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Blade Runner 2 : The Screenwriter Wrote Eight Drafts--and Then Was Replaced. On His First Day, The Director Turned The Set Upside Down. Harrison Ford Was Never So Miserable. Years Later, Someone Stumbled Over The Long-lost Original. Nothing About This Cult Classic Was Ever Simple.

September 13, 1992|KENNETH TURAN | Kenneth Turan is The Times' film critic and former book-review editor

Deckard agrees to the task because he wants the money to buy the environmentally plundered future's ultimate status symbol, a live animal--specifically, a sheep. He meets Tyrell, the maker of the Nexus 6 robots, as well as his nominal niece, Rachal, who, Deckard discovers, is an android. He has a brief affair with Rachal, terminates the six andys and, after much philosophical speculation about how androids and humans differ and ruminations about a futuristic religion called Mercerism, Deckard returns to a somehow strengthened relationship with his wife.

When Hampton Fancher, an actor turned screenwriter in search of a project, called on Dick in his Santa Ana apartment in 1975, he wasn't concerned about the writer's place in literature. He didn't care that "Androids" had been optioned three times before or that Dick thought Victoria Principal would make a perfect Rachal.

"Phil was crazy, wonderful; he'd stop and look at his hands for five minutes straight, like he was getting messages from Mars," remembers Fancher, a striking man with a casually bohemian air. "But he didn't like me. He kept insulting me, acting like I was Hollywood, some emissary from people with cigars." No deal resulted, but five years later, when Brian Kelly, an actor friend of Fancher, was looking for a property to produce, Fancher, "just to put him off, knowing he'd be going up a blind alley," sent him off to Phil Dick. But the two got on; Kelly got an option on "Androids," and Fancher eventually became screenwriter.

Fancher's drafts (he ultimately did eight) eliminated both Mercerism and the wife, upgraded Rachal to girlfriend and placed the "Androids" story in the dark, fatalistic world of film noir. "I wrote it for Robert Mitchum," he says, "a wiped-out guy with scars and hangovers who got up and did his job. But there was no love in his life. He was missing part of himself, and he found it through contact with this woman. He found his heart by falling in love with the Tin Man."

These drafts concluded with Deckard taking Rachal out of the city, letting her see nature for the first time, and then, because she has only a few days to live, shooting her in the snow.

While Fancher was writing, Kelly brought the project to the attention of the more experienced Michael Deeley, who in addition to "The Deer Hunter" had overseen dozens of films, including Sam Peckinpah's "The Convoy," and had run British Lion and Thorn EMI. Deeley, a polished Briton, liked the novel, seeing it as "a thriller and a romance, like the Nazi commandant falling in love with the Jewish girl who's supposed to be his victim."

Deeley immediately thought of Ridley Scott, a filmmaker he'd known for a number of years. But Scott, a successful director of commercials whose only released film was the little-seen "The Duellists," was in post-production with something called "Alien" and was not ready to commit to another science-fiction project. So the script, whose name kept changing from "Android" to "Animal" to "Mechanismo" to "Dangerous Days," made the well-traveled Hollywood rounds.

Director Robert Mulligan, best known for the sweetly sentimental "To Kill A Mockingbird," briefly became involved. "The romantic element was a lot softer then," says Deeley by way of explaining what now seems like a curious choice. Mulligan never got beyond preliminary discussions, but by then, Scott, who had become an A-list director with the success of "Alien," decided he was interested after all. In April, 1980, Filmways Pictures announced a $13-million budget for an as-yet-untitled tale of "technological terror."

Scott liked Fancher's dark take on the script. In fact, both men found their collaboration energizing. "For a writer it was awesome, really inspiring, a creative fun house," remembers Fancher. "And Scott had a way of speaking in shorthand. 'What's out the window?' he said one day. I told him I didn't know. 'Well, think about it,' he said," a brief dialogue that led eventually to the elaborately imagined future world that would become the film's trademark.

It was Fancher who uncovered the name "Blade Runner," taken from the title of an obscure work by William Burroughs. It was during his tenure that Dustin Hoffman was seriously considered for the role of Deckard. But Hoffman pulled out, and Fancher, after all those drafts, was replaced. "Ridley and I had had disagreements, but I thought I'd won the arguments," he says with bemused irony. "I was so naive, I didn't know that writers did what they're told."

David Peoples, the second writer on the project, had a background in the documentary field, including co-writing the moving Oscar-nominated study of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "The Day After Trinity." But though they'd never been produced, he'd written seven or eight dark, futuristic spec scripts (and went on to write Clint Eastwood's current "Unforgiven") that had come to the attention of director Tony Scott, Ridley's brother.

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