I’ll start by stating the obvious: Blade Runner was a one-off, never-to-be-repeated classic. It was a movie where finances, creative talent and serendipity all came together to produce, not just one of the finest science fiction movies of all time, but one of the most startlingly inventive films ever to come out of Hollywood.
Blade Runner was made at a time when its director was at the height of his creative powers. Fresh from his box office success with Alien, Ridley Scott poured his energies into an adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, and he probably hasn’t made a film as individual or beautiful to behold since.
The same could be said of Vangelis, whose woozy, eclectic score for Blade Runner is inarguably the best film score of his career, and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth never bettered the remarkable work in this film.
Then there’s Blade Runner‘s cast: Harrison Ford’s taciturn, scowling turn as Rick Deckard; Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James and, most memorably of all, Rutger Hauer, as a doomed group of Nexus-6 replicants; andEdward James Olmos in a small, yet pivotal role as enigmatic cop, Gaff.
On a budget of $28 million, a huge amount for a genre picture, (to put it in perspective, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, released a year before, cost $18 million), Ridley Scott created an unusually mature film that was a world away from the space fantasies of, say, Star Wars. And despite considerable behind-the-scenes turmoil during production, Blade Runner emerged as a unique, rightly revered future noir.
Scott’s film has reappeared in several cuts over the last three decades, concluding with the Final Cut in 2007, and numerous books and comics have appeared that expand the world of the film.
Until now, Blade Runner has successfully stood on its own, unsullied by money-grabbing sequels or cheap TV spin-offs (though Ridley Scott himself toyed with the idea of making a sequel, and the series Total Recall 2070 contained similarities to the world of Blade Runner). But according to a press release that circulated yesterday, a Warner Bros. financed production company, Alcon Entertainment, is in “final negotiations” to secure rights to a new Blade Runner movies.
At this early stage, it’s not yet clear whether this proposed movie will be a sequel or a prequel to the 1982 film’s events. Whatever it proves to be, Alcon CEOs Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove are adamant that the film won’t sully memories of the original movie.
“We are honoured and excited to be in business with Bud Yorkin. This is a major acquisition for our company, and a personal favorite film for both of us,” the pair stated in the release. “We recognize the responsibility we have to do justice to the memory of the original with any prequel or sequel we produce.”
It’s an admirable sentiment, though it’s slightly compromised by the sentence that comes directly after, which says, “We have long-term goals for the franchise, and are exploring multi-platform concepts, not just limiting ourselves to one medium only.”
What this sounds like, at least to me, is that the company intends to make Blade Runner into some sort of multimedia empire, which could include at least one movie (the phrase “prequels and sequels” comes up early on in its statement), television shows and videogames.
While I have nothing against franchises (Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are an example of how intelligently made such properties can be), the thought of seeing the world of Blade Runner pressed into service as a mainstream money spinner doesn’t exactly fill me with joy.
Blade Runner was an expensive picture, but it wasn’t a mainstream popcorn movie. Its tone was bleak, its ending (or at least, the one Scott intended, and only reinstated later) is inconclusive. The film wasn’t a hit when it came out in 1982 and only grew in stature in the years that followed.
Speaking in the 2000 documentary On The Edge Of Blade Runner, supervising editor Terry Rawlings put it best when he said, “To me, it was never intended as a commercial film. I mean, obviously it was intended to make money. You don’t make them to lose money. But I always thought of it as more of an art film. A grandiose art film.”
It’s this aspect of Blade Runner that will almost certainly be excised from any prequel or sequel. Yet, it’s the film’s artistry and texture that makes it so special. Take away the artistic and philosophical elements, and you’re left with a humans versus replicants chase movie.
There’s every chance that a talented director could bring a worthy 21st century Blade Runner to the big screen, but the way Hollywood movies are funded has changed so radically in recent years that creating a big budget sci-fi film would be even more difficult now than it was in the early 80s.
As I Am Number Four director DJ Caruso told us last month, “And at the same time, over the past ten years, every studio now is owned by someone else. They’re a part of a bigger company that doesn’t understand the movie business.
“Before, they were these standalone companies that said, ‘We’ll make a movie.’ Now, it’s like, ‘By the way, BEG owns you, and Viacom, and CBS.’ All these companies are owned by corporations that really look at the books and go, ‘Okay, we’re going to give you 600 million to make movies this year,’ and that’s it. That’s all you have.”
It’s this aspect, more than any other, that makes me wonder whether a comparable Blade Runner sequel or prequel could be made. Talented artists, directors, musicians and actors are in as plentiful supply as they were in the early 80s, but the funds necessary to make a film as creative and individual as Scott’s simply don’t exist.
To secure a $100 or $200 million budget, directors have to ensure their films cater to the widest possible audience, which would probably mean a new Blade Runner film would require more action, a faster pace, less ambiguity and less replicant poetry.
As I stated earlier, Blade Runner was a serendipitous one-off, where art, commerce and a bit of luck came together to create a classic. Like the film’s themes, real versus fake, past versus future, human versus replicant, the apparently opposing values of arthouse cinema and Hollywood financing dovetailed in a way that has become increasingly rare in the years since.
I fear that, like a replicant from the year 2019, a new Blade Runner movie would share much of the original’s DNA, its setting, plot elements, characters, and maybe even its music, but in the final analysis (via a Voight-Kampff test, presumably), would end up as little more than a pale imitation.
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