand had been like a Nexus 2 or 3 that had been a runaway. Deckard had tracked him down. I'm not sure that this comes over any more because it's no longer an integral part of Blade Runner; that it is established that there had been runaways over the years and that was why they had to have blade runners. In the early days it was a case of tracking down these things which were not very human, and couldn't pass for human with their parchment-like faces. You couldn't see the nuts and bolts but they were primitive, so it wasn't too hard to blow them away. But (when) they became more and more sophisticated and more and more like you and me, then the job became more and more repellent. So I guess that's why Deckard went into retirement and that's the point where we catch him.'

At the end of the day I feel that the version of Blade Runner we see on show in our local cinema is fairly close to the film Ridley Scott and his co-workers set out to make. Certainly the tampering of higher powers is still evident. The ending which, Ivor Powell told us, consists of out-takes from The Shining, does nothing to enhance the picture. The voice-over, it was felt by executives, was necessary to clarify the storyline. It is not. And even if it was, wouldn't it have been possible to have found a professional writer to execute it?

All this notwithstanding, I still think Blade Runner is one of the finest films to be made by a British film director - of any kind. Ridley Scott can bask in the confidence that his original footage was just too brilliant to be ruined by any amount of tampering. It just goes to prove that no amount of idiocy can prevent true genius shining through.