What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

September 2022 | 6,350 words | Contents | They say…

Digest: He hated the first screenplay but loved the second one – and the special effects he saw.

Dystopia: Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles | Warner Bros


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Top 🔺

Contents

Preamble

Introduction

Dick’s notes for proposed Sheep film, 1968

More options: from Berman to Blade Runner

SelecTV Guide article: early screenplay

Interview: Hollywood, novelisation, screenplays

Dick’s letter praises production

Dick enthuses after seeing shots at studio

Conclusion

The end bit

Sources

A personal opinion

Blade Runner 2049 was crap

Footnote

Versions of Blade Runner


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

Preamble

Why I wrote this post

In the 70s – I’m now in my 70s – I read one of Dick’s sci-fi books and was hooked. I avidly read them all, in no particular order. (Or most of them, anyway.)

As novels – as stories – Dick’s books are probably flawed, but I love the humour, humanity and genius imagination in his writing.

After my 70s binge, I continued to be – casually – fascinated by the man and his ideas. Then recently, in a local charity bookshop, I came across and bought a wonderful book: The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, compiled and introduced by author Lawrence Sutin.

(I also discovered Sutin’s excellent authorised biography, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick.)

Reading Shifting Realities, I was struck by an article Dick had written for a magazine, SelecTV Guide, about the Blade Runner screenplay he’d read. As a fan of the film, I was intrigued by his anger at Ridley Scott.

I posted about it on Facebook, then started this post. I hope it’s a useful contribution to the huge amount of stuff out there about the fascinating Philip K Dick.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

Introduction

We want to know

Genius sci-fi writer Philip K Dick sadly died young(ish) in 1982 (aged 53, from strokes and heart failure) shortly before the release of Ridley Scott‘s film Blade Runner, adapted from Dick’s book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fans like me of the book and the film, aware of the great differences between the two, may anxiously wonder what the famously obsessive Dick knew about the film-in-progress – and what he thought of it.

This post is what I’ve found out about Dick’s views on:

  • Pre-Blade Runner options for Sheep
  • An early screenplay for Blade Runner
  • Hollywood – good and bad
  • The screenplay rewrite
  • The pre-release shots he saw.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

Dick’s notes for proposed Sheep film, 1968

Grace Slick as Rachael!

In 1968 Dick’s recently published Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was optioned by film producer Bertram Berman. Dick sent Berman some notes (1) on how the book might be made into a film.

In his notes to Berman, Dick analysed the possibilities with enthusiasm. He discussed changing the story and ditching parts of it. He analysed the characters and how their characteristics and relationships might be altered.

He wanted Deckard’s darkness and violence to be emphasised. He examined at length the philosophy of sex with an android.

He made casting suggestions: Gregory Peck as Deckard – and Grace Slick as Rachael!

Wikimedia

Berman apparently didn’t respond, and his option expired in the 1970s. His indifference poignantly mismatched Dick’s confident eagerness.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

More options: from Berman to Blade Runner

‘Shall I beat you up here or at my apartment?’

In the early 1970s after Berman’s option lapsed, Sheep was optioned by producer Herb Jaffe.

According to Wikipedia, Dick was unimpressed with the screenplay written by Jaffe’s son Robert. Wiki quotes Dick:

    Jaffe’s screenplay was so terribly done … Robert flew down to Santa Ana to speak with me about the project. And the first thing I said to him when he got off the plane was, ‘Shall I beat you up here at the airport, or shall I beat you up back at my apartment?’

    [Wiki ref: Future Noir by Paul Sammon (7)]

Dick’s bark was evidently worse than his bite. In an interview (11), Dick said of Jaffe’s screenplay:

    It was really bad news, but we remain­ed very close friends after that and they finally let their option drop.

In the mid 70s, after Jaffe’s option was dropped, actor and would-be screenwriter Hampton Fancher got the rights to Sheep. In 1977 Fancher’s screenplay was optioned by award-winning British producer Michael Deeley.

Deeley convinced fellow Brit and Alien director Ridley Scott to film Fancher’s screenplay. Fancher became an executive producer.

In 1981 Fancher’s script, with rewrites by David Peoples, was filmed by Scott as Blade Runner. The script was credited to both writers (4).


