Blade Runner’s Forgotten Replicants

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner originally contained more artificial humans. Ryan looks at the replicants who never made it to the screen...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

NB: The following contains spoilers for Blade Runner (1982), if you haven’t seen it for some reason.

A pot boils on the stove, its cast-iron lid rattling from the steam. Dust catches the light in the sparsely-furnished farmhouse, which looks faded and old, like a weathered oil painting. A door opens; a tall, broad figure fills the frame, clad in a protective suit – the kind of outfit farmers always wear to shield themselves from the cruel elements. The figure enters, removing its mask to reveal a lined, middle-aged face.

The farmer glances around the room furtively, his sixth sense tingling like the pot lid trembling on the stove. Something’s not right. Then he spots the anomaly: the shadowy form of a man sitting in a chair near the stove. Just from the stature, long grey coat and icy demeanor, the farmer knows what the intruder is: a blade runner.

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For years, this sequence existed only as words and storyboards. As dreamed up by screenwriter Hampton Fancher, it was how 1982’s Blade Runner would have begun: in a remote farmhouse, where blade runner Rick Deckard has tracked down a replicant in hiding. Intended as an early, graphic illustration of a blade runner’s violent profession – their job is to hunt down and ‘retire’ the artificial humans hiding out on Earth – it was instead replaced by the opening we see in Ridley Scott’s finished film: the benighted landscape of 2019 Los Angeles, and a replicant interrogation.

Over three decades later, Hampton Fancher’s lost opening is back, now as a tense early scene in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. It’s Ryan Gosling’s blade runner, K, waiting for the replicant in the farmhouse, but the pot on the stove, the faded building and the sense of foreboding are all present and correct. It’s an homage to the original movie, certainly – Denis Villeneuve said as much when we recently spoke to him – but for returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher, it also offrered the chance to add in one of those moments that had first sparked his imagination all those years before.

The farmhouse sequence was one of many ideas that were dreamed up for Blade Runner but eventually pared back through the production, either in favor of other ideas that caught Ridley Scott’s eye, or because the constraints of budget and shooting simply wouldn’t allow them.

The figure in the farmhouse – played by Dave Bautista in this year’s sequel – was but one of Blade Runner’s forgotten replicants.

In the finished film, the number of ‘skin jobs’ Deckard actually hunts and kills is quite small: he shoots Zhora in the back, but his next assailant, Leon, is killed by Rachel (also a replicant). After a brief yet brutal struggle, he kills Pris, yet spectacularly fails to retire Batty. 

Various drafts of the script would have featured at least three extra replicants – two of them victims of Deckard’s gun. First, there was the one in the farmhouse described above. Another replicant, reduced to a single throwaway statement in the finished film, was a character named Hodges – a replicant who was killed by an ‘electro field’ while trying to break into the Tyrell building. One draft of Fancher’s script would have shown a sequence where Batty and his replicant crew escape from an off-world colony, meaning Hodge would have at least made a small appearance near the beginning of the movie. In the end – presumably to save costs – the renegade replicants’ escape was reduced to a mention in the opening title crawl.

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Then there was the sixth member of Batty’s group – a character who, as initially written, would have had a somewhat larger part to play than the ill-fated Hodge. Her name was Mary, described as a kind of android nanny who could take care of off-world colonists’ kids. In one draft of the script, Mary dies early on, essentially of natural causes – Batty and his group watching as her body seizes up and expires, like an unspooling clockwork toy.

In later drafts, however, Mary survives until the third act, where she joins Pris and Batty as they finagle their way into the apartment of JF Sebastian, the sickly genius who can take them to their maker, Eldon Tyrell. Unlike Pris and Batty, Mary has no skills in combat, and cuts a pitiful figure in the drafts we’ve encountered so far – which makes her fate all the more disturbing. We’ll return to that very shortly.  

