‘Blade Runner’ started Hollywood’s love affair with Philip K. Dick

[29 November 2007]

By Colin Covert

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Hollywood’s love affair with the science fiction of Philip K. Dick has spawned eight films from such distinguished talents as Steven Spielberg, John Woo, Paul Verhoeven and Richard Linklater, and earned over $1 billion in ticket sales and other revenue.

But when Ridley Scott was filming “Blade Runner,” the first Dick novel to come to the screen, the author was distraught. The first-draft screenplay reduced his vision of corrupted humanity and all-too-human androids to a crude shoot-‘em-up adventure. He told Twilight Zone Magazine in 1982 that he fantasized bursting onto the set screaming “You’ve destroyed my book,” and grabbing Harrison Ford by the throat and “battering him against the wall” as security guards seized him.

Dick died of a stroke four months before the film was released in a compromised form that cut many character-developing scenes, added a cynical first-person voiceover and pasted on an unexpectedly happy ending. The film was a failure in its initial release but gained a cult reputation on home video and over the years attained classic status. It was theatrically re-released in modified form in 1993, and in various special editions on DVD.

Now it’s showing in select cities for a limited run in Scott’s definitive director’s cut that eliminates the narration, extensively reworks the film, and meticulously restores the groundbreaking special effects.

Dick’s daughter, Isa Dick-Hackett, believes that her father would approve of the latest iteration. Dick-Hackett, who with her two half-siblings owns Electric Shepherd Productions, the film and television production arm of her father’s estate, enthusiastically introduced the new edition at the New York Film Festival this fall.

“I was stunned” by the film’s visual power in its new, pristine 35mm print, she said in a phone interview from her San Francisco home. “What they’ve done with it is so spectacular. You think, OK, they’ve cleaned it up. But there are places where it almost looks like 3-D. The effects are so stunning, you can see things that I never noticed in the original film.”

Stripping away the intrusive narration and studio-mandated happy ending brought the film closer to her father’s vision, she added. The editing changes give the film “more emotional impact, because I think you really feel for the quote bad guys unquote,“androids who initially appear villainous but ultimately are seen as rebellious slaves fighting for their lives.

“You’re thinking much more about these people who aren’t people, who want to be people,” she said. “You’re feeling sort of empathetic for their plight. The questions that he considered and wrote about were what it means to be human, so it’s very powerful on that level. I was surprised that I felt there was even more emotional impact this time around. Everyone I know who’s seen it feels the same way so I know it’s not just my personal bias.”

That reaction is especially gratifying in light of the film’s initially poor reception, which seemed to be a damning epitaph to Dick’s career. “It was disappointing initially, but over time it’s been the single most important event that has impacted his readership, leading people to his novel (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) and then to his whole body of work,” Dick-Hackett said. Now Dick is published by the prestigious Library of America, “which is the canonization of an American author with the Twains and Hawthornes,” she said.

Electric Shepherd has “at least half a dozen projects in full-blown development,” from sci-fi thrillers to a stylized biography starring Paul Giamatti as the author, Dick-Hackett said. With 34 published novels and six short story collections, there’s a huge supply of material, “and we aspire for all of them to be future `Blade Runners,’” she said.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/blade-runner-started-hollywoods-love-affair-with-philip-k-dick/