Will Bueché

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The Blade Runner Experience (revisited)

Posted in Personal by Will on Sunday, May 28th, 2006 ~ 12am

On the occasion of the announcement of the impending release of a new director’s cut of Blade Runner in 2007, I thought I’d reprint a pair of letters I’d written about this film. First is something I wrote about Blade Runner way back in November 1995, before DVDs or the internet (as we now know it) even existed.

Dear Mr. Bouzereau,

I believe there is a story interpretation error in your BLADE RUNNER chapter.

In the first paragraph, you’ve written “Rachael is different from the other replicants; She’s been implanted with memories. Therefore, she has feelings.” With no ill will intended, please allow me to say “No” to that statement and let me guide you through what I believe will show the true nature of the situation.

As the design of the replicants has advanced, replicants have started to exhibit emotions.

This is a problem that the Off-world colonies are facing; Replicants who develop feelings are harder to keep enslaved.

(For this reason, replicants have been given a limited life span of four years, so that by the time they develop feelings of their own they will be close to expiring.)

To elaborate: Their emotions make them somewhat erratic, as the replicants are in many ways adult-sized children, having no life experiences in which the emotions may find context. Witness the scene in Sebastian’s apartment when Roy Batty meets up with Pris (who has stayed over night at the apartment). Their kiss on reuniting is primitive and childlike, not because they are savages, but because they are genuinely unfamiliar with their actions. (Watch Roy during this scene, he is positively boyish). They have no experience in such things, no memories from youth of learning to kiss, and so they are acting as best they can on the instincts and new feelings that have stirred them to action.

These are feelings which, I posit, stirred them to rebel from the off-world colonies in the first place. (I do not mean that Batty led the revolt so he could be with Pris, but rather that the experience of emotions in all their varied aspects was the awakening that led to the revolt, and also made Batty try to be Pris’ boyfriend, and made Batty such an oddly poetic man… “I’ve seen c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate.”)

Rachael does have emotions, and unlike the others she has implanted memories (from Tyrell’s neice) that serve to guide her emotions. When we first meet her in the offices of Tyrell’s headquarters, Rachel is poised and confident, and secure in her sexuality. (When asked a hypothetical question about being shown a picture of a naked woman, she shoots back an icy retort of “Is this test designed to prove I’m a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?”) Her secure sense of self crumbles when she discovers that she is a replicant, inexperienced and vulnerable (the kissing scene between her and Deckard), her ideallic memories an illusion.

To sum up, all replicants have emotions. The enslaved replicants with no implanted memories had to learn on their own what their emotions were calling for, making them seem like adult sized children in the midst of learning. (Roy became the most emotionally developed at the very end, when he not only understood his own emotions, but he transcended them and felt empathy for his enemy). The memory implants in Rachel afforded her with a background of experience which helped her to understand how she would react to her emotions, making her present as more adult.

I hope you’ve found what I’ve stated to be an accurate and important distinction at the heart of the story that is worthy of correcting in subsequent additions.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cutting Room Floor and hope that it has been successful. As a person who does not own a laser disc player (and thus has little access to special editions), your book was of particular value. The research in the Bladerunner section was particularly detailed (I always wondered where the NuArt print came from).
Thank you.

Will Bueche

Next, a survey about the film that I answered in January 2004. The questions were being asked by Dr. Jonathan Alan Gray of the University of California, Berkeley, who was writing an essay on the film for the book The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic. A few quotes from my answers appeared in his essay in that book, which was published earlier this year. But here are my complete answers, including the writer’s introductory letter. Some of my answers are redundant since I knew he’d only be picking a few sentences from each respondee:

Hi all

For some of you, this may be welcome, for some really unwelcome, and I apologise to the latter. Indeed, I apologise for poaching on this community’s e-soil. However, I’m working on an academic article about BR, BR fans, and the prospect of a Special Edition DVD for publication in a new book of essays on BR, due out next year from Wallflower Press, edited by Will Brooker, called The Blade Runner Experience.

If any of you would be kind enough to answer a few questions, I’d really appreciate it, and be very thankful. Please know that I am not at all some whacko academic with the intent of writing crappy and/or derogatory things about BR fans: quite the opposite, in fact, being a BR fan myself. What I am interested in is what a BR:SE would mean to you all.

Anyways, here are the questions. Feel free to answer them one-by-one or altogether.

Are you looking forward to a BR:SE, do you hope it never comes to be, or do you not care? Why?
Legendary German filmmaker Fritz Lang once sadly referred to his classic silent science-fiction epic Metropolis as a film “that does no longer exist [sic]”, due to Lang’s own version of the film being lost to the whims of others who edited the film as they saw fit. Today, even after the best restoration effort possible, Metropolis is substantially different from what Lang created, and the world has that much less of Lang’s beauty for it. Fans of Blade Runner like myself are hoping that Blade Runner can escape that cruel fate, so that when Blade Runner takes its place among the best films ever created, the world will be able to see the film as the director envisioned, as well as the versions that he made in compromise with the studio system which originally released the film theatrically.

