Retrofitting Blade Runner (2nd Edition) edited by Judith B. Kerman (book review).

‘Retrofitting Blade Runner’ is unusual in that unlike other books about the 1982 film, it clearly also focuses on Philip Dick’s original novel, ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ As most of us here should be familiar with both of them, I can gloss over some of the details. Dick essentially was often exploring the nature of what it meant to be human and could it be represented in androids. For the film, this was contorted a bit to allow a futuristic film noir detective story. In many respects, typical of Hollywood adaptations, there is little comparison between them.

With this book, we have seventeen assorted degreed people having their say on the subject in a variety of ways. I should also point out that the sub-title is ‘Issues In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner And Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ which us a bit of a mouthful but describes the book’s content.

Picking out details that made me think. Joseph Francavilla compares the human characters from the film to Faust and their own abilities. There’s an obvious comparison to JF Sebastian’s age problem to that of the Replicants in that both have a similar age limit. However, the observation between Roy Batty and his creator Tyrell and even Deckard draws attention to the dividing line between them and which is actually the hero or villain or both. Something he raises about the Replicants growing empathy strongly suggests that eventually that they would pass the Voight-Kampff Test better than humans. If anything, hunting Replicants just makes them more human than not.

Leonard G. Heldreth points out the common theme of eyes in the film. Replicant eyes, making eyes, poking at eyes and gorging eyes. It’s quite a pattern when you think about it. He also makes an interesting point in that at the end of the film, it’s both Batty and Deckard that gain humanity.

Brooks Landon in his examination points out when it comes to film adaptation, the writer’s original novel ends up mostly being ignored when it comes to what aspects they want. I still puzzle over that. I mean, if you’re a studio buying a name and property for an adaptation, doesn’t it make sense to at least have some resemblance to its source? With ‘Blade Runner’, the aspects of a dysfunctional world seems to be the only thing Phil Dick really liked that was really his.

I’m not sure if I agree with David Desser in that the Los Angeles population lacks white people when he focuses so much on the extras and not the rest of the cast. Saying that, he and C. Carter Colwell did make me think as to considering how wonderful the off-worlds are, why would they need military Replicants? What war are they fighting? Then again, why would Replicants go to Earth when they know there are Blade Runners waiting to ‘retire’ them? With this group, it’s pretty obvious, they seek extended life. It does make you wonder why Tyrell never instilled a memory in them that it was impossible.

William M. Kolb points out that Gaff leaving the origami unicorn as a symbol to Deckard that with Rachael that he is chasing a dream not reality, which is also how I’ve always interpreted it rather than him being a Replicant. Kolb also points out the multiple endings that director Ridley Scott made to choose form seriously shows the indecision to it, not helped by the studio wanting a ‘happy’ ending when he preferred something more dour. The number of times that the seven script drafts are discussed, surely it would make sense for some enterprising publisher to print all versions for comparison. One thing Kolb clearly doesn’t get is that if Deckard was a Replicant then how could be use the Voight-Kampff Test on other beings, let alone not being equal to Batty in stopping him?

Kolb has several chapters in this book, including an analysis of the laser disk version and the one telling thing from all of this is in the end sequence, Roy Batty is quoted believing Deckard to be human as he says he’s seen things ‘you people wouldn’t believe’. You would think by now that they would be able to afford the ‘Blade Runner’ DVD special editions that are out there if only to compare the multiple versions and the better likelihood that more people would own the set. This is covered later in the book but I reckon the average reader will end up being confused as to which version is definitive. After reading this book, I dug out the workprint for a look – I’ve been biding my time between watching the different versions – and it isn’t so much the difference but the occasional panoramic look at scenes that got edited out that show far more detail.

Several of the writers examine the city and why so many people are homeless, forgetting that as this is America that homes might cost too much to even rent even with so many people off-world. The cities becoming a slum because no one can afford to live there might not be such a distant forecast.

No one really gives much thought as to why Zhora is working as a stripper. Logistically, I doubt if they would want to steal everything on Earth as it would draw attention to themselves. Where Zhora is, she can not only pay the rent for their accommodation but through Taffy Lewis have connections to the criminal underworld. As one of the comments in the Bibliography points out, none of the Replicants have firearms and are at an immediate disadvantage to the Blade Runners. You would have thought that arming themselves would have been top of their list even with their superior strength and speed.

The rather extended bibliography not only covers the sources for their background material but quotes as well, giving you a lot of information about what was said by the press at the time. It is worth time reading all these clips because it gives a valuable time capsule to what the thinking was at the time. One from the ‘Washington Times’ on page 275 comments that in 1992 that Ridley Scott when extensively interviewed on the film made no mention of making Deckard a Replicant as a reminder that it was hardly something he as was considering at the time. On page 281, the ‘Baltimore Sun’ reviewer makes an astute observation how bad a detective Deckard actually is, something Harrison Ford also says in different reference. To my mind, I can see one day that both the film and novel will be re-made again, looking for definitive versions true to the latter.

There is an interesting reference to the missing Replicant, Mary, as reaching her terminal age before getting in on the action that I hadn’t heard before.

One major annoyance that is still going on is that many of these university don writers forget that they aren’t writing a thesis and when the useful footnotes are as long as their main text, it can make reading more of a slog than it should be.

Having said that, the length of my comments above should be a clear indication that this book will make you think, which is no bad thing. If you’ve missed out on other ‘Blade Runner’ books or simply want to add another one to your collection, then you’re going to find a lot of material that isn’t repeated elsewhere. ‘Blade Runner’ has an odd distinction of having had a lot of books written about it over the years and can’t wait for the 2019 edition where it’s criticised that our reality looks nothing like this. In the meantime, read this one.

GF Willmetts

(pub: The University Of Wisonsin Press. 332 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £24.95 (UK), $27.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-87972-510-5)
check out website:\wisconsinpress


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.