First, there’s Blade Runner’s other forgotten replicant. As fans of the movie know, JF Sebastian takes Batty to meet his maker, Eldon Tyrell; Batty hopes that Tyrell has some form of scientific means of extending the limited lifespan of a replicant. When Tyrell glibly tells Batty that his incept date is set in stone, and that he should simply “revel in his time”, Batty’s response is violent – he crushes his maker’s with his bare hands.

One version of the script would have added a further twist here: the Tyrell killed by Batty is also a replicant. Venturing upstairs with Sebastian, Batty is confronted with the real Tyrell – a corpse in a cryogenic chamber. This twist in the tale was considered for quite a while, if the documentary Dangerous Days is anything to go by; concept art for Tyrell’s death chamber was drawn up, and Eldon Tyrell actor Joe Turkell even describes the moment where his character’s head is crushed and various components emerge. Eventually, of course, the whole “Tyrell as replicant” thread was dropped – presumably because it was considered a plot development too far at such a late stage. 

But let’s return to JF Sebastian’s apartment, and Mary’s grim death scene. In the story’s final moments, Deckard kills Pris – a fight sequence even more brutal than Scott’s – before entering the apartment’s kitchen. He fires a volley of gunshots into a closet door, and finds Mary huddled at the back of it, frightened and desperately injured. We’ll let Fancher describe what happens next:

Mary is huddled in the rear of the closet. Her hand out like somebody about to catch a ball but afraid of it. In her other hand she clutches a button-eyed monkey. Her face is bewildered, frozen in fear, her body riddled with holes. No recognition gap here. Deckard SHOOTS her through the neck to make sure. Mary falls to the floor, like a puppet with her strings cut.

The Mary character was part of the production right until filming on Blade Runner began in 1981. Scott had even found the actress who would play her – Stacy Nelkin, who originally tried out for the role of Pris before the taller, more athletic Daryl Hannah got that part instead. During filming, however, an actors’ strike threw the already difficult production through a loop. In an effort to reduce expensive delays, Mary was effectively dropped from Batty’s crew; the hastily-penned explanation being that she was another of the replicants killed before Deckard was assigned to the case. 

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Dropping Mary caused all kinds of continuity problems, as scenes already shot were reordered to account for her disappearance. Originally, Deckard would have killed Zhora and then immediately had his violent encounter with Leon, where he’s saved by Rachael. He would then meet his boss, Bryant, who tells him there are still four replicants left to retire. Realising the plot hole, Blade Runner’s editors put Deckard’s fight with Leon further back, which created another continuity error: Deckard already has an injured face while he’s talking to Bryant.

Had Mary’s retirement been left in the movie, it would surely have made Deckard an even darker character than he already is. It’s surely significant that the lead character – the story’s nominal hero – makes a living by killing unarmed victims. At no point is a replicant shown wielding a gun; more troublingly, two of Deckard’s targets are women, and one of them is shot in the back while fleeing. Adding Mary’s death to the mix – played by such a diminutive actress – may have been a bit much even for Harrison Ford, then better known for playing wise-cracking neo-matinee heroes like Han Solo and Indiana Jones. 

In Blade Runners long and storied production, Hodges, Mary and the luckless farmer are its forgotten replicants, and only small wisps of their existence still remain, either online or in archived copies of scripts and concept art. But the thinking behind those missing replicants is still intact in Ridley Scott’s finished film: a lack of empathy makes us dangerous and cruel.

Blade Runner demonstrates that, beyond incept dates and origins, there’s no real difference between a human and a replicant. Both have fears, desires, regret and longing. Both Batty and Deckard are characters who’ve somehow mislaid their humanity – Batty through his frantic desire to save his own life and those of his friends; Deckard through years of ruthless killing.

Philip K Dick, the writer behind Blade Runner’s source novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, once wrote that that without empathy, humans are no better than machines. As a cinematic illustration of that philosophy, Blade Runner remains a timeless sci-fi classic.