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

SelecTV Guide article: early screenplay

He hated it

In early 1981 Dick wasn’t being consulted for Blade Runner but having heard about it he managed to get a copy of the screenplay via his agent.

He hated the screenplay and wrote a snarky article (2) about it for a sci-fi edition of LA cable company magazine SelecTV Guide.

The ostensible point of Dick’s article was that a breakthrough in special effects gave sci-fi movies box-office success but at the expense of story. The real point was to criticise Scott and Blade Runner.

This excerpt from Dick’s SelecTV Guide article gives his views not only on the Blade Runner screenplay (suppressed anger and disgust) but also on Alien (bad), Star Wars (not bad) and early Star Trek (very good):

    ‘Ridley Scott, who directed Alien and who now intends to bring into existence a $15 million [*] film based on my novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, confessed to an interviewer from Omni magazine that he “found the novel too difficult to read,” despite the fact that the novel appeared as a mass-circulation paperback.

    [* Blade Runner’s budget was actually about $30 million.]

    ‘On the other hand I was able rather easily to read the screenplay (it will be called Blade Runner). It was terrific. It bore no relation to the book. Oddly, in some ways it was better. (I had a hell of a time getting my hands on the screenplay. No one involved in the Blade Runner project has ever spoken to me. But that’s okay, I haven’t spoken to them.) What my story will become is one titanic lurid collision of androids being blown up, androids killing humans, general confusion and murder, all very exciting to watch. Makes my book seem dull by comparison.’

    ‘Still, you wouldn’t want to see my novel on the screen because it is full of people conversing, plus the personal problems of the protagonist. These matters don’t translate to the screen. And why translate them, since a novel is a story in words, whereas a movie is an event that moves?…

    ‘As a writer, though, I’d sort of like to see some of my ideas, not just special effects of my ideas, used. For all its dazzling graphic impact, Alien (to take one example) had nothing new to bring us in the way of concepts that awaken the mind rather than the senses … Star Trek, years ago, delved more into provocative ideas than most big-budget sci-fi films today, and some of the finest authors in the science-fiction field wrote those hour TV episodes … But I must admit that the eerie, mystical, almost religious subtheme in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back enchanted me.’

(It’s now well known that Scott was also enchanted by Star Wars – that’s what made him decide to make Alien!)

In this article, Dick said the Blade Runner screenplay was terrific and in some ways better than his book. But given his later highly crtitical comments (see below), he was clearly being sarcastic.

In a later interview (11), Dick described his SelecTV Guide article as ‘smartassed’.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Interview: Hollywood, novelisation, screenplays

He loved the new screenplay

Interviewed in 1981 (3), Dick expounded on many aspects of his life and writings, including his hate/love relationship with Blade Runner.

He spoke about his relationship with Hollywood (fraught), the film company’s lucrative offer for him to write a film novelisation (rejected), the early screenplay (despised), and the revised screenplay (adored).

(My subheadings)

    Interview 🔺

    Hollywood

    Dick: ‘I was supposed to go up there [to the studio]. They called me up and called me up, and I temporized and temporized. I thought — no, I’ll go up there and I’m on a diet, so I can’t eat the rich foods they’ll serve me, and what I’ll really hope for is a whole lot of free cocaine, and there won’t be any free cocaine, and I’ll be real pissed because of that. I’ll keep querulously, petulantly saying, “Where’s the cocaine?” and they’ll say, “No, that’s a myth, you’ve been reading TV Guide.”

    ‘I have been up there to another film project, the little Capitol Pictures one, called Claw [subsequently retitled Screamers, based on Dick’s short story Second Variety]. They’re very nice. I really like them. Every change that’s made, they send me a copy to get my opinion. They just treat me like a human being.

    ‘In other words, I am able to discriminate between essentially reputable people up there, and these high-pressure types. Shit, Blade Runner started yelling at me because, in an article that I wrote in the SelecTV Guide, I mentioned androids. They said, “That’s very dangerous talk, mentioning androids in connection with this film. We’re not using the word android.” Well, it seems hard to avoid a word that’s in the title of your own book. And they wanted to know how I’d gotten hold of a copy of the screenplay. “How did you get hold of it?” they said, with the emphasis on the word “you,” you know?…

    Interview 🔺

    Film novelisation

    Dick: ‘The amount of money involved [in the proposed film novelisation] would have been very great, and the film people offered to cut us in on the merchandising rights. But they required a suppression of the original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in favor of the commercialized novelization based on the screenplay. My agency computed that I would accrue, conservatively, $400,000 if I did the novelization. In contrast, if we went the route of rereleasing the original novel, I would make about $12,500.

