Is It Time To Remake Blade Runner?

What I’m really asking: Is it time to make another movie version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?   Blade Runner was a masterpiece film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece novel, but it was just one interpretation of a very complex story.  I first read the novel in 1968 when I discovered it on the 7-day new book shelf at the Coconut Grove Library in Miami.  I can still remember reaching up to pull this very strangely titled book off the top shelf.  Even the cover was bizarre, far beyond the weird science fiction standards of the time.

I have read the book and seen the movie many times, and just recently I listened to an unabridged audio edition read by Scott Brick entitled Blade Runner, even though he was actually reading the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  It’s sort of sad when the public has to be sold a classic book by using the movie title.  Whenever I reread the book I’m always amazed by how well the movie got the book but also disturb by how much was changed and left out.  As soon as I started listening to the novel this time I kept thinking they really need to make a movie version that’s closer to PKD’s original vision.

Blade Runner is famous, and Ridley Scott keeps trotting out tweaked versions every decade or so, keeping his film version prominent in the public eye.  The Library of America just released Four Novels of the 1960s that includes Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which ups the ante on the novel’s value.  Dune has had one movie version, a television miniseries version and now another film version is in the works.  There have been many science fiction novels that have had two or more media productions, including The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Thing, and so on, so the idea of remaking Blade Runner isn’t totally crazy.

The reason to make a new version of the novel is to try and get closer to PKD’s actual story.  Blade Runner used most of the major plot, but left out most of the subplots and many fascinating themes, and it reversed the polarity of the audience’s attitude towards the androids.  In the PKD novel the androids are bad and the reader ends up wanting them killed.  In the movie, the audience feels sympathetic to androids and wish they could live.  The movie leaves out the obsession about owning live animals, Mercerism, the fake police station, the mood organ, the other bounty hunter, Rick having sex with a very different Rachael, Rachel killing the goat, kipple, and so many other fascinating ideas.

Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? at a particularly significant time in U.S. history, during the peak of the sixties, facing the issues of the Vietnam War, civil rights, psychedelic drugs, and so on.  PKD was obsessed with two questions:  What is human? and What is real?  I believe the androids in his story had nothing to do with science fictional robots and future tech – they were metaphors for what Dick hated about people and what he thought made them inhuman.  Dick could not believe humans could have committed the atrocities of the holocaust and wondered how to explain the human-looking creatures that ran the ovens?  Ridley Scott and crew seem to be asking:  Can mankind recreate humans?  This is a very different theme.

Should A New Version Be Faithful To the Novel

Would a new version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? have to be faithful to the PDK book?  A lot has happened in the world since 1966 when PKD wrote the book.  Now that humanity is destroying the planet and making animal species go extinct faster than mother nature, what if there were a race of androids that were fighting humans to stop us and save the world for their reasons?  In PKD’s story, humans are superior because they have empathy and love animals – well, it appears Dick was wrong because we have failed at both.

Robots in today’s society are popular and loved.  I have an issue of the hobby magazine Robot sitting right beside me and it shows our drive to build androids.  Commander Data is one of the most loved all all the Star Trek characters.   There is something that challenges the modern mind to build an android that’s better than ourselves.  If the 1982 audiences felt sympathy for the androids of Blade Runner, what would the audiences of 2008 feel?  The 2004 film I, Robot got away again with evil robots, so we know audiences can accept robots in bad guy roles, but is that what people really want?

Even in the original 1966 novel, Philip K. Dick walks a tightrope by creating a race of artificial slaves that want to pass for humanity – doesn’t that beg for the reader’s empathy?  Well, at the time PKD ends up saying no.  In the novel, androids will kill humans, betray their own kind, but most importantly they will kill and torture animals with a total lack of feelings.  They are all intellect and no emotion.  Rachael has sex with Deckard, not out of love, but because she knows bounty hunters become sympathetic to androids and can’t kill them after having sex with her.

In the novel androids are incapable of feeling love.  Dick wants the reader to believe there are humans that look just like us but ultimately lack that qualities that make us good.  I feel that in the violent times of the 1960s PKD had specific people in mind.  I assume Dick is not writing a book advocating killing off empathy lacking humans but is merely telling us we all need to kill off that portion of our psyche.   Blade Runner confused the issue by suggesting that androids do deserve our sympathy.  It further screws up the story by suggesting that Deckard is an android.  I really hate this twist of Ridley Scott.  It actually hurts his own work of art.  Part of the beauty of the film is a human falls for an android and an android falls for a human.  If they are both androids you lose a lot of philosophical zest.

