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Do directors dream of total credit?

01/12/2000. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Bladerunner in the USA - or Buy Bladerunner in the UK

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A further appraisal of the film 'Blade Runner'.

In the past year, those of you who’ve visited this website have read my original article, ‘Is Deke Deckard A Replicant?’ and not to mention a rather heated debate between myself and Barry Purcell regarding this subject’s validity.

After the British television broadcast on Channel 4 of ‘The Making Of Blade Runner’, Barry decides the subject is closed as producer Mike Deeley and director Ridley Scott say Deckard is a Replicant.

Oddly enough, all the other people asked involved with the film answered this question before them, all say ‘No, Deckard was human!’. Actor Rutger (Roy Batty) Hauer goes as far to say that he thinks Ridley Scott was having an in-joke afterwards that shouldn’t be taken that seriously.

Of the people asked, it is significant that neither Hampton Fancher or David Peoples answered this question, although both scriptwriters were interviewed earlier in this programme.

In Paul Sammon’s book ‘The Making Of Blade Runner’, both Fancher and Peoples say that Deckard was human so we already had their answer. It’s also interesting to note that star Harrison Ford was not willing to be interviewed for this programme about the film. Again in Sammon’s book, Ford stated that had he known of Ridley Scott’s intention, then he would certainly have played the role with that in mind.

There have been several retrospectives and interviews regarding Harrison Ford’s work, not least in the Reader’s Digest recently, that indicate he works very hard co-operating with his director and scriptwriters to ensure any part he takes fulfils what they need.

Call it actor’s sensibilities or whathaveyou, but this writer can easily surmise a feeling of betrayal here and clearly, Ford being a private man, didn’t want to be drawn into any debate on the subject. Incidentally, Philip K. Dick’s original novel, ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ clearly had Deckard as a human.

But then, ‘Blade Runner’ the film deviated greatly from the original concept the longer Scott played around with it.

Now I’m not going to go over all my previous evidence that Deckard is human here as the article is still here on the website. If anything, it supports Fancher and Peoples assertion that Deckard was human.

Fancher might have been a novice screenwriter when he wrote the initial drafts but the more experienced Peoples would have known how to incorporate any sub-textual information had it been decided from the start to make Deckard a Replicant at a latter stage.

Both scriptwriters were happy to stay with the essence of Philip Dick’s novel.

Let’s now turn to Ridley Scott. In 1979, he directed ‘Alien’ - a landmark SF film that had Oscar nominations for Art/Set Direction and Special Visual Effects. Not a word was given for its director input in how the film was made, including the decision to make the sets deliberately claustrophobic ensuring the cast maintained the oppressive feel throughout.

Quite understandably, it can be appreciated that Ridley Scott had a bruised ego considering he hadn’t been recognised for his efforts. This was his second film and he was being side-lined for any recognition.

Objectively, winning an Oscar is down to the promotion the film company gives and where opposition is tough, there is always some reluctance to nominate in a category already pre-determined. In 1979, ‘Kramer Vs Kramer’ walked away with the major Oscars.

Special Effects were dominated by SF films. ‘Alien’s Special Effects team won their Oscar against ‘Star Trek - The Motion Picture’, ‘The Black Hole’, ‘Moonraker’ and ‘1941’. No mean feat in itself when you recognise the names of Derek Meddings and Douglas Trumbull amongst the runners-up.

When offered his third and still another SF film in 1981, Ridley Scott obviously decided he would make a much stronger mark to indicate his total involvement. The first screenplay had already been written by Hampton Fancher before he arrived.

It was re-written several times - a regular occurrence in Hollywood - before Fancher and Scott fell out and David Peoples was brought in for a decisive polish. It should be pointed out that there was a clashing of egos with the Fancher/Scott situation.

Fancher admits burning himself out unsuccessfully trying to get things the way Scott wanted it without compromising himself. As Fancher was one of the key players in getting ‘Blade Runner’ off the ground in the first place by getting the rights from Philip Dick and involved as a producer, he was still around as a notable observer.

Speaking of titles. ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ sounds great as a book title but raised some doubts as not being sharp enough for a film title. This no doubt inspired Scott to have the title of Alan Nourse’s SF book ‘The Bladerunner’ bought so he could use it instead. An immediate subversion away from the support of the Philip Dick fans.

Title changes like this weren’t unusual for SF films from this time period. Harry Harrison’s SF novel, ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ was filmed as ‘Soylent Green’ but that’s a different story. In its case, the plot was removed from over-population into a cannibalistic food substitute.

As a genre, SF book film adaptations suffer more workovers than any other genre. Sometimes, it’s purely because of budget restriction but mostly because directors see the book as the starting point. Bear that in mind as you read on.

