Speaking as someone who’s been intrigued by Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner for a long time now, I found Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir to be a fascinating look at the film’s creation, production, and subsequent placement in the cult canon. With Blade Runner 2049 out this fall, Sammon revisited Future Noir with a host of updates and additions. Via email, we discussed Blade Runner‘s influence, the challenges of adapting Philip K. Dick, and more.
You write about the way that Blade Runner has had a substantial aesthetic and thematic influence in the decades since its release. Is there one film that you feel was influenced by it that generally doesn’t get acknowledged as such?
An excellent question – also one I haven’t been asked before! So forgive me if I fumble around a bit.
One of three recent films which could loosely fall into this category is Luke (son of Ridley) Scott’s Morgan. That involved a secretive government program in a slightly futuristic culture attempting to create a controllable, organic, artificial assassin, while lying to it by pretending that this creature was a human child. The child fights back.
Ridley’s own last two Alien films (Prometheus and Covenant) circle around Blade Runner even more closely, since they present hyper-detailed technological futures which have successfully produced artificial servants – Michael Fassbinder’s David, in this case – who homicidally rebel against their creators. These attacks are triggered by David’s vindictive certainly that the created is superior to the creator. Each new Alien film, in fact, seems to show that Ridley has become more convinced that our genuine future is already threatened by the rise of artificial intelligences – and that said A.I.’s will ultimately supersede us.
Finally (although this title has already been occasionally dropped into the BR influence discourse) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind seems to fit comfortably, albeit on a minor scale, with some of the major themes Blade Runner explored. How does memory determine humanity? Are pain and suffering an inevitable byproduct of human interaction? Can technology not only selectively erase traits that make up who we are, but can it make us forget who we are, and replace our personalities with characteristics not our own? And, finally, as the Elijah Wood character demonstrates by using the stolen romantic memories of the Jim Carrey character to seduce a fellow female employee, will unethical corporations continue to destroy our fundamental humanity?
Hope this answer gives you something thematically different. It does get a bit tedious to routinely respond by saying, “Yeah, Blade Runner‘s production design was ripped off in The Fifth Element, and The Matrix, and Ghost in the Shell,” and blah blah blah…
Early on in the new edition ofFuture Noir, you discuss the process of revising it for the different editions that have been published over the years. What was the most satisfying update that you made for the latest edition?
Correcting the errors (not that there were many factual ones, but still); adding Joe Turkel’s thoughts on Tyrell; going into more depth about Deckard’s handgun and BR’s cast and crew and the Mother-Blimp; dropping other dribs and drabs of extra information throughout the ms; smoothing out its syntax; adding a new introduction that finally allowed me to approach the film critically, as opposed to historically; including the Harrison Ford interview that had previously only appeared in the limited 2007 UK hardcover; adding the all-new, lengthy interviews with Sean Young (which I think is genuinely special) and Rutger Hauer (ditto); being allowed to bring BR’s general history up to date through BR 2049. Which, incidentally, I think is an honorable and marvelous achievement; Tarkovsky meets PKD.
There will be more, much more, info about BR 2049 in my upcoming Future Noir ebook, which hits streets in late December.
In Future Noir, you explore the difficulties that arose when adapting Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep–and of its author’s shifting opinion of the film over the course of its production. Philip K. Dick seems like one writer who’s famously hard to adapt precisely — why do you think that is?
One reason-to “get” Dick, you must read more than a single short story or novel by him, then approach the totality of Phil’s idiosyncratic mindset. Which comprised a semi-paranoid, deeply religious, far-ranging, self-generated philosophy. So, first, read more Dick! Not just the piece you’ve been assigned or optioned to adapt.
Then, don’t dumb it down! Phil was good at creating believable street-level characters molded by whatever decade he was writing in-the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and so on. The people in those stories exhibit many of the same quirks and anxieties of whatever period molded the real people of which these characters are textual reflections. So, keep them real.
Then-and here’s the hard part for writers who aren’t lifelong SF or fantasy or horror fans – overlay these everyday lives with unexpected eruptions of sidereal manifestations, the weird flourishes that often, and unexpectedly, flare up in Dick. The essential unpredictability of Phil’s universe. A character can be drifting along on a perfectly ordinary day, having a minor quarrel with his wife as they both do the dishes, when suddenly, the wife will reach down into the soapy sink, pull a small blue alien octopus out of the suds, then slap this critter on her husband’s chest. Whereupon he drops to the floor, paralyzed.
That’s what most adaptations miss; they simply pluck a core phildickian element from one of his stories before surrounding it with mundane characters and unbelievable plots.
Later in the book, you discuss the ways in which numerous cuts of Blade Runner have continued to attract abundant audiences over the years. What do you think it is that’s caused such a group of enthusiasts to spring up around the film?
It’s still viable, unbelievably layered production design, world-building on a never-dated scale; it’s melancholic mourning for the passing of a world that doesn’t exist; it’s emotional mashup of the familiar (film noir) with the fabulous (blueberry-beautiful flying cars); its fashions, sets and music; its philosophical underpinnings (why am I here? Why must I die? What can I do to survive? What the fuck is human, anyway?); plus an unforgettable rogues gallery – crazy, magnetic, brilliant Roy Batty, tough, dour, guarded but vulnerable Rick Deckard, confident, confused, impossibly beautiful, achingly heartbroken Rachael. And, finally, Blade Runner’s subversive insistence on illuminating the poetry of decay. Although, really, Blade Runner is ultimately a film about death. The death of everything.
Try finding any of that in Thor: Ragnarok!