Do Sci-Fi Movie Directors Dream of Electric Scripts?

This month’s Fictorians’ theme is “movie adaptations.”

I got lucky and snagged “Blade Runner.”

blade_runner_poster

When Blade Runner came out, I wasn’t paying attention enough to remember the obscure novella I had read at about the age of twelve. I was well into the movie before I put two and two together and realized I had read the source material. I remember thinking at the time, “When is he going to find that toad?”

That’s pretty close to a spoiler, I suppose. There is no toad in the movie. I don’t remember origami in the novella. Maybe there was some. Honestly, I didn’t remember that much about the novella. I had read it during a period of my life that I was reading three or four sci-fi novels a week. Plus classics like “Gone With the Wind” or “Moby Dick.” The novella simply hadn’t made that much of an impression on me. I had to go back and review “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” to realize just how far the movie had strayed from the original story. How far was that? Well, maybe not as far as the shoulder of Orion, but certainly well past the Tannhauser Gate.

So, since the movie is such a radical departure from the novella, you might think that would count against it as a “movie adaptation.” But I can’t say that, because “Blade Runner” the movie, is better than the novella. By a large margin, in my opinion. Ridley Scott took the basic story of a bounty hunter wrestling with the morality and mortality of “retiring” androids, and created a revolutionary multi-media experience, spawning an entire sci-fi sub-genre in the process.

There is power in the imagery of the film. The fusion of film noir and dystopian post-apocalyptic pathos simply oozes gritty, bloody, sweaty authenticity. By abandoning the original sub-plots involving Deckard’s wife (yes, wife) and their search for an animal of their very own, Scott was able to focus his grimy camera lens directly on the question of what makes us human. That gritty, shadowy vision paradoxically grants the movie near-perfect clarity.

That clarity reaches its climax with Roy Batty’s iconic farewell, sometimes known as the “Tears in Rain Monologue.”

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.

Like all great works of art, the movie has an ambiguous ending, allowing the viewer to decide for themselves what Deckard’s and Rachael’s future will be. The viewer isn’t even certain if Deckard himself is a human or a replicant. And that is the movie’s ultimate message. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. As Roy tells us, the value of life is not measured in the number of years we are given, it is measured in what we do with the years we have.

About Sean Golden

After a degree in physics, then a 35 year career in Information Technologies, I am now focused on writing. My first epic fantasy series, "The War Chronicles" is available on Amazon.com.

7 responses on “Do Sci-Fi Movie Directors Dream of Electric Scripts?

  1. Bill

    Deckard in movie is clearly a Replicant – in the director’s cut especially. He isn’t in the novel – not novella. He and Rachel have similar memory implants, convinced they’re human, and should be very happy together. If they could experience happiness, which they can’t. Only a simalcrum of happiness.

    Batty’s end monologue, the only part of the movie everyone likes, is actually a contradiction to the movie’s philosophical thesis. As a Replicant he can’t wax poetic – he literally doesn’t have it in him. Nor does he save a life – the concept is foreign to him. And he can’t “evolve” to obtain such empathy.

  2. Sean Golden Post author

    Heh, shows you how much the story stuck with me that I remember it as a novella. At 200 pages in paperback, it’s a pretty short sci-fi novel.
    If you take the movie at face value, then Batty’s speech isn’t a contradiction, instead it puts the lie to the idea that replicants “literally don’t have it in them.” Because, there it is. In him. Which is WHY people remember it.

    1. Bill

      No, the movie tells you that Replicants have no empathy – they all fail Deckard’s empathy test. It’s not something you can fake or acquire. It’s a contradiction. People remember it cuz it’s the only emotional moment in a film populated by unemotional people. You can say it’s in him, but everything in the film proves you’re wrong. Strictly a violation of the film’s premise. If Batty can feel, then Deckard’s wrong to take them out.

  3. Sean Golden Post author

    Everything except the monologue itself. So let’s say I agree that scene creates a conflict with the movie’s premise that androids lack empathy. You say that means the “Tears in Rain” monologue is “wrong.” I say that means the central theme itself was faulty, and that androids do have worth. The real proof that androids can have empathy is that Roy saves Deckard. But there is definitely ambiguity. You get something different from it than I do.

    1. Bill

      There is no ambiguity. You;re told flat out that Replicants lack emotion. It;s the way they were created to do their job and not worry about if one if their own falls. You’re shown the test that proves they lack empathy. It’s the film’s premise.

      To the screenwriter’s credit, he tried to end the film on a higher note than just a fistfight/gunfight. But to have that monologue, he had to contradict everything he’d written about Replicants up to that point. It’s a great ending, but lousy story construction. A betrayal of the movie’s core conflict. It’s tacked on, with no justification – no matter how you want to read it.

        1. Bill

          Think of it this way. Batty and all Replicants lack empathy. None of them have any value of life beyond their own . That’s why he casually kills Sebastian offscreen without a second of remorse.. It’s like flicking off a light switch. THAT Batty doesn’t wax poetic, nor would he save Deckard. He lacks even THE CONCEPT of saving another life.

          It would be nice if this was a debatable subject, but it’s not.

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