Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul M. Sammon

If you’re not especially interested in Blade Runner then this will probably leave you with a massive “so what” feeling. If on the other hand you think it’s one of the most important movies ever made, and have found something new every time you have watched it, then it could just be for you.

Of course, you could be seeing something new every time you watch it because every time you watch it you see a different version. That’s in here too.

The author wrote extensively about Blade Runner throughout its genesis and development, for the likes of Cinefantastique and Cinefex, so he already has a massive archive of material to draw on. This edition was published in 1996 but – appropriately, for this particular movie – I believe there has been at least one revised edition since. And although he goes into a (great) deal of detail, and can sometimes come over just a little Pooterish, he can also keep hold of your interest as he guides you through the dense and dark forest of detail.

He starts at the beginning, with a brief background bio of Philip K. Dick, and the writing of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Then on to when one Hampton Fancher, bit part actor and aspiring screenwriter, wanted to get hold of a literary property that he could wave under the noses of screen bosses with a view to adaptation. More by chance than anything else, he settled on Dick’s novel. (His first thought was Naked Lunch and the only other sf novel he had ever read was The Stars My Destination, so there’s two alternate universes just begging to be explored.)

This was 1975. The rest is history, and a lot of it, all of which you’ll find in this book. The full story of its progression from Dick’s brain to your eyeballs, via the many detours en route. Not to mention the locations, effects, casting, filming, refilming, cutting, re-cutting, production, post-production, release(s) … and then the growth of the cult that led to umpteen different versions being released after that, with a chapter on each and then appendices that lovingly detail the differences. Also included in the appendices: an extensive interview with Ridley Scott that really dots the i’s and crosses the t’s; a catalogue of soundtrack releases (there are, of course, several; Vangelis appears to be the one man in the universe even more perfectionist that Scott); full credits; a list of bloopers (which surprised me given the amount of attention paid to it frame by frame, but perhaps inevitable); a videography of releases of different versions on tape, laser disc (bless) and TV; and, quaintest of all, a list of online resources. This book falls nicely into the gap between the inventions of the World Wide Web and Google.

It’s also rather quaint that the author goes out of his way to acknowledge that the book was written on an Amiga 2000, and to thank and name the companies that provides various bits of hardware. Like the movie, this book freezeframes a particular vision of the future.

The book is dedicated to the author’s wife, “who never wants to hear the words Blade Runner again”, and who can blame her. But if there’s anything at all you want to know about the movie, or even if there isn’t and you’re just prepared to find out more for the heck of it, it’s all here. My one complaint isn’t in the text but the pictures: black and white prints inline with the text, many of which are only about as high as a typical paragraph and just not big or clear enough to show what we’re meant to be seeing. A minor whinge.

My favourite fact, and enough to make me rewatch the movie: when Batty releases the dove, as we see it fly away the sky beyond is untypically blue. This is not anything symbolic about a new dawn or whatever. It’s because the dove he released while filming in LA took a couple of hops and walked off. Doves don’t fly if they’re wet. So, Scott had to reshoot its flight with a different dove on a dry day back at Elstree.