Weekend Movie Picks is a segment at Shoton35.com, where every 2 weeks on Friday I will pick a movie that’s shot on 35mm film and tell you something about it.
| A blade runner must pursue and try to terminate four replicants who stole a ship in space and have returned to Earth to find their creator.
After the teaser last week for ‘Blade Runner 2049’ which is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, I think it was inevitable which movie I was going to pick for Weekend Movie Picks this week. Before I begin, I will recommend you to watch the “Final Cut” version of the movie, which is my personal favourite cut of the movie and is the only cut where Ridley Scott had full artistic control.
A true science fiction story or film is about ideas, not spaceship battles, futuristic gadgets, or weird creatures and Phillip K. Dick totally understood that idea as this movie was adapted from his novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, which is highly recommended to read. The movie fully qualifies as this in its examination of the impact of technology on human society, existence, and the very nature of humanity itself. These themes are set in a fairly basic detective story that moves slowly but gradually builds power as the viewer is immersed in a dystopian futuristic Los Angeles.
The opening shot displays a Los Angeles that resembles a hell on earth; obviously developed within manufacturing, the factories flames burn against the back-drop of the dark sky as a ship slowly descends upon the Tyrell corporation – a passage is truly breathtaking. Continuing with this visual prowess, it’s not just the grandeur moments that display a richly detailed landscape (which most Sci-fi rely on), but also the subtle ones. Whether you are watching the sweeping shots of the juggernaut Billboards, or simply the monochrome of black whites with the accompany of hazy, noirish smoke, or even the interior of Sebastian’s apartment; each individual frame contains the utmost appreciation of visual presentation. Additionally, likewise to Lang’s “Metropolis” and Kubrick’s “2001”, Scott’s landscapes have obvious metaphoric resonance; Lang used the manufactured to display a form of social oppression and a Marxist perspective of social classes, while Scott’s world is one of wondrous technical achievements, but paradoxically, suffers the distraught of urban decay. Likewise to Kubrick, Scott obviously believes in the notions of irony embedded within the advancements of technology: our greatest achievements can eventuate in our greatest downfalls.
The fact that this is essentially Ridley Scott’s third film is staggering. Blade Runner is so competently made, so elegantly cared for in its construction, it sits on Scott’s filmography second only to his preceding film, Alien. But at that time, the movie was highly misunderstood under critics, the movie suffered and initially was recognized as a box-office disaster, until it got momentum when it got out in VHS and even more when it came out on DVD in 2001. In an interview in 2015 Ridley Scott commented;
“Blade Runner was a disaster. It didn’t play. People didn’t get it. I was way ahead, is what I think it was. I knew it was really good. I just thought, “What the hell? They just don’t get it.” That was when I learned to move on and not read press. Don’t read press. You can’t read press – it’ll destroy you.”
The production of the movie had a long journey. After the book’s publication in 1968, Producer Herb Jaffe- which credits include The Wind and the Lion and Fright Night- optioned the book in early 1972, beating out Scorsese and Jay Cocks who showed interest in the book but never optioned it. As soon as Jaffe optioned it he gave the task to his son Robert to adapt it into a screenplay. When Philip K. Dick received the first draft around 1973, he was so displeased with it that he angrily confronted him in a meeting at the airport;
“The screenplay was sent to me and it was so crude that I didn’t understand that it was actually the shooting script; I thought it was the rough. I wrote to them and asked if they would like me to do the shooting script, at which point Robert Jaffe, the one who wrote the screenplay, flew down here to Orange County and confessed that he had written it under a nom de plume. I said to him then that it was so bad that I wanted to know if he wanted me to beat him up there at the airport or wait till we got to my apartment.”
Robert Jaffe was very straightforward and asked Dick if he really thought it was that bad, whereupon Dick responded;
“I said, ‘All I ask is that you do not drag me down to ruin with you.’” I said that I’d honestly prefer to buy back the property than let them make a film based on that screenplay and he was real nice about it. I gave him suggestions and he took notes and then I noticed that he wasn’t actually writing, but rather he was just moving the pen about a quarter of an inch from a piece of paper that already had printing on it so that he was only pretending to take notes. I realized then that there was a gulf between me and Hollywood.”