What I’d Like to See

Ultimately, what I’d like to see is a new version that is extremely faithful to the book except that it will be ambiguous as to whether humans or androids are truly good.  As long as they kill each other who can be the morally superior species?  If homo robotica can develop a will to live, an empathy for life, a sense of ethics, and a desire to preserve Earth, mankind, as well as all the other species, will such an artificial life-form be bad and worthy of destroying even if it kills out of self-preservation?

The next version needs to add the philosophical aspects of religion and mass culture that Dick explored with Mercer and Buster Friendly.  Also, Deckard needs his wife to contrast any possible relationship he will have with Rachael.  At one point in the book Deckard comments that Rachael and her kind have more will to live than his wife, Iran.

Then there is the whole choice of casting.  Harrison Ford brought an action hero aspect to the film that wasn’t in the book.  From the recent audio production I pictured Deckard being a lot like a younger William H. Macy, more of an average guy with a tendency to doubt over action.  Rick and Iran have a lot of marital problems that help set the philosophical stage when we ask what it is to be human.  A Sean Young type actress is perfect to represent the temptation of an artificially perfect woman.

And that brings up we humans want to be as perfect as artificial beings.  After PKD’s death there emerged a science fictional story line of downloading human minds into artificial bodies, which essentially combines humans and androids into a yet unnamed construct.  This new being goes beyond the bionic man and woman.

I had a friend that used to argue most vehemently that if an artificial intelligence was ever created it would always turn itself off.  My friend could never fathom programming the artificial will to live.  I, on the other hand, never could imagine any creature, live or artificial, that was self-aware willing to turn itself off if it wasn’t suffering.  I always assumed that awareness is always preferable over non-existence as long as there is no real incentive to shut down.

Any future film version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? will need to deal with these philosophical issues of identity.  In 1968 and 1982 we imagined PKD’s fictional world dark and decaying, suffering from the effects of a nuclear holocaust.  Any future film version will probably use the backdrop of an ecological holocaust.  The current debate over global warming centers around a very deep conflict over whether mankind is the cause of our own potential doom.  In any mythic archetypal story about the lethal conflict between human versus artificial humans and the ethical considerations of which species is superior will have to deal with this ecological issue.

Like the classic SF short story, “Farewell to the Master,” which was made into the memorable science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, we have to remember the roll of the robot, Gort, who belongs to a race of robots that rule the humans to protect them from themselves.

The science fiction stories Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner exists on the razor’s edge between the hated world of robots in the Terminator movies and the acceptance of Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.   Any future film version of our story needs to continue being a blade runner riding the razor’s edge between those two positions.

Engineers and computer scientists are working full tilt to build robots and artificial intelligence.  The question will not be if robots will shut themselves off – the question will be how they judge us, their gods.  Most science fiction that gets to this point, imagine homo robotica taking the dominant position and wanting to snuff us humans out like cockroaches.   Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner explores the Romeo and Juliet world of the ever feuding Capulets and Montagues, which is why it remains so fascinating.

Jim

14 thoughts on “Is It Time To Remake Blade Runner?”

  1. Wow Jim. Deep thoughts here.

    I personally would rather see other stories by PKD worked into movies before another take on DADOES? Sure, sometimes they are duds (ie Paycheck), and rarely are they faithful to story as a whole, but in general the ideas are tight enough to be adaptable to two hours. Moreover, with the majority of people getting their SciFi on the screen instead of the page, bringing his classics to new audiences could really help increase the intelligence of our screen-based SciFi.

  2. That’s a good point. In fact, my list of PKD stories I’d like to see as movies is quite long. Topping the lists are The Man in the High Castle, Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Ubik, the other three novels from the Library of America collection that contain Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    It would be very hard to decide if I wanted to see a new film or the remake of Android. Even if the movie industry made two PKD film adaptations a year it would be damn hard to decide their schedule.

    Still it would be great to see a second intepretation DADOES? The philosophical concept the novel explores only grow more interesting the closer we get to building actual robots that are like us. I think the novel should be reinterpreted with every new generation.

    It’s like the movie Mutiny on the Bounty, which has had three major movie productions, each of which reflects the new knowledge of a successive generation. With the new biography of Bly it should really change the next version.

