10 Fascinating Facts About Blade Runner

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

All of Roy Batty’s precious moments may be lost in time, like tears in rain, but these Blade Runner facts aren’t going anywhere. Though Ridley Scott's original 1982 film may be getting a modern update with Blade Runner 2049, we're taking a look behind the scenes of one of the most iconic sci-fi movies of all time.

1. RIDLEY SCOTT SAYS RICK DECKARD IS DEFINITELY A REPLICANT.

It may be a major point of contention with sci-fi fans, but to director Ridley Scott the answer is clear: Yes, Blade Runner Rick Deckard is a replicant. In the director’s cut (not the original theatrical version), there’s a short scene where Deckard daydreams about a unicorn; later, near the end of the film, Gaff (Edward James Olmos) leaves an origami unicorn for Deckard to find.

“The unicorn that’s used in Deckard’s daydream tells me that Deckard wouldn’t normally talk about such a thing to anyone,” Scott explained to WIRED in 2007. “If Gaff knew about that, [the origami unicorn] is Gaff’s message to say, ‘I’ve basically read your file, mate.’” He knows about Deckard’s private daydreams because those daydreams were implanted in his (bionic) brain.

2. … BUT HARRISON FORD ISN’T SO SURE.

While Scott’s long been clear on his interpretation of Deckard as a replicant, Ford takes the opposite viewpoint, preferring to think of his character as human. “I thought it was important that the audience be able to have a human representative on screen, somebody that they could have an emotional understanding of,” Ford said in 2013. “Ridley didn’t think that was all that important.” Still, Scott has worn his leading man down over the years: “[Ford’s] given up now. He’s said, ‘OK, mate. You win. Anything, anything, just put it to rest.’”

3. DUSTIN HOFFMAN ALMOST PLAYED DECKARD.

At various times during development, Blade Runner’s original screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, pictured Robert Mitchum, Christopher Walken, and Tommy Lee Jones as Rick Deckard. Ridley Scott wanted to go in a completely different direction by casting Dustin Hoffman, whom he later acknowledged didn’t really fit the type. “I figured, unlikely though he may be in terms of his physical size as a sci-fi hero, as an actor Hoffman could do anything,” explained Scott. “Therefore, it really didn’t matter.”

Hoffman, Scott, Fancher, producer Michael Deeley, and production executive Katherine Haber worked on the film for months, workshopping Deckard’s character and shifting the script in a more “socially conscious” (Scott’s words) direction until Hoffman abruptly dropped out in October of 1980. “Frankly,” Scott later said, “I think it might have been something as simple as money.”

4. RIDLEY SCOTT DIDN’T READ THE BOOK ON WHICH IT’S BASED.

Ridley Scott
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW

Blade Runner is (loosely) based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. (It’s one of over a dozen movies based on his works.) But Scott didn’t read the book before making the movie: “I actually couldn’t get into it. I met Philip K. Dick later, and he said, ‘I understand you couldn’t read the book.’ And I said, ‘You know you’re so dense, mate, by page 32, there’s about 17 storylines.’”

5. PHILIP K. DICK HATED THE SCRIPT (AT FIRST).

Dick passed away before the film was completed, but he kept up with the script as it went through various permutations. He loathed Hampton Fancher’s original draft, saying he was “angry and disgusted” at the way it “cleaned my book up of all the subtleties and of the meaning … It had become a fight between androids and a bounty hunter.” A revised screenplay by David Webb Peoples brought Dick around: “I couldn’t believe what I was reading! ... The whole thing had simply been rejuvenated in a very fundamental way ... [The screenplay and the novel] reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel. I was amazed that Peoples could get some of those scenes to work. It taught me things about writing that I didn’t know.”

6. TEST AUDIENCES HATED IT SO MUCH THAT A(N INFAMOUS) VOICEOVER WAS ADDED.

Who knows what Dick would have thought about the film version that actually played in theaters, though. After disastrous preview screenings, producers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio hired a third writer, Roland Kibbee (The Bob Newhart Show) to write a noir-ish voiceover for Deckard so that the movie would be easier to follow. Urban legend has it that Ford intentionally delivered a lackluster performance so that Yorkin and Perenchio would ditch the voiceover entirely. Whether or not that’s true, Ford was not a fan of the experience, calling it a “f*cking nightmare. I thought that the film had worked without the narration. But now I was stuck recreating that narration. And I was obliged to do the voiceovers for people that did not represent the director’s interests.” In Blade Runner’s 1992 “Director’s Cut” release and 2007’s “The Final Cut,” the voiceover was removed.

7. RIDLEY SCOTT USED SOME OF STANLEY KUBRICK’S THE SHINING FOOTAGE FOR THE ORIGINAL ENDING.

Another major change between the theatrical and director’s cut versions of Blade Runner is the ending, which was originally a happy one: Rachael and Deckard drive through the countryside, and we hear in the voiceover that Rachael is a new kind of replicant who can live as long as humans do. For the backdrop of that scene, Scott used outtakes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

8. PHILIP K. DICK REFUSED TO DO A NOVELIZATION.

Harrison Ford in 'Blade Runner'
Warner Home Video

Dick was approached about penning a Blade Runner novelization, for which he would get a cut of the film’s merchandising rights. “But they required a suppression of the original novel,” Dick explained, “in favor of the commercialized novelization based on the screenplay,” so he refused.

Blade Runner’s people were putting tremendous pressure on us to do the novelization—or to allow someone else to come in and do it, like Alan Dean Foster. But we felt that the original was a good novel. And also, I did not want to write what I call the ‘El Cheapo’ novelization.”

At one point, Blade Runner’s team threatened to refuse Dick and his publishers access to the film’s logo or stills (essentially, subsequent printings would not be able to cite the book as the inspiration for Blade Runner), but they eventually backed down.

9. THE TITLE COMES FROM A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT STORY.

Blade Runner’s title comes from William S. Burroughs’ Blade Runner (a movie), a film treatment based on Alan E. Nourse’s 1974 novel The Bladerunner (alternatively published as The Blade Runner). That book has nothing to do, content-wise, with Dick’s book or Scott’s movie; its plot involves a black market for medical services. Scott just liked the term as a description for Deckard’s replicant-hunting cop. The film was originally titled Dangerous Days.

10. IT’S CURSED.

It might not be quite as hardcore-cursed as Poltergeist or The Omen, but Blade Runner has a curse of its own … on the businesses whose logos appear in the film. Atari, Pan Am, RCA, Cuisinart, and Bell Phones all suffered severe business problems in the years shortly after Blade Runner’s release, as did Coca-Cola, whose 1985 “New Coke” experiment was less than successful. Members of the Blade Runner production team refer to this as the “product-placement Blade Runner curse.”

Additional Sources:
Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul M. Sammon

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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