    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…So we stuck to our guns, and at one point Blade Runner became so cold-blooded they threatened to withdraw the logo rights. We wouldn’t be able to say, “The novel on which Blade Runner is based.” We’d be unable to use any stills from the film. Finally we came to an agreement with them. We are adamant about rereleasing the original novel [*]…

    * In the event, Sheep was rereleased, and a novelisation was published. Wikipedia:

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was eventually reprinted in 1982 as a tie-in [the film company got one percent], with the film poster as a cover and the original title [and, on the cover shown below, the author!] in parentheses below the Blade Runner title. Additionally, a novelization of the movie entitled Blade Runner: A Story of the Future by Les Martin was released in 1982.
    [My bolding]

    Dick: ‘You know, I was so turned off by Hollywood. And they were really turned off by me. That insistence on my part of bringing out the original novel and not doing the novelization — they were just furious. They finally recognized that there was a legitimate reason for reissuing the novel, even though it cost them money. It was a victory not just of contractual obligations but of theoretical principles. And although this is speculation on my part, I think that one of the spin-offs was that they went back to the original novel. Because they knew it would be reissued, you see. So it is possible that it got fed back into the screenplay by a process of positive feedback.

    Interview 🔺

    Early screenplay

    Dick: ‘I was such a harsh critic of Hampton Fancher’s original screenplay, and I was so outspoken, that the studio knows that my present attitude is sincere, that I’m not just hyping them. Because I was really angry and disgusted. There were good things in Fancher’s screenplay, but it’s like the story of the old lady who takes a ring into a jeweller to have the stone reset. And the jeweller scrapes all of the patina of years and years and shines it up, and she says, “My God, that was what I loved the ring for — the patina!” Okay, they had cleaned my book up of all of the subtleties and of the meaning. The meaning was gone. It had become a fight between androids and a bounty hunter.

    ‘I had this vision in my mind then that I would go up there and be introduced to Ridley Scott, and be introduced to Harrison Ford, who’s the lead character, and I’d just be so dazzled I’d be like Mr. Toad seeing the motorcar for the first time. My eyes would be wide as saucers and I’d just be standing there completely mesmerized. Then I would watch a scene being shot. And Harrison Ford would say, “Lower that blast-pistol or you’re a dead android!” And I would just leap across that special effects set like a veritable gazelle and seize him by the throat and start battering him against the wall. They’d have to run in and throw a blanket over me and call the security guards to bring in the Thorazine. And I’d be screaming, “You’ve destroyed my book!”

    ‘That would be a little item in the newspaper: “Obscure Author Becomes Psychotic on H’wood Set; Minor Damage, Mostly to the Author.” They’d have to ship me back to Orange County in a crate full of air holes. And I’d still be screaming.

    ‘I started drinking a whole lot of scotch. I went from a thimbleful to a jigger glass and finally to two wine glasses of scotch every night. Last Memorial Day I started bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding. And it was because of drinking scotch and taking aspirin constantly and worrying about this whole goddamned thing. I said, “Hollywood is gonna kill me by remote control!”

    ‘One is always haunted by the specter of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who goes there and they just grind him up, like in a garbage disposal.’

    Interview 🔺

    Revised screenplay

    Interviewer: All of that changed when you saw David W. People’s revised screenplay?

    Dick: I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull’s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.

    ‘I wrote the station, and they sent the letter to the Ladd Company. [See below] They gave me the updated screenplay [4]. I read it without knowing they had brought somebody else in. I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It was simply sensational — still Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, but miraculously transfigured, as it were. The whole thing had simply been rejuvenated in a very fundamental way.

    ‘After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two 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.

    ‘… I was so disappointed when I read the first Blade Runner screenplay, because it was … a destruction of the novel. But now, it’s magic time. You read the screenplay and then you go to the novel, and it’s like they’re two halves to one meta-artwork, one meta-artifact. It’s just exciting.