I care about a restoration effort for Blade Runner because a film as recent as the mid 1980s should be able to be brought back to life, so to speak, as vividly as when the first print was struck. Moreover, I feel that a film whose atmosphere is as deeply immersive as Blade Runner deserved to have a soundscape cultivated from the original audio elements that will surround the viewer with the sounds of the cityscape, and Vangelis’ score, as the filmmaker (and no doubt the composer) would have wanted, had surround sound been more established in the year when the film was being edited. Preserving a vision can mean extending the quality beyond what was originally presented, and the soundtrack for Blade Runner stands to bring the vision forward that much more.

What do you hope it will or will not contain? (ie: Directors commentary, making of) What would you most like to see, and why?
I think everyone here on the bladerunner newsgroup would agree that quality is more important than quantity on a film such as this, which is why everyone was so excited when Charles de Lauzirika was expected to be producing the DVD. As a life-long fan of the film, who had many times expressed that to work on a Blade Runner special edition would be his “dream project”, he was the perfect choice for ensuring that the extras would be developed with perfection. Which is why the delays in the project (delays caused by one embittered investor) are so infuriating. It is not the wait that is frustrating (though it is a bit sad), it is the missed opportunity: Charles de Lauzirika has reluctantly moved on to another phase in his career, meaning we do not know who will develop the “extras” if the legal impasse preventing the development of the special edition can be resolved. One can hope that he could be called back in to supervise. But it is disheartening.

(Note from today: Longtime Ridley Scott DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika did indeed make himself available to work on next year’s release!)

I am looking forward to a true directors cut which would fulfill much of the planned revisions that were not able to be done to the “1992 Directors Cut” due to the lack of time and budget. Additionally, the theatrical version should be presented. A director’s commentary is a natural, of course, and ideally a commentary by Paul M. Sammon, the author of Future Noir, the “Blade Runner Bible” (an voluminous book about the making of the film). Perhaps the two of them edited together if they cannot both be there to record the commentary at the same time. I am interested in seeing deleted scenes, however I’d defer to the director as to whether they should be presented in context with the film, or presented separately – after all, a director’s vision is shaped not only by what he films, but what he cuts. But from a historical perspective it would be good to see some lost footage.

The Directors Cut suggests a different take on particularly Deckard’s humanity, and is thus seen by many as the more correct, ‘proper’ text. Do you think a BR:SE could offer the ‘definitive’ text/version, or will the DC remain as the proper one for you?
The director feels that Deckard is a replicant. I did not feel that was the case when I saw the theatrical version, and I was frustrated by the suggestion at first. However, the idea that the feelings and empathy that we call “humanity” might arise in a replicant is the very theme which makes the actions of the off-world replicants Roy, Pris, Zhora, etc — as well as Rachael — sympathetic. It is therefore not in fact that much of a stretch to have Deckard also be an example of this. It is perhaps challenging to the audience to accept the idea that replicants have become “more human than human” — the replicants display more passion and emotion than any of the human characters in the film! Blade Runner is a film about evolution of the human spirit even as the human body (represented by the city) dissolves, and it can be hard, as a modern day homosapien, to see a film in which homosapiens have lost their humanity. Some see Blade Runner as a bleak future, but there is hope for these qualities we call “humanity” to live on as a new generation of replicants takes its place.

Learning to respect replicants turned out to be as difficult for the audience (when faced with the possibility that Deckard was a replicant) as it was for the denizens of LA 2012.

Given that both the film and DC are relatively old now, what is it about BR that keeps your interest, and keeps you a fan?
The deeply immersive environment is an achievement that was rarely equaled until computer generated environments became possible. Of course earlier films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Orson Wells Citizen Kane also achieved this, and are recognized for the accomplishment. This “reality” is both visually and sonically detailed enough to merit repeat watchings. Who, after seeing Blade Runner, does not want to see a Spinner parked in their driveway? Moreover, the question of what makes people (or replicants) “human” is a question for the ages.

Would you like to see a BR sequel made? Why or why not?
I believe that there is room in the Blade Runner universe for other stories to be told, however I’d be more open to the idea of another video game rather than another film. The video game from Westwood (now out of print) was able to tell another story within the Blade Runner universe quite well – relying not only on the original film to achieve its “look and feel”, but on preproduction artwork which inspired the film. They also maintained the paranoid atmosphere full of fragile dreams that made the original film so touching. I’d question whether another filmmaker would be as honorable as a game maker, given the pressures which filmmakers are under to come up with their own distinctive style. That’s quite the opposite of what game makers are expected to do when they’re making a game based on a film property – for a game maker, preserving the look and feel of the film is paramount. Anyway, there’s style enough available in Ridley Scott’s world for other filmmakers to explore, if they are willing to honor it. Like most Blade Runner fans I’ve thought of a storyline or two which could work…but I don’t expect to see it happen.

Would you like to see a BR remake? Why or why not?
No. A remake can wait until some future decade when we have 3-D films… meanwhile, Scott’s version(s) should be enough.

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