It has been over thirty years since Ridley Scott‘s noirish sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner was released and began its long journey to enduring cult classic status following an unexceptional theatrical run. Three days ago someone posted to Reddit a scan of notes made by executives of financier Tandem Productions following an early screening of the film on January 21, 1981 – about a year-and-a-half before it premiered on movie screens across America. These notes reveal the suits’ confusion and derision over several creative aspects of the movie, from the editing to music placement to even the dialogue, that would mostly remain unchanged when a compromised cut featuring clarifying narration and a happier ending opened the next year.
You can check the original notes out here below.
It is not a secret to anyone familiar with the checkered production history of Blade Runner that the movie, while aesthetically groundbreaking, was a major creative headache and a source of much consternation to its financial overseers. Despite the presence of Scott on directing duties and Harrison Ford in the star role that would come to be known as one of the best of his career, the film’s plot and character complexities and lack of thrilling action set pieces gave it only modest commercial potential at the box office. The massive amounts of gorgeously-shot footage would undergo a near-endless series of edits and test screenings in order to hone it into a cut that everyone would be confident could become a profitable hit while maintaining its integrity.
Here are the notes as they recently appeared on Reddit:
The executives are not named directly in the notes, but going by their initials they are most likely Tandem honchos Jerry Perenchio, Bud Yorkin, and Robin French. Perenchio owns the rights to Blade Runner and is currently developing a sequel to the movie with Yorkin and possibly Scott returning to direct. Among the bones of contention following the January ’81 screening is the lack of Vangelis‘ score in the cut. The composer’s iconic music for Chariots of Fire would win him an Academy Award for Best Score several months before Blade Runner‘s theatrical release. Vangelis did not begin work on the Blade Runner score – his finest cinematic compositions, in my opinion – until after he was finished with Chariots, which may explain the lack of his music on the cut viewed by Tandem as reflected in these notes. They also air multiple grievances about some of the editing choices made by Scott and his longtime editor Terry Rawlings. The pacing of the movie would be tightened up considerably by the time it made its big screen debut, but audiences still had issues with its near two-hour running time.
What is apparent from these notes is that Tandem seriously considered firing Scott and taking over the editing of Blade Runner personally. That much has been always been known about the film’s history, though that option was never taken thankfully. They also thought that the first half of the movie is “deadly dull,” which I may disagree with now but many moviegoers in June 1982 would probably have thought these guys were really on to something.
Loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the late Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner wasn’t exactly what audiences were expecting in the summer movie season of 1982 that was full of delightful blockbuster entertainments like E.T. and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; it was dark, esoteric, and moody with a story loaded with mature themes about the limitations of science, the responsibility of humanity, and the futility of seeking the answers to life’s dilemmas from a higher power. Since Blade Runner had been directed by the man who made his name with the first Alien and starred Harrison Ford – a.k.a Han Solo and Indiana Jones – as a tough guy in a futuristic metropolis carrying a gun and driving a flying car, moviegoers of the time had a completely different idea of what the movie would be in their fevered imaginations.
It took years for Scott to oversee a cut of the movie he could finally be satisfied with. The current Blu-ray box set contains the director’s preferred “Final Cut” along with four other variant edits of Blade Runner including the domestic and international theatrical cuts and a rarely screened workprint. It is the workprint, or something close to it, that the Tandem execs could have been viewing at the time as it was missing most of the finished Vangelis score (the last twenty minutes were scored with pieces of music from other movies composed by the late Jerry Goldsmith – this is commonly known in film post-production as a “temp track”) and featured an alternate opening credits sequence, no end credits, and several scenes that ran slightly longer than they did in the various cuts released to theaters and home video.
I was once the same way; Blade Runner first came into my life via a series of broken-up television and home video viewings that gave me brief glimpses at the fantastic imagery of the world Scott and his talented army of visionary artists and technicians had meticulously constructed with great craft and massive amounts of independent funding, but I rarely stayed interested long enough to become properly immersed in its plot and atmosphere. It was not until I finally watched in full a copy of Scott’s 1992 Director’s Cut I rented from a small Mom and Pop video shop in my neighborhood that I became a full-fledged admirer of Blade Runner. In the years to come it would rise to the number two spot on my favorite films of all time list, but there are certain days when, depending on my mood, it could briefly take the top position.
Learning to appreciate the many virtues of Blade Runner was key to my evolution into a true cinema buff. It taught me to keep a very open mind and to never judge a movie before seeing it from beginning to end, unless Lindsay Lohan or Tommy Wiseau are involved.