    ‘… It’s been the greatest thing for me. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work. I wouldn’t go up there, I wouldn’t talk to them, I wouldn’t meet Ridley Scott. I was supposed to be wined and dined and everything, and I wouldn’t go, I just wouldn’t go. There was bad blood between us.

    ‘That David W. Peoples screenplay changed my attitude. He had been working on the third Star Wars film , Revenge of the Jedi. The Blade Runner people hired him away temporarily to do the script by showing him my novel. [*] I’m now working very closely with the Ladd Company and I’m on very good terms with them. In fact, that’s one of the things that’s worn me out.’

    * Apparently, the third Star Wars film (renamed Return of the Jedi before release) had uncredited contributions by Peoples. But in a podcast (12) Peoples said he moved to Blade Runner after a project with Tony Scott, Ridley’s brother. Tony introduced him to Ridley. In the podcast, Peoples also said he never read Dick’s book (and he thought Fancher’s script was excellent).


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick’s letter praises production

I think he liked it

In October 1981 Dick wrote a gushing letter (6) to the production company after seeing a TV show featuring shots from the film:

    ‘…After looking [at the shots] – and especially after listening to Harrison Ford discuss the film – I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of Blade Runner is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people — and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches Blade Runner. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, Blade Runner is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be.

    ‘Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the Blade Runner project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner. Thank you … It will prove invincible.’


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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Dick enthuses after seeing shots at studio

He definitely liked it

In early 1982 the Blade Runner production company, after getting Dick’s letter of approval and giving him the new screenplay, arranged for him to see some pre-release shots. After the showing, Dick expressed great enthusiasm.

Dick was shown the shots by special effects chief David Dryer (who’d taken over from Douglas Trumbull).

In his book about Blade Runner (7), filmmaker and photographer Paul Sammon – who was making a photographic record of the production – relates Dryer’s recollection of the event (plus a few words – seven, actually – from the famously laconic Scott).

    [Dryer:] “I could tell right away that Dick was unhappy; he acted like somebody with a burr up their ass. First he started kind of grilling me in this grouchy tone about all kinds of things. He wanted to know what was going on, told me that he’d been very unhappy with the script, and so on and so forth.

    “So first we gave him a quick tour of the EEG [Entertainments Effects Group] shop, which I thought might settle him down. But Dick didn’t seem impressed, even when we showed him all the preproduction art and the actual models we’d used for certain effects shots. Then after Dick and Ridley had a meeting we went into the screening room.”

    “Dick was a bit guarded at first,” recalls Ridley Scott. “Until we doused the lights, turned up the music, and ran the reel for him,” adds Dryer. “Dick didn’t say a word at first. He sat there for twenty minutes like a statue. Then the lights came up, and Dick turned around to me. He said in this gruff voice, ‘Can you run that again?’ So the projectionist rethreaded and ran it again.”

    “Now the lights come up a second time. Dick looks me straight in the eye and says, ‘How is this possible? How can this be? Those are not the exact images, but the texture and tone of the images I saw in my head when I was writing the original book! The environment is exactly as how I’d imagined it! How’d you guys do that? How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?’

    “Let me tell you, that was one of the most successful moments of my career,” Dryer concludes. “Dick went away dazed.”

Sammon, who’d known Dick since the early 70’s, said (8) Dick called him after the showing and said, ‘I can’t believe it. Where can I get a Deckard action figure?’.


Interviewed by Sammon (9) about the film, Dick enthused about the thrilling detail of the street shots he’d seen.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light at the showing. In the Sammon interview, Dick said during his conversation with Scott they disagreed about the androids (or replicants).

Dick said he based Sheep‘s androids on his research for The Man in the High Castle (his 1962 alternative-history novel where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule the United States).

He told Scott the androids, lacking empathy, were a threat to humans; and Deckard, in hunting them, became like them.

Dick said Scott wasn’t interested in that intellectual aspect, but saw the replicants as superior. Dick said the conversation was nevertheless cordial.

Cordially awkward – Scott v Dick at the showing
(Actually, Scott was probably completely unaware of Dick’s critical comments on Alien) | Photo: Ladd Company


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

Conclusion

Kind of

    Do androids dream? Rick asked himself. Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here. A better life.

Introduction

Dick on the screenplay

Podcast: Peoples praised Fancher; didn’t read book

Hampton Fancher

David Peoples

Special effects

Androids v replicants

He loved it


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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INTRODUCTION

U turn allowed

At first, Dick hated the film. He called it Road Runner. But after he saw pre-release shots and read the rewrite, he dramatically changed his mind.

