Today, forty years ago, Blade Runner was released

Today, forty years ago, Blade Runner was released


On June 25, 1982, Blade Runner, the third feature film by British director Ridley Scott - after The Duelists, in 1977, and Alien, in 1979 - arrived in US cinemas - loosely based on the novel But do androids dream of electric sheep? , also known as The Android Hunter, by Philip Kindred Dick, who died just three months earlier (who, however, had been able to see some sequences of the film and was amazed).

Shot in 1981, still Blade Runner today impresses with the skill with which one of the most evocative and influential settings of the last half century was created: a visual manual for each subsequent dystopia, there is no doubt that cyberpunk e (ste) tics is indebted to him, as well as much of the iconography video clip of the MTV Generation and lots and lots of cinematography, not just science fiction.

Even more incisive, the many layers of meaning of the film - fueled by the numerous replacements (two only in 1982) that went to reconfigure its allegorical form - in forty years have generated a library of books and essays, video games, comics, epigones and more or less declared homages and, last only in chronological order, the sequel signed by Denis Villeneuve in 2017.

One of the 2019 Los Angeles panoramas by Blade Runner (image: DG / IPA)

Considered, just a few years after its release, a science fiction classic for some even superior to 2001: A Space Odyssey, not only was its success belated (at the end of 1982 it had barely recovered the production costs), even its production history was far from triumphant: Scott joined the project with little conviction, partly because he had just abandoned the direction of Dune without sparing poisonous accusations against the producer, the legendary Dino De Laurentiis, a little p or the loss of his older brother, Frank, who was struck by a tumor at that time.

During the four months of filming at the Burbank studios, things got even more complicated: after an infatuation as intense as it was brief, the relationship between Scott and his star, Harrison Ford, broke down, as did the one between the director and the US crew, not very enthusiastic about the rigid schedules imposed by the filmmaker and even less willing to tolerate their tyrannical tendency to artistic control - so much so that on the set the film was renamed Blood Runner.

The genesis del fu Mechanism (the original title) was so daring and full of curiosity that it deserved years of articles, volumes (the best? Future Noir by Paul Sammon) and also a documentary, in turn amazing, Dangerous Days (the other working title of Scott's film): only pieces of a mythology typical of what manages to affect the collective imagination, rising to the Olympus of timeless works.

The same legendary place that a few months after the release of the film saw the entry of Philip Dick, a genius re-evaluated also, if not above all, thanks to the slow but inexorable success of the film deduced from its pages .

It is therefore even more suggestive that forty years after the birth of two (post) contemporary myths, one can paradoxically consider them the exact opposite of the other. Scott's Blade Runner is the mirror image, and therefore the opposite, of Dick's Android Hunter.

In the following lines we will try to tell why, also for their complementary opposition, they are both masterpieces.

“Sushi. That's what my ex-wife called me: cold fish ”

Harrison Ford, who became a star after Star Wars and Indiana Jones in a scene from the film (image: IPA)

There is the selection that instills fluency, solid certainties and a rigorous professional attitude; to face the day properly, better set it on level D, the most intense.

There is selection 34, an exciting thalamic to get angry, just enough to prevail in any discussion. The writer's favorite, Selection 594, stimulates in the wife a pleased recognition of her husband's superior wisdom in all fields. If that wasn't enough, selection 104 is recommended, to be enjoyed together by him and her.

If you want, and also within the reach of children - of whom there is no trace anyway, don't worry - there is always a nice dose of self-accusatory suggestion, selection 382, ​​which amplifies every feeling of discomfort and transports straight to the muddy lands of depression.

Then, almost obvious, for the lazy or the undecided there is the selection 888, the desire to look television, whatever it broadcasts, and last but not least 3, which enhances the desire to select selections.

These are the wonders with which Philip Dick decides to open, already when he starts writing it, in 1966, Ma gli androids dream of electric sheep?

Born in 1928, the writer is fresh from marriage - one of his five - to him and six years after his first attempt to kill himself. However, this is not a good time for him. Also because it will never be, not even when it becomes clear to everyone that his pen has changed science fiction literature forever (and perhaps not only that): from pulp entertainment for kids, first, to the vanguard of countercultural lucubrations, then.

And in short, as usual, in '66 Dick is under a train. This is why Ma the Androids begins… dispensing a list of wonderful selections. Artificial paradises, to be precise.

