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Blade Runner returns

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It’s the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner! Interestingly, Blade Runner was a money loser; the summer of 1982 was dominated by the Spielberg blockbuster E.T.

The director’s cut came out 15 years ago. This new release is a lovingly crafted digitized version with improved special effects.

Wired Q&A with director Ridley Scott. Full transcript (long, with audio). Apparently Scott never finished the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which the screenplay was based.

Deckard is a replicant (Wired interview):

Scott: The whole point of Gaff was — the guy who makes origami and leaves little matchstick figures around, right? The whole point of Gaff, the whole point in that direction at the very end, if Gaff is an operator for the department, then Gaff is also probably an exterminator. Gaff, at the end, doesn’t like Deckard, and we don’t really know why. And if you take for granted for a moment that, let’s say, Deckard is Nexus 7, he probably has an unknown life span and therefore is starting to get awfully human. Gaff, just at the very end, leaves a piece of origami, which is a piece of silver paper you might find in a cigarette packet. And it’s of a unicorn, right? So, the unicorn that’s used in Deckard’s daydream tells me that Deckard wouldn’t normally talk about such a thing to anyone. If Gaff knew about that, it’s Gaff’s message to say, “I’ve basically read your file, mate.” Right? So, that file relates to Deckard’s first speech to Rachael when he says, “That isn’t your imagination, that’s Tyrell’s niece’s daydreams. And he describes a little spider on a bush outside the kitchen door. Do you remember that?

Wired: I don’t remember the — oh, the spider. Yeah.

Scott: Well, the spider is an implanted piece of imagination. And therefore Deckard has imagination and even history implanted in his head. He even has memories of his mother and father in his head, maybe a brother or sister in his head. So if you want to make a Nexus that really believes they’re human, then you’re going to have to think about their past, and you’re going to have to put that in their mind.

Wired: Why didn’t the unicorn dream sequence appear in either the work print or the original release?

Scott: As I said, there was too much discussion in the room. I wanted it. They didn’t want it. I said, “Well, it’s a fundamental part of the story.” And they said, “Well, isn’t it obvious that he’s a replicant here?” And I said, “No. No more obvious than he’s not a replicant at the end. So, it’s a matter of choice, isn’t it?”

Wired: As a fan reading people’s comments about this, I’ve come across statements of Harrison Ford saying that he was not a replicant.

Scott: I know.

Wired: And watching the director’s cut, it seemed to me when Ford picks up the origami unicorn at the end of the movie —

Scott: And he nods.

Wired: The look on his face says, “Oh, so Gaff was here, and he let Rachael live.” It doesn’t say, “Oh my God! Am I a replicant?”

Scott: No? Yeah, but then you — OK. I don’t know. Why is he nodding when he looks at this silver unicorn? It’s actually echoing in his head when he has that drunken daydream at the piano, he’s staring at the pictures that Roy Batty had in his drawer. And he can’t fathom why Roy Batty’s got all these pictures about. Why? Family, background, that’s history. Roy Batty’s got no history, so he’s fascinated by the past. And he has no future. All those things are in there to tap into if you want it. But Deckard, I’m not going to have a balloon go up. Deckard’s look on his face, look at it again now that I’ve told you what it was about. Deckard, again, it’s like he had a suspicion that doing the job he does, reading the files he reads on other replicants, because — remember — he’s, as they call them, a blade runner. He’s a replicant moderator or even exterminator. And if he’s done so many now — and who are the biggest hypochondriacs? Doctors. So, if he’s a killer of replicants, he may have wondered at one point, can they fiddle with me? Am I human, or am I a replicant? That’s in his innermost thoughts. I’m just giving the fully flushed-out possibility to justify that gleaming look at the end where he kind of glints and kind of looks angry, but it’s like, to me, an affirmation. That look confirms something. And he nods, he agrees. “Ah hah, Gaff was here.” And he goes for the elevator door. And he is a replicant getting into an elevator with another replicant.

Wired: And why does Harrison Ford think otherwise?

Scott: You mean that he may not be or that he is?

Wired: Well, he is on record saying that, as far as he’s concerned, Deckard is not a replicant.

Scott: Yeah, but that was, like, probably 20 years ago.

Wired: OK, but —

Scott: He’s given up now. He’s said, “OK, mate. You win, you win. Anything, anything, just put it to rest.”

Written by infoproc

September 30, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Tannhauser gate

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Philip K. Dick was a creative genius–full of tremendous and deep ideas. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became the movie Blade Runner) is a meditation on identity, free will and artificial intelligence. (The main character can’t be sure whether he himself is android or human, and, ultimately, whether there is any difference. Director Ridley Scott was true to this idea, making it clear that Deckard (Harrison Ford) is, without knowing it, indeed a replicant!) The Man in the High Castle is one of the best alternate history stories I’ve read–it takes place in an America which has been partitioned in half at the Rockies by the victorious Japanese and Germans. Some of the characters are dimly aware that things might have been otherwise… Dick’s life was almost as interesting as his fiction. A serious intellectual, he dropped out of Berkeley, struggling financially and with psychological problems his entire life. He did not live to enjoy his fame.

Dick really was an unappreciated genius of his time.

From the final soliloquy of the android Baty (Rutger Hauer), after he spares Deckard’s life:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.

That quote popped into my head a few years ago while I was at dinner with some other theorists at a conference in Seoul. We were discussing my recent return from running a startup in silicon valley. Someone leaned over and asked, somewhat dubiously (suggesting that anything but theoretical physics was a waste of time), “But would you do it again?”

Written by infoproc

September 24, 2005 at 4:50 pm