Fans like me of both the book and the film may wonder at this point: how come Dick so loved the special effects he saw on TV, the new screenplay and the shots he saw in the studio, when the film – as it was shaping up – was so different from his precious book?

Was Dick’s U-turn enthusiasm justified?

A 2017 article by Rob Harvilla (10) addressed that question in detail with wit, empathy and appreciation. Harvilla convincingly concluded that while Blade Runner isn’t a faithful adaption, it’s nevertheless true to Dick’s vision.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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DICK ON THE SCREENPLAY

Stepford Wives

Dick, in a 1982 interview with James Van Hise (11), said the original screenplay was ‘Philip Marlowe meets The Stepford Wives’ and – with typically humorous hyperbole – expressed his despair:

    ‘When I read it originally I thought that I will move to the Soviet Union where I am completely unknown and work making light bulbs in a factory and never even look at a book again and pretend I can’t read.’

But he thought the new screenplay miraculously complemented the book:

    ‘They took a good book and made a good screenplay. The two reinforce each other, two parts of a single whole. If you start with the book, the screenplay adds ma­terial to it. If you start with the screenplay, the book adds to that. They’re beautifully symmetrical, a real miracle.’

    [My precis and bolding]


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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PODCAST: PEOPLES PRAISED FANCHER; DIDN’T READ BOOK

Scott: ‘Don’t bother’

Was the first script, by Hampton Fancher, really that bad? And did rewriter David Peoples actually read the book? No and No, according to Peoples.

In October 2017, shortly after the release of Blade Runner 2049, a podcast (12) featuring Peoples, then 77, and Fancher, 79, considered the screenplay for the original Blade Runner.

In the podcast, Peoples and Fancher (who apparently became friends after the first film’s release) amiably recalled the difficulties of giving director Ridley Scott what he needed. (They agreed Scott was always right.)

Old friends: Peoples and Fancher at the podcast session | Photo: ScreenCraft

What did Peoples think of Fancher’s script?

Apparently, he loved it. Although he was hired to rewrite Fancher’s script, Peoples said in the podcast he felt there was nothing he could do to improve it. He described it as ‘fantastic’, ‘awesome’ and ‘exquisite’.

Did Peoples read the book?

Apparently, not. In the podcast, Peoples said he asked Scott if he should read Sheep, and Scott said, ‘Don’t bother’. (Fancher said Scott didn’t read it.) Peoples said he had ‘no eagerness‘ to read it.

The 1989 approved biography of Dick by Lawrence Sutin (5) bears this out:

    Peoples thought Fancher’s initial script excellent and never read Androids before or after his rewrite.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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HAMPTON FANCHER

Dismissive

in the 2017 podcast (12), Hampton Fancher said he met Dick three times in 1975. He said Dick was a genius and very intelligent but crazy. Fancher said he wasn’t into him and didn’t read him. He said Dick was very talkative and took all the oxygen.

It may be true that Dick, his mind buzzing, tended to dominate conversations. But Fancher, until then a prolific but minor actor, built his script-writing career on the imagination of Dick. He could have shown more appreciation – or at least been less gratuitously dismissive.

Dick recalled their association more positively. In an interview (11), he said:

    We had a lot of fun together. Fancher and I got along very well. I became real good friends with him and his girlfriend, Barbara Hershey.
Film actor Barbara Hershey

In the podcast, Peoples came across as modest and a nice guy, but Fancher came across as arrogant. He sounded high – but if he was, that’s no excuse.

Fancher wrote the story and co-wrote the script for Blade Runner 2049, which had been released a few days before the podcast. That might explain the high. (And the podcast.)

(With due respect to People’s high opinion of Fancher’s Blade Runner script, BR49 was crap. This was mainly because of Denis Villeneuve’s directorbot direction, but Fancher shares the blame for the unmemorable story and the many long, boring scenes with nothing but pointless, dull dialogue.)

Although Fancher said he didn’t read Dick, he presumably read Sheep in order to write his screenplay. (In the podcast, he spoke knowledgeably about parts of the book’s plot excluded from the film.)

