Blade Runner: The Pillar of Sci-Fi Cinema that Siskel, Ebert, and Studio Execs Originally Hated

blade-runner-executive-notes

Grow­ing up, I did­n’t think about all the indi­vid­ual qual­i­ties that make a great movie. I just thought of Blade Run­ner. What­ev­er Rid­ley Scot­t’s 1982 adap­ta­tion of Philip K. Dick­’s Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep had, it made for high cin­e­mat­ic qual­i­ty indeed. As naive as it sounds, it does­n’t fall much short of mod­ern crit­i­cal and tar­get-audi­ence con­sen­sus. Visu­al­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, and tech­ni­cal­ly, Blade Run­ner has endured the decades almost effort­less­ly; how many oth­er tales of humans real and arti­fi­cial in a dystopi­an future mega­lopo­lis can you say the same about, at least with a straight face? Yet back in the ear­ly eight­ies, you would have had to call the pic­ture, which opened to a week­end of only $6.15 mil­lion in tick­et sales against its $28 mil­lion bud­get, a flop. Nor could crit­ics come up with much praise: “A waste of time,” said Gene Siskel of Siskel & Ebert. (“I have nev­er quite embraced Blade Run­ner,” Ebert wrote 25 years lat­er, “but now it is time to cave in and admit it to the canon.”)

Have a look at the sheet of screen­ing notes above (or click here to view a larg­er image), and you’ll find that even the stu­dio exec­u­tives did­n’t like the movie. Some Blade Run­ner fans blame the poor ini­tial recep­tion on the cut that 1982’s crit­ics and audi­ences saw, which dif­fers con­sid­er­ably from the ver­sion so many of us revere today. They cite in par­tic­u­lar a series of dead­en­ing­ly explana­to­ry voice-overs per­formed after the fact by star Har­ri­son Ford, which sounds like a clas­sic demand by philis­tine “suits” in charge until you read the notes from one exec­u­tive referred to as J.P.: “Voice over dry and monot­o­ne,” “This voice over is ter­ri­ble,” “Why is this voice over track so ter­ri­ble.” And under “gen­er­al com­ments”: “Voice over is an insult.” But with the offend­ing track­’s removal, the replace­ment of cer­tain shots, tweaks in the plot, and the sim­ple full­ness of time, Blade Run­ner has gone from one of the least respect­ed sci­ence fic­tion films to one of the most. Yet part of me won­ders if some of those high­er-ups in the screen­ing ever made peace with it. A cer­tain A.L., for instance, makes the four­teenth point, and adamant­ly: “They have to put more tits into the Zho­ra dress­ing room scene.”

via Neatora­ma

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of Blade Run­ner

Blade Run­ner is a Waste of Time: Siskel & Ebert in 1982

The Blade Run­ner Sketch­book: The Orig­i­nal Art of Syd Mead and Rid­ley Scott Online

Blade Run­ner: The Final, Final Cut of the Cult Clas­sic

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.


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Comments (4)
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  • …good to see the crit­ics are final­ly onboard! I am a big Philip K. Dick fan and Scot­t’s adap­ta­tion of “Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep” began a great run of film depic­tions of his work. I under­stand Scott and oth­ers are devel­op­ing a four part BBC pro­duc­tion of Man In the High Cas­tle.

  • R says:

    Sor­ry, but your com­men on the tits com­ment is incor­rect. It does NOT include the word “to” which changes the nature of that com­ment.

    How­ev­er, it is fun­ny to see all the neg­a­tive com­ments on the film which I pres­on­al­ly see as the num­ber one movie of all times!

  • Richard Nanian says:

    While your post is inter­est­ing, the title is at best a mas­sive dis­tor­tion. Siskel hat­ed the film, but even Ebert’s ini­tial review in the Chica­go Sun-Times gave it three stars out of four. You even some­what dis­tort his lat­er review — which is, after all, in his “Great Movies” col­lec­tion — by leav­ing out the phrase “admir­ing it at arm’s length,” which occurs between “I have nev­er quite embraced Blade Run­ner” and “but now it is time to cave in and admit it to the canon.” That phrase changes the point of the sen­tence con­sid­er­ably. He’s con­trast­ing his great intel­lec­tu­al appre­ci­a­tion of the film to his some­what more sub­dued emo­tion­al fond­ness for it.

    Cer­tain­ly the film’s rep­u­ta­tion has climbed in ways almost no one would have pre­dict­ed at the time, though the film we admire now is not the same one peo­ple (includ­ing me) saw then. “Blade Run­ner” is one of the few films in which the lat­er direc­tor’s cuts make a tru­ly sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ence (prob­a­bly more than any film except Lang’s “Metrop­o­lis” and Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in Amer­i­ca,” unless some­one some­day finds an orig­i­nal cut of Welles’ “The Mag­nif­i­cent Amber­sons”). Regard­less, you don’t need the straw-man of say­ing every­one “orig­i­nal­ly hat­ed” it to make your point.

  • Chris says:

    When I first saw Blade Run­ner I was great­ly dis­ap­point­ed. The film cut out two of the cru­cial ele­ments found in the nov­el: Mer­cerism and the Buster Friend­ly Show. By so doing, Rid­ley Scott effec­tive­ly excised the heart and soul of Philip K. Dick’s won­der­ful nov­el, Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep. Fur­ther, Scott moved the action from San Fran­cis­co to Los Ange­les and made the android Rachael an ally rather than a betray­er. At the end of the day, Scott accom­plished lit­tle more than a remake of an old Out­er Lim­its episode called Demon With A Glass Hand, which also had to do with human­i­ty ver­sus robots, and was also set in the Brad­bury Build­ing. If you want to glimpse where Scott acquired the “look” of Blade Run­ner, check out that old TV show.

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