Watch the Behind-the-Scenes Blade Runner Promo Film … Created to Prevent a Box Office Flop (1982)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Blade Runner’s Minia­ture Props Revealed in 142 Behind-the-Scenes Pho­tos

Philip K. Dick Pre­views Blade Run­ner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Over­whelm­ing” (1981)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Ronny says:

    I saw it when it first came out, but sor­ry, I did­n’t like the voiceover.

  • john says:

    Always liked the nar­ra­tion … Always will.

    Part­ly because it was an inte­gral part of the film (and the only ver­sion avail­able) the first hun­dred or so times I saw it …

    But also because it’s a ‘noir’ — and ‘noir’ typ­i­cal­ly has nar­ra­tion.

    Much of the expo­si­tion is unnec­es­sary, but that does­n’t mat­ter … That flat, bored, grouchy deliv­ery is part of Deckard’s char­ac­ter … Part of the fab­ric of the film.

    Voice over is a much under-used tech­nique.

  • Laurie says:

    Maybe I was influ­enced by too many Sat­ur­day after­noon view­ings of “Dou­ble Indem­ni­ty” on L.A. TV sta­tions, the voice-over did­n’t both­er me that much. The end­ing real­ly annoyed me too.

    As the years have passed, I’ve come to under­stand that stu­dio heads too often feel the need to add train­ing wheels to movies they may not under­stand: “The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari”, “The Mag­nif­i­cent Amber­sons” spring to mind. We’ll nev­er get to see what those films were real­ly meant to look like.

  • phil says:

    I did­n’t like the voice over ver­sion because ‘Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid’ was fresh in my mind & there is a sim­i­lar­i­ty in the cadence of Steve Mar­tins and Har­ri­son Ford voic­es

  • Alexis says:

    I agree with you. The voiceover worked beau­ti­ful­ly, was instru­men­tal in giv­ing the film it’s noirish over­tones.

    And I did see it on the first run — I was com­plete­ly bowled over. The art direc­tion and pro­duc­tion design were sim­ply astound­ing.

  • RichardH says:

    You’re not alone in lik­ing the voiceover. I agree with some of the com­menters that it betrays the film’s debt to Film Noir, Dashiell Ham­mett etc, but that’s all to the good for me. I also agree that the hap­py end­ing was unnec­es­sary and detract­ed from the film over­all. It’s still my sec­ond favourite film of all time (behind The Third Man) and just ahead of The Mal­tese Fal­con, so I guess you can see where I’m com­ing from…

  • Steve Bryan says:

    It is reas­sur­ing to know I am not alone in appre­ci­at­ing the orig­i­nal ver­sion which I did see when the film was first released. I have the five disc blu­ray set that includes many of the cuts as well as sev­er­al laserdisc ver­sions so it is not as though I have not seen the oth­er ver­sions. Sad­ly I loaned my first pur­chased laserdisc ver­sion to my sis­ter and it has been lost but I think I am suf­fi­cient­ly cov­ered.

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