Ironically, given his low opinion of Dick’s work, Fancher seems to have been the only person involved with the film to have actually read the book.

Despite that, Fancher’s script was clearly unsympathetic to Dick’s vision – so provoking Dick’s eloquently expressed disgust.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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DAVID PEOPLES

Miraculous?

In the 2017 podcast (12), Peoples praised Fancher’s script and was modest about his own contribution. He thought there may have been sections by both writers in both the screenplays Dick saw.

He suggested Dick naturally disliked the first draft he read because it messed with his book, but after liking the shots he saw, he wanted to like the second draft.

However, although Peoples didn’t read the book – saying, in his politely dismissive way, he had ‘no eagerness’ to read it – his rewrite somehow made the connection with the book that Dick raved about.

Perhaps it was, as Dick said, a real miracle (albeit Dick wrongly assumed Peoples had read the book).

Dick had become quite the Christian gnostic. Regarding miracles, he wrote – in a 1978 essay explaining his views – that only healing miracles had significance. (13)

People’s rewrite certainly had a healing effect on Dick’s state of mind. After reading Fancher’s screenplay, Dick was drinking heavily, and in despair. About People’s rewrite, he said:

    I couldn’t believe what I was reading! It was simply sensational — still Hampton Fancher’s screenplay, but miraculously transfigured…It’s been the greatest thing for me. I was just destroyed at one point at the prospect of this awful thing that had happened to my work…That David W. Peoples screenplay changed my attitude.

    (My bolding)

Saint David!

(Sadly, any healing effect – miraculous or not – evidently wasn’t enough to prevent the strokes that killed Dick a few months later.)


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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SPECIAL EFFECTS

‘How did you know?’

As for the special effects that so impressed Dick, he attributed them solely to Douglas Trumbull, but during production Trumbull was replaced as special effects supervisor by David Dryer.

Trumbull left by prior arrangement to direct Brainstorm, and Dryer was appointed on Trumbull’s recommendation.

Blade Runner’s design was the brainchild of college-trained designer Ridley Scott and neo-futurist artist Syd Mead. Mead was inspired by Scott’s well known idea of ‘Hong Kong on a very bad day’, and both were influenced by French comic book artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud.

Scott’s and Mead’s sketches were realised by production designer Lawrence Paull and art director David Snyder.

So the film’s design was, of course, a team effort led by Scott. But the wonderful special effects created by Trumbull and Dryer made a world Dick recognised as his own.

The shots Dick saw at the studio prompted him to say to Dryer, ‘How did you know what I was feeling and thinking?’.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
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ANDROIDS V REPLICANTS

A compromise

Regarding the disagreement about the androids/replicants (see above), Dick seemed to accept Scott’s replicants, perhaps as a necessary compromise.

In his novel, Dick faced the androids’ dangerous inhumanity. Scott humanised his replicants – but was making a brilliant film.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?
Conclusion 🔼

He loved it

Love is all you need

So… what did Philip K Dick think of (pre-release) Blade Runner? He loved it. That makes this fan of the book and the film very happy. Less anxious.

Dick couldn’t know controversial changes would be made after audience testing: a happy ending inserted and a Marlowe-esque voice-over added.

He might not have approved of the released version. But I like to think he’d have loved The Final Cut.


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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The end bit

Vale

Dick spent much of his adult life in near poverty. For instance, his payment for the article about Fancher’s screenplay, written for his cable company’s TV guide, was a year’s free cable.

Since the success of Blade Runner and other major films based on his books (such as the dodgy but high-earning Schwarzenegger Total Recall), Dick’s estate has generated tens of millions of dollars from book royalties, rights and licensing fees.

It’s a shame Dick didn’t live to enjoy that deserved financial reward – and to see more of his ideas being used in films. His brilliant ideas have been used not as hooks to hang special effects on, but in their own right – as he hoped.

Blade Runner‘s production hoo-hah had a successful outcome, but it took its toll on Dick’s health.

Ironically, it probably contributed to Dick’s sad early death – which meant he never got to see the finished version (!) of the wonderful Blade Runner.