Whichever, you never see Shakespeare, Dickens, et al changed to fit a director’s whim, do you? There was also a side-issue where the production company Brandywine were successfully sued but settled out of court over plot elements of the ‘Alien’ film being derived from an A.E. Van Vogt novels ‘Black Destroyer’ and ‘Discord in Scarlet’ (later incorporated into ‘The Voyage Of The Space Beagle’). Ensuring that all rights to names were owned can also be seen as a prudent measure in future of any production company.

Despite over-runs in budget, the ‘Blade Runner’ film was finally completed. It’s interesting to note that both Deeley and Scott were fired while they were editing the film in Great Britain for over-running the budget.

Both ignored this, continuing to edit the film as they wanted to see the job through. Putting the jigsaw of special effects and live-action together no doubt indicated in both their minds they had something equal to Scott’s previous SF film ‘Alien’.

It was obvious that the Special Effects team would again be nominated for an Oscar - which it was. Rutger Hauer could lay claim to his death scene dialogue even if it does raise some interesting questions on how Batty could have travelled so far in a four year life-span. Everyone could lay claim to having been involved in the creative pie again.

Checking over the original promotion of the film, there was a lot more emphasis that ‘Blade Runner’ was a Ridley Scott film far more than it was based on a Philip Dick novel, else why was the author asked to do novelisation first than just a re-issue? Fortunately, Dick’s pull with his publishers ensured his book was re-issued albeit with the film title.

In the Channel 4 programme, Michael Deeley indicted that Ridley Scott’s films work in layers with a lot of sub-textual information if you bothered to look closely. Considering that Scott had only two films to his name at this time one could hardly call it a recognised trend at the time.

The most apparent thing Scott could be recognised for was a good visual sense and knowing what worked on camera. Like a lot of visual-orientated directors - Stanley Kubrick springs to mind here - there is usually a flaw when it comes to plot and characterisation.

As there was no indication up to this time make Deckard a Replicant one can only surmise this ‘revelation’ came during the editing. Indeed, the retro-fitted a scene of a ‘real’ unicorn galloping in a forest to be used as Deckard’s dream was filmed during the editing period and linked to the previously un-related paper unicorn at the end of the film.

Gaff was making origami figures throughout the film but nothing was really there to connect them to Deckard other than the odd symbolism. The origami figure with the erect penis when Deckard was being given the job was more an indication of the detective being given his balls for instance not an indication that he wasn’t human.

With the film length becoming increasingly long, the unicorn scene was exercised from the 1982 print and was actually destroyed at a later date. Objectively, this cut wasn’t perfect judging by how Scott left the number of escaped Replicants on Earth wasn’t changed from six to five when an extra Replicant was exercised from the cut. He also didn’t care about re-dubbing considering there were several scenes that had to have that done so it couldn’t be put down to lack of funds.

After his cut and a couple screenings, the production company suggested to Scott that voice-overs and something a bit more up-beat at the end to make it more acceptable to the American public. Considering the financial investment in the film, this was understandable. Ridley Scott did this with some reluctance. Like all visual artistic directors, one doesn’t like being told your work isn’t being appreciated.

Back in the early 80s, there still was no guarantee that expensive SF films made any profit back either. Unlike the developing ‘Star Wars’ franchise, ‘Blade Runner’ could not rely on merchandise contracts to keep it in the public eye for repeated viewings. Ridley Scott did say at the time that that Ford’s voice-overs would add to the Film Noir approach he was after similar to how the Bogart Philip Marlow films were done.

The prediction about the Oscars was again true with ‘Blade Runner’ being nominated for Art/Set Direction and Special Visual Effects. This time, they were beaten by ‘E.T - The Extra Terrestrial’. Then again, between them ‘E.T.’ and ‘Ghandi’ got all the major Oscars between them that year.

In the cinema, ‘Blade Runner’ was very much a sleeper movie. It took a lot of word of mouth to develop a cult following and make a profit. SF fans who were expecting to see something like ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars’ with their internal optimism weren’t quite so sure what to make of this apparently downbeat and rather brutal story.

There was more an appeal to the arty SF fans than the traditional SF fans. It’s major influence indicating the future was going to look used and grubby rather than hygienically clean as portrayed in earlier SF films was undeniable.

Notice, I’m not denying any of the claim Ridley Scott has for setting up this style of SF film. In many respects, a dirtied down version of the future would have been done at some point and Ridley Scott was the instigator.

The visual depth of both ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ is formidable. The big question lies with whether good visual directors are any good at understanding and staying within the rigours of a plot and script they previously agreed to? That is still a big question mark and where Ridley Scott is concerned is a probable no.

The problem of missing scenes re-surfaced when films like ‘Dances With Wolves’, ‘Aliens’ and ‘The Abyss’ were having Director Cut video editions and making additional sales. Remembering that Ridley Scott hadn’t been happy with the original cut and the unusual fan reaction to a cut accidentally shown at a cinema, it was decided to release a copy of ‘Blade Runner’ more akin to Scott’s wishes.

