I have a confession to make. This may anger some people, but I have to get it off my chest. I actually like the Harrison Ford voiceover in the 1983 theatrical release of Blade Runner, though I do revile the hokey, happy ending. I guess I’m in pretty good company. Even the movie’s screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, went on record to say “the old voiceover in the first version I sort of like better than all the rest of them.” In this regard, Fancher and I exist in what Colin Marshall called “a curious minority” in a recent post on yet another recut of Blade Runner, a definitive reference for almost every android/robot/AI movie made since.
It’s okay to like the theatrical cut, or the 1992 director’s cut, or the 2007 “final cut”—let a thousand Blade Runner fandoms bloom, I say, as long as the film remains a critical reference for sci-fi cinema for many years to come. But part of the reason for all these later versions, besides that tacked-on ending, is the voiceover, which director Ridley Scott hated, and Harrison Ford hated, and even the studio executives, who forced him to record it, hated. The studio hated almost everything about the movie, and the critics were mostly unimpressed. Siskel called it “a waste of time”; Ebert gave it an unenthusiastic thumbs up. (Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, made some prophetic predictions based on the little he saw of the film.)
Audiences didn’t cozy up to Blade Runner either. They went to see E.T. instead. Blade Runner opened at the box office with a disappointing $6 million weekend. Sensing all this trouble even before the film’s release, executives commissioned M.K. Productions to shoot the promotional film above, a behind-the-scenes short documentary that circulated at horror and sci-fi conventions in 1982. Introduced by a bored-looking Ridley Scott (and some cheesy seventies funk), the 16mm short gave potential fans a glimpse of Blade Runner’s heavily Tokyo-accented future Los Angeles, its classic noir plot elements, and its visual effects by masterminds Syd Mead and Douglas Trumbull, both of whom appear here.
Those of us fans now living in the future may find the footage of the movie’s production and the detailed explanations of its set design fascinating. It’s hard to know what the original viewers of this extended trailer/promotional vehicle might have thought, though it clearly didn’t move enough of them to fill the theater seats. I can imagine, though, that many a science fiction lover and Blade Runner fan who missed the movie’s first run might regret it now. Voiceover, sappy ending and all, it would have been a treat to be one of the first to see this now ubiquitous—and deservedly so—sci-fi detective story.