Forget it, Phil – it’s Hollywood… | Illustration: Timba Smits


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

Sources

Check it out yourself

1. Dick: 1968 notes on Sheep film

2. Dick: SelecTV Guide article

3. Interview on Philip K. Dick site

4. Blade Runner screenplay

5. David Peoples didn’t read Sheep; thought Fancher’s script ‘excellent’

6. Dick’s letter to Ladd Company

7. Paul Sammon book: Future Noir

8. Paul Sammon: ‘Deckard action figure’

9. Paul Sammon: Dick interview

10. Rob Harvilla article

11. James Van Hise: Dick interview

12. Podcast with Peoples and Fancher

13. Dick on healing miracles in Cosmogony and Cosmology


Sources 🔺

1. Dick: 1968 notes on Sheep film

May 1968 | Dick’s Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, sent to a producer who optioned the book | Referenced above | First published in Philip K. Dick Society newsletter #18 (August 1988)* | PKDS newsletter facsimile on Cornell University Android Dreams site | Reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995), compiled by author Lawrence Sutin

* Bizarrely, PKDS newsletters aren’t online. However, photocopies can be bought here.

Sources 🔺

2. Dick: SelecTV Guide article

February 1981 | Dick ‘s SelecTV Guide article, Universe Makers…And Breakers | Referenced and quoted above | Written after he read an early Blade Runner screenplay | Reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick (1995), compiled by Lawrence Sutin

Sources 🔺

3. Interview on Philip K. Dick site

1981 | Interview on resource site Philip K. Dick | Quoted above | Collated from two 1981 interviews originally published in The Twilight Zone (June 1982) and The Patchin Review (October 1982)

Sources 🔺

4. Blade Runner screenplay

February 1981 | Blade Runner screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples* | Ref 1: Fancher’s option | Ref 2: Dick’s account of getting new screenplay | Sent to Dick in August 1981 | Reproduced in script format on resource site The Daily Script

* The script was credited to both writers, in that order. When Francher’s script was optioned, he became an executive producer. Peoples was hired to rewrite Fancher’s script. Fancher was fired, then re-hired. Scott used work by both writers. IMDB lists the film’s writers as Fancher, Peoples and Dick, in that order. Fancher read the book. Peoples (and Scott) didn’t.

Sources 🔺

5. David Peoples didn’t read Sheep; thought Fancher’s script ‘excellent’

From approved biography, Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989), by Lawrence Sutin:

    David Peoples, who in early 1981 was called in to do a rewrite of the Fancher script, doesn’t recall Phil’s name ever coming up in meetings. Peoples thought Fancher’s initial script excellent and never read Androids, before or after his rewrite.

    (Ch 12, P 275 – my bolding)

Referenced: Podcast confirmed, above

Sources 🔺

6. Dick’s letter to Ladd Company

October 1981 | Dick’s letter to Blade Runner film company, Ladd | Quoted above | Written after Dick saw pre-release shots on TV | Text and facsimile on many sites including Letters of Note

Sources 🔺

7. Paul Sammon book: Future Noir

2017 | Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by filmmaker, author and photographer Paul Sammon (revised and updated 2017) | Ref 1: Dick’s reaction to Robert Jaffe’s screenplay | Ref 2: report on Dick seeing shots at studio | Jaffe excerpt from Wikipedia | Studio excerpt from Flavorwire

Sources 🔺

8. Paul Sammon: ‘Deckard action figure’

2017 | Comment by Future Noir author Paul Sammon | Referenced above | Reported in KPCC article, Philip Dick wasn’t crazy about his novel being adapted into ‘Blade Runner’

Sources 🔺

9. Paul Sammon: Dick interview

1980-82 | Interview with Dick by Future Noir author Paul Sammon | YouTube (audio only) | Referenced above

Sources 🔺

10. Rob Harvilla article

2017 | Ringer article: ‘Blade Runner’ Is Still the Truest Philip K. Dick Adaptation by Rob Harvilla | Referenced above

Sources 🔺

11. James Van Hise: Dick interview

Late 1981 | Interview: Philip K. Dick On ‘Blade Runner’ by historian and author James Van Hise | Ref: ‘smartassed’ | Quote 1: Robert Jaffe | Quote 2: the screenplay | Quote 3: friendship with Fancher | Originally published in Starlog (February 1982) | Reproduced on Scraps from the Loft

Sources 🔺

12. Podcast with Peoples and Fancher

October 2017 | Podcast* Blade Runner (’82) – Fancher & Peoples Q&A | Hosted by Jeff Goldsmith | Ref 1: how Peoples moved to Blade Runner | Ref 2: Peoples praised Fancher, didn’t read book | Ref 3: Hampton Fancher | Ref 4: David Peoples

* Digital audio file available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically part of a series.