  3. The quick answer for me: Yes.
    I understand everyone loves Scott’s adaptation, but it’s not PKD. Not even close. The story is drastically different, the characters are drastically different and the vast majority of the complex issues presented in PKD’s original novel are lost. That and I hate Ridley Scott. He repeatedly takes credit for the movie as if he wrote everything from the ground up, except he didn’t since clearly he took inspiration from the book and being a book adaptation is hinges off what the book had to say in the first place.

    I do think we need a new version, one that is somewhat faithful to the book. It doesn’t need to be spot on. In fact you can cut out a lot of stuff, but the book isn’t that thick anyway. There’s a lot more mystery and intrigue in the book than Blade Runner. I watch BR and it tends to bore me. It’s visually amazing considering when it was made, but it’s really dull and sort of drags along. The only fascinating part for me is the very end. If you remade it and stuck more to the book, even 25% more, you would see it changing drastically.

    “In PKD’s story, humans are superior because they have empathy and love animals – well, it appears Dick was wrong because we have failed at both.”

    Also, I don’t agree with that statement. We do care for animals today. It’s sort of silly to say we don’t give a flying hoot about them. If we didn’t we wouldn’t try to save species we decimated out of stupidity. 100 years ago we never would have thought that our chemicals and what not would have wiped out animals and habitats. If we didn’t care we’d probably not have dogs as pets, or cats or whatever, among a lot of other things we wouldn’t do. We do care about animals, we just don’t think in the long term.
    Plus, animals die out ALL the time, most from nature. Remember, humans are creatures of nature too. If we wipe out a species because we eat it…that’s just part of nature, even though it sucks and might very well be wrong.
    On the subject of his book, however, I think you’ve got it a little bit backwards. In Electric Sheep people don’t love animals in the way you’re saying. Real animals (meaning non-android) are a mark of social status. If you own a real sheep…well…that’s like saying you’re at a certain level in the social strata. But people disguise that by having android animals, to try to make it seem like they belong in whatever social group they are attempting to be a part of. Deckard spends most of the book trying to get something to replace his android sheep (while hunting androids of course…which is kind of interesting since social status is based on the “enslavement” or android creatures, and more so by human androids, since the highest mark of civilization, according to the folks stuck on the radiated Earth, is to migrate to Mars where you’re given a slave android). In any case, it’s applicable now as it was then. Face it, animals become more valuable when they’re nearly extinct.

    Anywho, I’m just rambling. I’m doing an independent study on the works of PKD right now for college…so I have somewhat of a vest interest in his work 😛

  4. First, I need to thank you for reminding me to spell Blade Runner right. I don’t know why I forgot that.

    Second, you are right about the animals. In the book animal ownership is a complex status thing and a way to show how humans are different from andys.

    My point about us failing to love animals is how we treat them as a species. Individual we have amazing love of animals, but as a species we have overrun all the habitats on the planet and are just squeezing out all the other species. Even dogs and cats, our favorite animal friends are often abandoned and mistreated.

    It’s like in the book, PKD wasn’t talking about real androids, he was writing a story attacking those people who do not have empathy or who mistreat animals.

    Damn, it would be great to be in college studying PKD. I appreciate your comments and I agree with them. As the years pass I find Blade Runner more boring, and the book more interesting. I hate the way Ridley Scott tried to monkey with the story by suggesting Deckard is an android. However, I am impressed with how much of the story his screenwriters did use. I’ve heard Scott never even finished reading the book.

    This recent time of reading the book on audio did make it feel a lot more like the movie than any reading before. It’s not close, but its obviously based the book, which is a lot better than some other book adaptations for film.

    If you have time, leave a post telling about your studies in PKD.

  5. I would love to see DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP made into a movie. BLADERUNNER, much as I love it, diverges too far from the source material for me to even consider it an adaptation of the original story.

    As to Dick’s view’s on what make us human—I can’t help but think of the brilliant show DEXTER whenever that topic comes up.

