Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
FFC rating: 10/10
by Paul M. Sammon
by Bill Chambers Ridley Scott's Blade Runner took two years to complete, while Paul M. Sammon's exhaustive document of its inception was finished over a period of one-and-a-half decades. The author admits that his book, like its subject, is "compulsively detailed." Future Noir's appendices alone--which include a thorough interview with Scott, fussy comparisons of Blade Runner's multiple video incarnations, confirmed continuity slip-ups, soundtrack information, a directory of related websites, and a full credits listing--occupy 66 pages! In fact, the only information Sammon fails to provide is his own credentials. A journeyman in the best way, he's a film journalist and documentarian who, as an inveterate producer of electronic press kits, was eyewitness to some legendary (and legendarily troubled) genre productions, such as Dune and RoboCop.
Blade Runner began with Phillip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, considered unfilmable by nearly everyone who had the power to turn it into a movie. The foreboding future Dick hypothesized nevertheless proved too tantalizing for screenwriter Hampton Fancher and director Scott to resist. When Dick got a hold of an early draft of their adaptation, he was less than impressed: his material, he felt, had been reshaped into something more prosaic and drained of its satiric sting. Dick responded by publicly denouncing the screenplay as well as Scott's most popular work, 1979's Alien.
To be sure the studio knew of his feelings, Dick sent these published lamentations directly to Warner execs. The prolific writer later conceded to Sammon: "Alien was an effective film for what it tried to set out to do, but I would have preferred more conceptual or intellectual content. I also thought the ending was weak. The monster lost simply because it was a monster. The same thing was going on in Fancher's script...At the end of this long fight between Deckard and Batty, the human won and the android lost simply because this conformed to that godawful generic convention which states that good must inevitably triumph over evil. Eventually, (the brilliant) David Webb Peoples--whose unproduced "The William Munny Killings", the basis for Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, captured Francis Ford Coppola's attention around this time--took the reins from Dick superfan Fancher, and his rewrite appeased Dick substantially, although the prickly author was hardly the only hurdle the Blade Runner team would face.
Sammon basically divides Future Noir into three parts: pre-production, production, and post-production. Setbacks plagued the filmmakers at all three stages and were sometimes self-inflicted. According to Sammon, Scott employed a "managerial style" to cope with the complexities of filming on Blade Runner's megalopolis set and was an often merciless taskmaster. Exhausted crew members subsequently rebelled, waging a "T-shirt war" towards the end of principal photography. After Scott admitted to a newspaper his preference for (deferential) British crews, he found himself facing dozens of angry American teamsters wearing shirts that read "Will Rogers never met Ridley Scott" and other similar sentiments. The director responded by printing up Ts for himself and his backers that read, "Xenophobia Sucks."
The book is rife with gossip. For instance, Sean Young and Harrison Ford didn't get along during their love scenes; Joe Turkel, who played billionaire genius Tyrell, was incapable of memorizing his dialogue, necessitating that the rooms be draped with large cue cards; the snake that replicant stripper Zhora uses in her routine is Joanna Cassidy's pet python; and so on and so forth. "The Shoot" is probably Future Noir's most gripping chapter, as it goes through the picture on a sequence-by-sequence basis, with each section containing a series of point-form notes, including comments from cast and crew made in 1982 or more recently. Chapter Ten, "The Special Effects," is very long but never tedious in detailing the challenges large and small faced by head-F/X designers Douglas Trumbull and David Dryer, from Blade Runner's breathtaking cityscape shots to the infamous "Voigt-Kampff" machine, which didn't actually serve any function but still had to look cool.
Sammon's text also dispels many of the myths surrounding the film, namely that the official 1992 "Director's Cut" is the same version that was resurrected for midnight screenings in L.A. the year before. (That was the fabled "workprint," discovered by a sound preservationist while on his search for a 70mm blow-up of Gypsy! Sammon's summary of that fateful day can't help but sound amusingly portentous: "What he found instead would alter film history.") Scott also sets the record straight on the DC's unicorn shot: this is not an outtake from Legend; it was an insert photographed specifically for Blade Runner in post that got discarded just prior to the original release.
The "narration scandal" is also given its due: Deckard's awful voiceover was recorded at the insistence of producer Bud Yorkin, the cinematic genius who would later helm Arthur 2: On the Rocks. Future Noir's cover declares itself, "The fascinating story behind the darkest, most influential SF film ever made." I tend to agree with that assessment of Blade Runner, and it probably helps if you do, too. The picture continues to inspire clones in 1999. (Without Blade Runner, is there a Matrix?) And Sammon's thick tome makes a perfect companion piece to its subject. I'm not sure I've ever read something so exquisitely nerdy about the entire filmmaking process. Sometimes, the best DVD supplements come in paperback.
441 pages; July, 1996; ISBN: 0061053147; Harper Prism