In 1975, Dick was approached by Hampton Fancher- who by then was only known as a tv actor- to option the book into film, but as the option was held by Herb Jaffe, they needed to wait until the option expired in 1978. As soon as this expired, Fancher and his partner Brian Kelly (also a TV actor) picked it up and went to Producer Michael Deeley to submit the option. At first Deeley, who by then was an Academy Award Winning Producer due to Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978), refused it. Fancher decided to write the screenplay himself and once he finished the draft he returned to Deeley and the option was ultimately accepted, which led them to Ridley Scott.
Scott at first refused to direct the project because he was in pre-production with “Dune”, which he later left due to slow production by the studio (“Dune” would later be directed by David Lynch). He eventually joined the project in 1980, but under the agreement that Scott wanted changes as Fancher’s script mainly focused on environmental issues and less on those of humanity and religion, in which the novel was more focused on. Fancher left the project over this issue and Deeley eventually hired David Webb Peoples- who would later write the amazing ‘Unforgiven’ (1992) and the twisted and surreal ‘Twelve Monkeys’ (1995)- to rewrite the script. It was his first big project and had some rather, as he puts it, aggravating experiences;
“The thing that can be confusing about all this is how enormously collaborative all of this stuff is, especially at the stage that I was involved. I was brought in when there were sets already being constructed. One time I changed a scene and somebody said, ‘Jesus, you wrote the ambulance out!’ I said so what and they said, ‘Well, it’s already built.’ So this was a source of some aggravation.”
Fancher was rather surprised about how good Peoples’ rewrite of the script was;
“I was surprised because when I got Peoples’ script those things that Ridley had wanted that I thought couldn’t be integrated into the concept had been rendered by Peoples in ways that were original, tight and admirable.”
Fancher would eventually return to contribute on additional rewrites, but never ever got the work together with Peoples. You can read the script down here:
Scott and Deeley were in talks with Dustin Hoffman to play Deckard, who after many discussions left the project because of differences in vision. Several actors were considered for the role of Deckard, including Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino and Gene Hackman. It was Harrison Ford who was ultimately chosen for many reasons, but mainly because of his recent success with Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
After the success of the Indiana Jones movie, Ford was looking for a character to play with more dramatic depth and found it with Deckard. Ford’s comedic side occasionally comes to surface but his hard-bitten, cynical persona is the dominating one here and he portrays it brilliantly. His sarcastic smile is also out in force but it’s the restraint which he shows which is the most fascinating here. Some scenes involve very few lines and Ford doesn’t seem altogether willing to give much away to the viewers, preferring to keep them in the dark as to his true feelings.
Sean Young plays Rachael, Deckard’s eventual love interest. Her performance is a hard one to nail down as she plays jump rope with the line between femme fatale and damsel in distress. It is easy to tell that it’s amazing, however, as she’s able to convey mountains of emotion and intention with a flick of her eyelashes. Supporting characters played by Darryl Hannah and Edward James Olmos were all powerful but it is the Dutch actor Rutger Hauer who gives the performance of a lifetime as Roy Batty. The standout performance for me and it is easily his finest hour, he is remarkable here. Blade Runner is his evidence that he had a great ability which has been shamefully overlooked somewhat in his career. The ‘Tears in the Rain’ dialogue which he rewrote himself during filming and made it even longer- at the end is moving, even after seeing so many times.
During filming, the cast absolutely hated Ridley Scott, due to his desire to make the actors performances perfect, he pushed them all to the edge. A famous story is that of the love scene between Ford and Young, which is known by the crew as “the hate scene”, because the two of them really didn’t get along. One example was when Deckard stops Rachael from leaving his apartment and he pushes her against a wall. The expression of pain and shock on Young’s face was real. She felt that she was pushed to hard and she got even more angry with him. Scott decided to keep it in the film because it felt realistic.
Vangelis also adds to the film’s atmosphere with a haunting electronic score, perfectly underscoring what’s happening onscreen. Despite the fact that it’s not very flashy or rousing, it’s perfect for the film. The very first scene is one of the better opportunities which the score gets to shine, permanently marking Scott’s skyline with its slowly invading hum. It’s a brilliant piece of work in an incredible composer’s repertoire.
If you watch the film for the first time, I’d like to note that if you are not someone who naturally enjoys contemplating on the before mentioned themes, the film’s brilliance may be lost on you. The climax brings many of the themes together in a simple yet wonderfully poetic way. Anyone who “gets” the film should be moved by this; others will sadly miss the point and may prefer watching some mindless action flick instead, but ‘Blade Runner’ is a certified masterpiece that deserves recognition and long remembrance in film history and I can’t wait to see what Denis Villeneuve did with the sequel.