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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