Unlike the aforementioned films where there was true director involvement, Scott was involved in other films and didn’t have the time. He did give suggestions as to what he wanted restored or removed, like the voice-over and forest fly-over, but wasn’t directly involved in any of this work.

Oh and he wanted the return of the unicorn dream sequence despite the fact the footage was destroyed. This was replaced with a similar sequence from the fourth Ridley Scott film ‘Legend’. At long last though, Ridley Scott would have his sub-text input into the film with his own assertion that Deckard was a Replicant.

As recounted in my previous article on the subject, this doesn’t gel with what was filmed originally. If anything it works against it. Ridley Scott would have been better off leaving an open speculation than to assert this as a truth.

Making something like this too definitive now leaves the film with a major unreconcilable plot hole that devalues the entire production. It also shows that Ridley Scott doesn’t really understand what makes an SF film tick.

With the other Director Cuts, it was reinserting scenes that had been cut for over-running, lest, so it was believed, the patience of the cinema-goer was tried. These films weren’t damaged without it but restoring said scenes some inconsistencies from their plots were resolved.

It was also things that were intended from the start. ‘Alien’ had a Director’s Cut, but this was never widely distributed although this was re-inserting scenes and Scott was not involved in this. These were removed for time and didn’t make any difference to the pace. If anything, the film is more tense without them. It’s a way to turn us all into apprentice film editors by understanding the difference in pace.

Often with shooting scripts, it is possible to place dialogue from scenes likely to be cut elsewhere if need be rather than be too worried about overall length. Usually, trimming the film cut can be done elsewhere. Under such conditions, such scenes were re-inserted. All were there to enhance the existing story. They weren’t inserted to deliberately change the tone of the story.

The importance of the end of ‘Blade Runner’ was that Deckard spared killing Rachael and took her somewhere safe. Even if Ridley Scott had indicated from the beginning when he directed the film that Deckard was a Replicant, the ending would still have been the same.

Adding this element to the film at such a late stage serves no one but a director eager to add something to a film irrespective of whether or not it had a place there. In short, the director in this case blew his own film for the sake of vanity of adding an un-necessary layer.

It is understandable that when Ridley Scott watches any film, it is with the same visual sense he applies when filming his own. He looks for visual activity and scene-setting more than the story content.

This is what interests him the most and makes him popular to the Art Noveau set. Considering his background as a set designer and in advertising, this is understandable. The unfortunate side-effect comes from ignoring the contribution of the script and what it categorically says. In this case: No Replicants were allowed free on Earth.’

Rachael might have been test manufactured on Earth but was confined to the Tyrell Building. When she left the second time, the law was brought into force and she was to have been retired/destroyed. The law was strictly enforced.

As my previous assertions indicated, a Replicant Blade Runner would hardly have been fully equipped to recognise other Replicants by testing them let alone know about implanted memories. If a further comparison needs to be made. Rachael’s photographs show her original when young. Deckard’s photos show only his ancestors. A difference in history. Saying something is so doesn’t hold out to what is shown.

The strongest impression that comes from all of this is that these changes were done at the editing stage and far too late to have any impact on the film. Yes, it might have been an interesting idea to have Deckard turn out to be a Replicant but it didn’t fit the screenplay that was originally filmed nor fitted with the original novel it was adapted from.

It was just an un-necessary egotistical touch that has caused considerable damage to an otherwise interesting film.

Ridley Scott asserts in the programme that he was very proud of ‘Blade Runner’. In terms of SF quality though he has allowed it to turn into an inferior product. As such, although it has a lot of offer in visual flair, it fails badly with major plot holes as a true piece of Science Fiction film.

We criticise other SF films who don’t remain consistent to their plot and change things at a whim merely to get out of a jam than apply some real lateral thinking. As such, ‘Blade Runner’ now seriously looses similar brownie points and gets placed in the same ‘B’ list.

Ridley Scott wanted a film of significance. As such, it can be seen at the top of a pile subjectively entitled ‘B’ movies. Every director is entitled to have one of those amongst their credits and ‘Blade Runner’ is his unfortunately. It’s a shame that it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set in his second film ‘Alien’.

Scott might well have developed his followers with other films but he hasn’t ventured back into the SF genre since. Hearing of his possible involvement with ‘Terminator 3’, I can’t help but feel some apprehension in his Science Fiction knowledge being up to the task should he decide to ignore the script in crucial areas.

Then again, I tend to share Jim Cameron’s POV in that that particular reality has been drawn to a close but that’s a side issue.

I can’t see Ridley Scott offering a retraction on his statement simply because that is what he believes. For myself, all it can offer future directors is to treat the film as a notice to be cautious in changing elements of an established story to fit in with their own vanity.

(c) copyright GF Willmetts. November 2000

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