A screenshot from the film (image: IPA)

These are the moods guaranteed by the Penfield device, the organ of humors, an electrochemical generator of sensations so effective that it has (become) the obligatory interface for all mankind. At least that, and they are only the remnants, left on Earth, a planet in agony, torn and corroded by an atomic war of which no one remembers the reasons and outcome, but of which everyone knows the consequences - "the first to die were the owls" will reveal the android Rachel a few pages later. It is a land in which everything testifies how much the errors of man weigh: from the stampede of healthy people, the only ones allowed to extraterrestrial colonies, to fake animals, which it is good to be provided with to prove loving.

It is no coincidence that, like every other sensation, the Penfield stimulator also provides access to the mystical side of the Human, a shared and participatory vision in which the new prophet of empathy, the cathode god Wilbur Mercer, invites us to feel his pain as, climbing a hill, they stone him.

The key is all there: in empathy. The ability to feel something with and for others. To feel the thrill, the joy or the hustle and bustle of living. Let the others be electric sheep.

It is a talent, let's call it that, foreign to whoever is made up of circuits, cables and tubes. Like androids, so to speak, and regardless of how advanced they are. See the Nexus-6 model.

For this, and only for this reason, Rick Deckard hunts them, the bounty hunter left on Earth with very few others, including his wife Iran, who seems to hate him when not he is indifferent to him: Deckard's job consists in cleaning what remains of the world from those anthropomorphic objects, those mannequins completely identical to man, except for the inability to hear the other from oneself.

He's an android hunter, him. And their subhumans compared to which even the "chicken heads" are better, the people whose radiation, dust and who knows what else have offended the brain forever.

The key to But the androids ..., they said, it's all there.

Yet in Blade Runner there seems to be no trace.

Sean Young and Harrison Ford in a scene from the film (image: IPA)

" A tortoise? What is it "?

In the 1982 film adaptation, Ridley Scott and the carousel of screenwriters alternating before arriving at the images, the one from which Dick was kept well away, never mention Penfield. In his place remains the well-known Voight Kampff, the test to measure the emotional reactivity of alleged replicants - not androids, note. But it is a partial substitution. Better still, it is a change of perspective which, if on the one hand it preserves one of the most powerful intuitions of the written work, that contiguity between human, artifact and consciousness on which Dick has always invited us to reflect, on the other hand it overturns its meaning.

It may seem like a gamble, but to put it briefly Blade Runner is the negative of But do androids dream of electric sheep? Film and book return the same image, but invert their colors. Litmus paper has a name and a surname: look, it's Rick Deckard.

To begin with, and it is no coincidence, the character is never described in the book. There is no line that defines it as fat, tall, or bald. There is no paragraph that suggests how timely Harrison Ford's choice was to play him. So much so that before Ford, Scott and collaborators came to mind Robert Mitchum, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, even Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman. At one point, the choice seemed to fall on Dustin Hoffman; there are many sketches that already portray him in the environments and with the final costumes. Hoffman would have been perfect to give substance to the anxieties of any prize hunter, a cyberpunk pavement straw dog. Perfect for everyone, but not for Scott.

The British director was convinced he didn't have the detective physique du rĂ´le he had in mind. Because, and here the point comes back, according to him Blade Runner should have exploded the character. He should have taken him to where Dick did not want to land at all: to the solution of a metaphor disguised as an investigation. In short, to love. Whether it is for a woman, even if a replica, or for life, after all, what difference does it make?

It was Ford who insisted on the complexity of the character. In London, while he was filming Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, he introduced himself to Scott and the first screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, with the famous archaeologist's hat on his head. Ridley was not happy; he wanted his Deckard, faithful to the style of the 30's and 40's detective stories with Humphrey Bogart, to stand out by wearing an identical one - moreover, the game of mirrors would have intrigued Dick a lot.

He was much more satisfied to see as the rising star, the only one who really became such among the interpreters of Star Wars, perfectly controlled the facial expressions, was quite alert and above all attracted by the characteristics of the character. "He is a detective who never investigates - underlined Ford after reading the original script - let's make him discover something". Those characteristics and Ford's desire to deal with a dramatic register hitherto little proposed to him must have convinced the director: throughout the film Deckard would have been looking for something that ended up inside him. Also in the sense of "out of stock", or at least interrupted.

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