My Robot Occupation Movies #1 – Blade Runner

My son is at an age where rating things is all-important. The most common question I get from him after we watch a movie is, ‘How many stars would you give that?’ This in turn has led to an extended ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ conversation.

Well, he’s got me thinking. Just what are my favourite movies? And why? So, over the next few blog posts I’ll be putting these thoughts into some kind of order. So, imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

These have to be the movies you simply couldn’t live without. They don’t have to be the best films ever, just the ones that mean the most to you. The ones that tell your own story.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to start, as all good stories should, in the middle somewhere…

I first saw Blade Runner at my friend Kristian’s place. It was his birthday, and I’m guessing we were 11/12 years old. The room was full of boys expecting a kind-of Indiana Jones in the future. That’s what the VHS cover art promised, and that never lies, right?

In stereo!
In stereo!

What we got was something that split the room. Most of the group found it boring. Just me, Kris, and another kid called David Snell thought it was cool, though if you asked any of us to explain it, I doubt we could have managed anything more articulate than “There’s this bloke who has to hunt these robots – no, replicants! – and there’s a cool bit where this guy gets his eyes gouged out, and it was all very dark…”

But then the Marvel comic adaptation started appearing in the back of my weekly Return of the Jedi comic, and the story started making more sense. I read this again and again, then rented the movie, and there was definitely more than first met the eye with this film.

Too late for my GCSE English (and probably just as well) I found a film tie-in copy of Blade Runner in my local second hand bookshop. Only it wasn’t a mere tie-in, this was an original book by some guy called Philip K Dick (snigger). This would surely answer all my outstanding questions! Oh boy, was I wrong. Dick’s incredible book, with its meditation on identity and reality, just brought a million more questions flooding to my brain.

Then, on my 18th birthday, I went alone to the Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue to see the legendary director’s cut (yeah, I know how to party!). To see that grand opening on the big screen with Vangelis’s score turned up to 11 was just amazing, though – to be honest – I missed the much-maligned voice-over. And to fully understand the whole meaning of the unicorn footage, I had to read Paul M Sammon’s excellent book FUTURE NOIR.

Since then, I’ve bought various VHS and DVD special editions and box sets. It’s bloody exhausting trying to make sense of this film. I’m now not convinced that Deckard is a replicant. That whole backstory now feels like Ridley retconning, and I still miss that voiceover.

My wife has yet to see the film all the way through without falling asleep. I have younger colleagues who can admire the film, but wouldn’t rate it as a classic, and I firmly believe that this is because you had to make the journey with this film for it to have its full impact. From first viewing, to comic, to book, to more books, director’s cuts and final cuts, to box sets with little dinky toy Spinners in them.

It is imperfect, but its riddles will never fully be resolved, and that’s one reason why I love it.

Here’s the orignal trailer. In keeping with the film’s history, it’s terrible:

PS. My friend Kristian also introduced me to Mad Max 1 & 2, various horror movies, and Firefox, and for that I shall always be grateful.

Prometheus, Alien: Engineers, and the perils of early draft hangovers

Aww, remember this? Remember how excited you were…?

And then you saw the movie.

Some have been scathing of PROMETHEUS, but I rather enjoyed it. No, it wasn’t Alien or Aliens, but it looked jaw-droppingly stunning, and there were great performances. But something wasn’t quite right, and it was largely the screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof who came in for a kicking.

Spaihts has already spoken in some detail about what was in his original draft, and then this week it was released free-to-read online for a few days (though it now seems to have disappeared from the Prometheus website).

It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and if you’re a screenwriter I urge you to read it. i09 does a great job of highlighting the main differences, but for a writer it illustrates one of the main perils of rewrites: THE EARLY DRAFT HANGOVERS!

I mean those little moments that made perfect sense in draft 6, but now seem completely nonsensical in draft 12. And I’m not talking big things, like the alien goo and losing the xenomorphs from the story, it’s usually little things; a character’s motivation, a single line, a brief moment, the tiny hole that can sink a very big ship.

For me, the best example of this is the character of Vickers: in Spaihts’ version, her motivation is very straightforward: she’s there to ensure that Weyland gets the technology that allows the company to terraform new worlds. Simple. She’s following the company line and if it means a few people die along the way, then so be it. A good villain is the hero of their own story and that’s what we have here.

In the filmed version… oh, blimey, can anyone figure out what she wants? There’s the whole father/daughter thing, and she sleeps with Janek, and she torches Fyfield, and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah… A lot of the original motivations are there and make sense, and maybe the daughter-superbitch thing makes sense too, but then the early draft hangovers get confused with the new stuff and you end up with a bit of a mess, squashed by a spaceship that looks like a giant croissant.

One of the projects I’m working on is at draft 15 and it looks like (fingers crossed) that we’re going into pre-production. Therefore we have to deliver a script for the producer to budget, the cast to read, the production HoDs to start doing their thing. This is it – the map that will steer the ship. And we’ve spotted a couple of these moments. Not big things, but scenes that used to make perfect sense, but now seem a little… odd, out-of-whack, ‘Why is he saying that now?’ ‘Why does he give that to them here?’. We’re fixing them and the script has improved tremendously as a result, but then we perhaps have the luxury of time that Damon Lindelof didn’t have when the juggernaut of PROMETHEUS went into production.

So next time you spot a plot hole or weird line that doesn’t seem to fit, spare a thought for the poor writer, head in hands, suffering from a bad case of early draft hangover. It can happen to us all.

PS. Thanks to Kevin Lehane for the tip-off.