Sources 🔺

13. Dick on healing miracles in Cosmogony and Cosmology

January 1978 | Dick’s essay Cosmogony and Cosmology | Referenced above | Reproduced in The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick (1995), compiled by Lawrence Sutin | ‘Expressly intended by Dick as a summary of the key insights in the Exegesis‘ (Sutin ) | First published by Kerosina Books (1987)

    Christ’s healing miracles were the substantial indication that the Just Kingdom had arrived; other kinds of miracles meant little or nothing.

    From Cosmogony and Cosmology
    (Shifting Realities, part 5, P 307 – my bolding)

Dick’s biographer says his Exegesis project ‘didnt mean putting on self-righteous airs or forgetting to have fun’; and that in a humorous ‘review’ of his own book The Divine Invasion Dick wrote, ‘take some much-deserved R&R: stop writing, Phil, watch TV, maybe smoke a joint’. (A fanzine accepted the review, and Dick suggested the pseudonym Chipdip K. Kill, but it was never published. It’s in PKDS #29,)


What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

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A personal opinion

Blade Runner 2049 was crap

Gosling and Villeneuve: zzzzzz…

Several sources referenced here date from 2017. They were cashing in (and why not?) on the well publicised but crap Blade Runner 2049.

Yes, I saw it. I would have left after 20 minutes but my wife was there, so I saw the whole mind-numbing two hours, 35 (count ’em) minutes.

How was BR49 crap? It had great visuals and music; but – Ryan Gosling. Oh dear. He thinks he’s Robert Mitchum and doesn’t need to act. He isn’t – he needs a good director. But see below.

Great story? Can’t remember it, so… But I can remember long, boring scenes with nothing but pointless, dull dialogue.

I blame the director – one of Dick’s Sheep androids disguised as Denis Villeneuve.

As with the weirdly stilted and meaningless stuff produced by chatbots, BR49 was like a film made by a directorbot.

It was a similar thing – though Gosling wasn’t involved this time – with Villeneuve’s 2021 Dune.

As with BR49, Dune looked and sounded good. And it had Frank Herbert’s filmogenic book as the story. But that story – an exotic hippy classic known to many boomers like me – was squashed by the steamroller of Villeneuve’s vacuousness.

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Contents 🔺

Footnote

Versions of Blade Runner

Er…

How many are there? Seven, apparently. As to their relative merit, to be honest, I haven’t the foggiest. Untypically, I don’t even have an opinion.

(Although, typically perversely, I did quite like the apparently much criticised Marlowe-esque voice-over.)

Not even sure which ones I’ve seen. Sorry.

Author Ryan Britt has a well informed and good humoured take on the Great Debate in his Den of Geek article, Which Blade Runner Cut Is Really the Best? (Spoiler: it’s The Final Cut.)

I’ve got The Final Cut on DVD. I’m trying to persuade my (uninitiated) wife to watch it with me, to expunge the BR49 atrocity.

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What did Philip K Dick think of Blade Runner?

Top 🔺 | Contents 🔺

They say…

Quotes about this post. (OK, some were solicited. So what?)

I enjoyed reading your blog, which I thought was astute and thorough
Lawrence Sutin, author:

The Shifting Realities of Philip K Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995) and Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989)

Dug your post a lot! You know your shit
Rob Harvilla, writer:

‘Blade Runner’ Is Still the Truest Philip K. Dick Adaptation
(Online article, The Ringer, October 2017)

It is well done
James Van Hise, historian, author and writer:

Philip K. Dick On ‘Blade Runner’
(Article, originally in Starlog, February 1982)

Nicely done
Paul Sammon, filmmaker and author:

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
(Book, revised and updated edition, 2017)

Lots of cool research…nice work
Ryan Britt, author and writer:

Which Blade Runner Cut Is Really the Best?
(Online article, Den of Geek, November 2021)

Great blogpost!
Timothy Shanahan, professor of philosophy and author:

Philosophy of Blade Runner
(Book, 2014)

Great post
Special Agent Dale Cooper, admin:

Off-world: The Blade Runner Wiki

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