  6. I was a teenager when the film Blade Runner introduced me to the works of PKD. Assuming that he wrote a bunch of futuristic detective novels like a geeky version of Spillane, I ate up A Scanner Darkly, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, The Three Stigmata, etc.
    Strangely, I was never disappointed in any of these and could see PKD’s obsession with themes of self-perception, paranoia, privacy; the ills of a modern and decaying society.
    I would love to see someone (even Ridley Scott) take on more of PKD’s novels rather than attempt to remake Blade Runner, which is a classic in its own right and would cause any remake to suffer by pointless comparison…no self-respecting director would approach such a lofty goal, in my opinion. A less-capable, egotistic director would, I’m afraid (and that may be a redundant phrase to most).
    James, you seem irked at Scott’s take on whether Deckard is a replicant or not. I recall this theme being prevalent through the novel as well, as Rick ended up testing himself and his fellow detective because they were both convinced of this possibility. Am I mistaken?
    I always felt Deckard’s humanity (or not) was the pivotal question in the film as well as the novel, because it blurred the line between hunter and hunted and also emphasized the distrust of authority and overall paranoia in PKD’s world.
    Anyway, it’s a good question and great way to spend some time in deep thought.

  7. Gary, but there’s enough support in the book to convince readers that Deckard isn’t an andy, but in the movie, especially in later versions, Ridley Scott tries to force viewers to believe the opposite. Sure Dick wanted readers and Deckard to face the problem, but PKD does solve the issue within the story. I don’t think its ambiguous. Scott is well known for saying in interviews that he wants Deckard to be a replicant. And his later versions he positions clear clues to urge the audience to believe it. That’s why I prefer the theatrical release.

    I think PKD wanted us all to question our humanity, but I don’t think he wanted us to accept that we’re inhuman.

    Of course, the reason why this is a great film and book is because it makes people think and argue.

  8. I think it’s a mistake to remake the movie Blade Runner. What would we do with Scott’s vision? Clean it up, ad more special effects, a pointless chase (Deckard chasing Zhora on flying motorcycles), and reduce the internal conflict of Roy to only “I want more life.”

    The book, however, should be made with a more faithful adaptation. Blade Runner is good, but it has little to do with the book. Sadly, short of The Masters of Science Fiction last August, I have no expectation of the film or television industry making good, accurate, science fiction.

  9. Well Josh, I was really meaning they should make a new version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I think it could be radically different from Blade Runner.

    The movie industry seems to like making PKD movies. Let’s hope the trend continues. Lots of kids don’t watch old movies, so anything remade will be new to them.

    Jim

  10. I just read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” a few months back for the first time. I really enjoyed the novel despite it being wildly different from the movie, which I have been a fan of for decades. I wouldn’t mind seeing them do a more faithful adaptation to the book. There are certainly themes that were completed ignored by the cult hit Bladerunner and others that were not examined as deeply as they were in the book. I would not want to see them remake Bladerunner the movie, but Do Androids Dream reimagined in a new film would be great.

  11. I know this is an old thread but I loved this comment:

    “It further screws up the story by suggesting that Deckard is an android. I really hate this twist of Ridley Scott. It actually hurts his own work of art. Part of the beauty of the film is a human falls for an android and an android falls for a human. If they are both androids you lose a lot of philosophical zest.”

    “It actually hurts his own work of art.” Wow! This is a very astute statement. Scott totally misses the point that the beauty of asking the question about Deckard being a replicant, is far more important than answering the question about Deckard being a replicant. Scott has stated recently that anyone who doesn’t “get” that Deckard is a replicant – is a moron. Given the amount of discussion and arguments over Deckard’s status (from some who were intimately involved in making the film and from some who, I would dare say, are not morons) and the conflicting assertion that Deckard’s status is supposed to be obvious – this leaves us with two alternatives: Scott is confirming that a) he doesn’t understand his own movie or b) that he did a piss-poor job of story-telling within his movie. Take your pick.

    Bentley Ousley

    1. At best I think an artist should provide ambiguous endings so readers and watchers can have the fun of their own interpretations, but in this case, Deckard should clearly be human. He was in the book. He should be in the movie, becuase if he’s a replicant too, then there is no contrast with humans. And why should we feel anything for a robot killing a robot or falling in love with one. Scott has to be a moron to promote such an idea. The pivotal scene of the movie is when Deckard watches Roy die. If Deckard is just another robot why would Roy tell him what he feels? If Deckard was a robot, why wouldn’t any of the six complain to that he’s killing his own kind. I just don’t buy it.

  12. Reblogged this on From Asimov To Wells and commented:
    I just read this article after having a discussion with James W Harris about remaking Do Androids Dream If Electric Sheep (or Blade Runner, as you may more commonly know it) – its a fantastic article, so I thought I would Re-Blog it, so you can read it as well!
    Enjoy!

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