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Countdown to Blade Runner 2049: Part II – The original movie


This year's most anticipated sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is just over a month away, and is set to plunge us back into a nightmarish future world.

Harrison Ford returns alongside Ryan Gosling for Arrival director Denis Villeneuve's follow-up to the 1982 Ridley Scott masterpiece. We're counting down the days until the sequel's release by breaking down eight aspects of the Blade Runner universe.

This week we're taking you back to the making of Scott's groundbreaking original movie.

The story recapped

The movie plunges us into an apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles in the year 2019, a sprawling, neon-flecked metropolis adorned by belching fire chimneys and drenched with perpetual acid rain.

We're introduced to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired android hunter, or blade runner, who's reluctantly cajoled back into his old role by superior officer Harry Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) and the mysterious cop Gaff (Edward James Olmos).

Deckard's mission: to 'retire' a group of Nexus 6 replicants who have hijacked a shuttle bound for the off-world colonies and returned to Earth in order to seek their maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and find out how to extend their four-year lifespans.

The group of advanced synthetics (all the better for off-world labour) consists of leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), 'pleasure model' Pris (Daryl Hannah), superhuman Leon (Brion James) and murder squad operative Zhora (Joanna Cassidy).

Deckard's mission is however complicated by the presence of the alluring replicant Rachael (Sean Young), who embodies the divide between human and machine.

Adapting a classic

Philip K. Dick's 1968 source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? had a bumpy journey making it to the big screen. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher had written a treatment that was optioned in 1977, with an emphasis on the themes of environmentalism and nature present in the novel.

Fancher named it 'Blade Runner' having found a cinema treatment by author William S. Burroughs for Alan E. Nourse's novel 'The Bladerunner' (1974), a story exploring the black market smuggling of surgical instruments. The end result: Blade Runner (a movie).

Director Ridley Scott who had come onboard in February 1980 having been frustrated at the slow progress of the Dune movie (eventually directed by David Lynch), liked the title and had producer Michael Deeley option the rights. As for the script itself, Scott wanted changes. He commissioned a rewrite from David Peoples (whose 1976 script Unforgiven was later transformed into the Oscar-winning Western classic by Clint Eastwood).

In fact, Dick himself (who had not been alerted to the start of production, and who was already suspicious of Hollywood as an entity) was skeptical of an early version Fancher's draft. However Peoples' revised version met with Dick's approval shortly before his death in 1982.

Fancher however was displeased and exited the project in December 1980, although he remained involved with further rewrites on Peoples' script during the production itself. As a result both he and Peoples get a script credit in the finished movie. Due to creative differences however, they never worked together on the film.

The cast

Harrison Ford replaced Dustin Hoffman in the role of Deckard, although the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones were also strongly considered.

Rutger Hauer meanwhile was cast after a laborious search process and was described by none other than Philip K. Dick himself as "the perfect Batty—cold, Aryan, flawless". Meanwhile Edward James Olmos came up with Gaff's distinctive 'Cityspeak' nonsense language – a hybrid mixture of Spanish, French, German, Hungarian, Chinese, and Japanese.

Hauer improvised his celebrated "Tears in rain" death monologue towards the end of the movie, deviating from the script and giving the film its most quoted scene.

Building the future

On a budget of $28 million, production began on 9th March 1981 and lasted for four months.

However this wasn't without problems: backer Filmways withdrew their $2.5m pre-production funding just before shooting began, and it fell to producer Deeley to secure new backing through a triumvirate of The Ladd Company (through Warner Bros.), the Hong Kong-based producer Sir Run Run Shaw and Tandem Productions.

It was perhaps a harbinger of what would become a stressful and troubled production process, one that Harrison Ford famously took years to come to terms with.

Shot almost entirely on the Warner Bros. backlot, allowing Scott maximum control over the movie's futuristic environment (Los Angeles' Bradbury Building also acted as a filming location), tensions were high between Brit Scott and the film's largely American crew.

Ford said he felt stranded and isolated without appropriate direction from Scott, claiming all he had to do was give focus to the sets. He also strongly disagreed (and continues to disagree) with Scott over whether Deckard is himself a replicant – a complex issue that we'll be exploring in future blog instalments.

Meanwhile angry crew members had t-shirts printed that read 'Yes Guv'nor My Ass', mocking Scott's alleged preference for British production teams. Scott in return retaliated with a t-shirt that read 'Xenophobia Sucks'.

Heavily influenced by Fritz Lang's influential 1929 sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis, Scott also drew on his upbringing in England's industrial heartland and French artist Jean Girard aka Moebius. Practical sets, matte paintings and model work helped give the feeling a sense of physical authenticity, further pulling the audience into its world.

Vangelis' dreamy electronic score meanwhile (which we'll also be exploring in greater depth) was a pioneering mixture of technology and achingly lovely saxophone melodies. The end result was a gorgeously atmospheric and engrossingly stylised vision of the future, setting a benchmark to which all future dystopian movies aspired.

The reception

It's hard to imagine now but Blade Runner wasn't an immediate success on release. In fact, critics were decidedly cool towards the movie and the film struggled to recoup its (for the time) sizeable budget, barely making $33.8m against its $28m budget.

Writing for the Los Angeles Times Sheila Benson described the movie as "Blade Crawler' and noted critic Pauline Kael, although complimentary of the film's visual style, said it failed to elaborate on its complex themes in "human terms".

Nevertheless time subsequently proved them wrong...

The legacy

Blade Runner's rich assortment of themes, not to mention its dense visual poetry, have subsequently fired the minds of audiences, filmmakers and academics with the movie now regularly crowning lists of greatest sci-fi films ever made.

Take Denis Villeneuve for example: the director of the upcoming sequel says of the original movie, "Blade Runner is by far one of my favourite movies of all time... Blade Runner is almost a religion for me."

From the Gothic-infused landscapes of Alex Proyas' Dark City (see below) to the human-machine tensions of The Matrix and the bustling streets of Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels, Scott's vision of a towering, overwhelming and oppressive futuristic society continues to be provocative, imaginative and enormously exciting.

But famously there's more than one version of the movie. In fact, there are five officially recognised ones – which we'll be covering very soon...

Blade Runner 2049 is released on 6th October.