The Movie Guys Rewrite: Blade Runner
Rewrite by Steven Lewis
THIS ARTICLE OBVIOUSLY CONTAINS SPOILERS
Have you ever been watching a movie and thought to yourself, “I could have come up with a better ending than that!” Or maybe you say to your friends afterward “This movie was alright, I guess, but it was way too long. That second sub-plot could have been cut entirely and the whole thing would have been so much tighter.” We all have these thoughts from time to time about the movies we see. Bad films could be made at least palatable, good films great, and great films – well, even greater . . . if only someone had asked YOU for an opinion of the script before it went before the cameras.
There is nothing so frustrating as the film that ALMOST works. You want to love it, but something about it keeps it from being complete or fully satisfying. Now, no one is going to give you a couple million dollars and unlimited access so that you can go away and fix what needs fixing. But that doesn’t mean you have to simply resign yourself to its flaws, either. Not anymore. Why? Because The Movie Guys website exists, dammit – and is the perfect forum for film geeks of all stripes to put their two cents in, and by God we’re going to USE it!
The film in our cross-hairs today? Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”.
In its look and feel, of course, “Blade Runner” is every inch a classic. Scott’s neo-noir, cyberpunk vision of Los Angeles in 2019 is one of those touchstone filmic environments – like Oz, or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – that is so imaginative and so fully realized onscreen that it immediately transports you into its reality. Would it were that something more memorable happened there. Unfortunately, “Blade Runner”s narrative elements fail to live up to even a tenth of its visual invention.
I can still recall with what glee I anticipated this movie in the summer of 1982 – particularly as a starring vehicle for Harrison Ford. His iconic portrayals of Han Solo and Indiana Jones had already earmarked him as a Humphrey Bogart for the modern era, and now he looked sure to clinch the title with a role he was born to play: the hard-boiled, cynical private eye. Unfortunately, as Ford himself (no fan of this movie) said of his role, “Rick Deckard is a detective who doesn’t detect.” Exactly. Which goes a long way toward explaining this movie’s faults.
Deckard is brought in to locate and eliminate four “replicants” – human-like androids engineered as slave labor – who have escaped from an off-world colony and gone rogue. By rights, this mission of Deckard’s should form the spine of the picture. The movie should follow him through four separate investigations and kills, each one successively more difficult and dangerous than the last. In addition to generating tension and excitement (in lieu of the turgid talk-fest the movie actually opted to be), such an approach would provide a more organic, narratively driven way to explore the world of replicants. If all the escapees went their own way, they’d have a better chance of survival than by staying together – and the choices each would make, about where to hide and how to try and “blend in”, would provide a fuller picture for an audience of the varieties of replicant behavior, environments and coping mechanisms.
And of course, the fact that Deckard is able to see through the ruses and disguises of said replicants, tracking them down in the most unlikely of places despite their best efforts to stay hidden, would give the audience a profound respect for his abilities. He’d be the fuckin’-A hero we all go to the movies to see – the proverbial “best in the business”, the number one man. Fostering such admiration for Deckard in the audience would then be a useful way to subvert their expectations in the final third, when the suggestion is made that Deckard himself may be a replicant.
A Replicant, you say?
Oh yes. That suggestion would be a key part of my reconceptualization of “Blade Runner”. And a damn sight more significant it would be than in the film as it currently stands (yes, even in the vaunted “Director’s Cut”). I mean really, Deckard’s possible replicant status is so glancingly hinted at by Scott as to be essentially insignificant. Blink and you’ll even miss the “clues” he provides (glowing red eyes and an origami unicorn). Furthermore, in the world of this movie what does it MATTER if Deckard is a replicant? Since he’s not particularly exceptional at his job (that we can see), has no kind of enhanced strength to handle himself going toe-to-toe with with other replicants (every single one of the escapees beats the shit out of him), and is about as interesting to be around as tree bark – well then, if he IS a replicant he isn’t a particularly well made one!
But of course if Deckard was THE go-to guy for tracking down and eliminating escaped replicants – and we saw ample evidence of his preternatural abilities in doing so – the notion of his being one would carry a real dramatic charge. Not only for the suggestion that he was essentially “killing his own” – but also for the chilling possibility that he was specifically DESIGNED to do so, and that his existence serves no other purpose. How we see this new knowledge affect him and inform his decisions would provide the dramatic fireworks leading to the film’s climax.
And now . . . on with the Re-Write
OK, but how to suggest all this, right? Well, here’s how: in the movie, as Deckard is going along and doing his business, have some brief moments when he experiences flashbacks to bucolic (and possibly sepia-toned) scenes from his childhood: his mother teaching him how to play a Beethoven piano sonata, say, or fishing on the lake with a beloved older brother (long since gone). Maybe even that damn unicorn dream, if Scott is so attached to it. Then, fast forward to the sequence where he and Rachel hook up (oh yes, she’d still be a character): he has only just recently proved to her she is a replicant, disillusioning her belief to be a “real” person by citing as implants specific memories she holds as unique. After that, how chilling would it be to have her – in a last ditch effort to assert her individuality to this seemingly heartless brute – describe in agonizingly minute detail a memory. . . . that we have previously seen to have come from Deckard’s own head! (“I can remember it so clearly – the very position Mother had me hold my hands on the keyboard to play the Moonlight Sonata. . .”)
Now Rick Deckard did not expect THAT! In the entire movie up until now, he has been nothing but strong, confident and fully on top of things. But the possibility that his OWN memories may have been implanted – or at the very least, accessed without his knowledge in order to be “given” to Rachel – throws him for a complete loop. His very identity is threatened, and the “case” is no longer his prime concern. This revelation should come once he has successfully eliminated every escaped replicant but Batty – who has proven too smart and elusive. Suddenly, though, Deckard doesn’t care about that anymore. Instead, he needs badly to know: am I man or machine? And so he goes running recklessly off into the night, intent on breaking into Tyrell’s penthouse suite for a one-on-one interview with him.
Which is where, and how, he finally finds Roy Batty. Who, having had his own disappointing “interview” with the man, has just killed Tyrell. I guarantee you that WHATEVER happens next between Deckard and Batty, it would be ten times more charged than what was seen in the completed film.
Maybe Deckard tries to kill Roy anyway, and so complete his mission (thereby giving us a cat-and-mouse chase through the floors and corridors of the Tyrell building), but now he’s conflicted about it and we see that reflected in his actions and his judgments. Maybe Batty susses out exactly why Deckard was there, and so makes it his task to destroy all Tyrell Corp’s records and databases so that Deckard (and the audience) will never truly know for sure the secret of his identity (“Now you will live in constant uncertainty – may your life be improved by it! Think of it as my parting gift to you.”) The film could still end with Batty’s touching death scene, and with Deckard’s decision to run away with Rachel – but what had come before would make those two moments eminently more powerful.
So says me, anyway. Maybe I’m alone on this one, I don’t know. “Blade Runner” certainly has its legions of vocal fans, who may proclaim me to be all wet here. But if so, I valiantly cry out my tears in the rain nonetheless.
“Blade Runner” is available on DVD & Blu-Ray.