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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

All this changed dramatically one morning in May. "Anyone who gets up for a 10 a.m. Sunday screening of 'Blade Runner' really knows the film," Arick says, "and everyone knew immediately what they were watching. The audience was very rapt from the beginning; the atmosphere was incredible." The print, almost devoid of the voice-over and lacking the tacked-on ending, was closer to Scott's original version than anyone ever thought they'd see again.

Though there was an immediate stir in the film-buff community, Warner Bros. wasn't sure what to do with this new-old version. Scott came over to see it and told Arick that it was in fact not his final cut: The unicorn scene that he had come to love was still missing, and the music over the climactic fight scene was not film composer Vangelis' work but temporary music lifted from Jerry Goldsmith's score for "Planet of the Apes." The two talked about the possibility of adding the unicorn footage, technically known as a "trim," which was languishing in a film-storage facility in London.

What happened instead was that Arick and Warner Bros. parted company (although he continued to advise Scott), and the studio contacted Gary Meyer, executive vice president of the Landmark theater chain, which had earlier expressed interest in "Blade Runner," and asked if he still wanted to show it. Meyer was enthusiastic; 15 theaters nationwide were booked, including the Nuart in West Los Angeles, and without knowing it wasn't quite true, Warner Bros. created a campaign advertising "The Original Director's Version of the Movie That Was Light Years Ahead of Its Time."

Scott was not pleased. "As I understand it, he said, 'This is not my version,' which left Warner Bros. in a real dilemma," reports Meyer. "My intuition is that the studio, which might want to hire him in the future, didn't want to alienate him over some two-week repertory booking." So a compromise was reached. The newly discovered version of "Blade Runner" would play in the Nuart and at the Castro in San Francisco, but nowhere else.

With little publicity, "Blade Runner" opened at the Nuart last September, and immediately attendance went through the roof. The first week set a house record, and the second week bettered the first. When Hampton Fancher, whose screenplay had started it all, tried to get in, he even showed his passport at the box office to prove who he was. But there was absolutely no room at the inn.

The same pattern of success repeated at the Castro, where its $94,000-plus box-office take in one week made it the top-grossing theater in the country. Encouraged by this, and by lucrative showings of the old voice-over version of "Blade Runner" in Houston and Washington, Warner Bros. agreed to pay for the technicians and editing rooms so that Scott could put the film back just the way he wanted it. Which is why, on a weak telephone connection from London a few months ago, there was quiet satisfaction in the director's voice when he said, "I finally got me unicorn scene. Ten years later, but I got it."

The tale of "Blade Runner" turns out to be a curious one. No one went bankrupt, no one's life was ruined beyond repair, no one never worked in this town again. But the experience illuminated the oldest of Hollywood battles, the one about how much tribute must be paid to art in a multimillion-dollar business where money is always the bottom line. Movie executives have always tried to change films, often destroying any artistic merit on the screen--and in the end, ironically, the mutilated films don't make any more money than the original versions would have. So, the dispute remains contentious--even though everyone agrees that "Blade Runner" was so ahead of its time that it wouldn't have been a major hit even if not a frame had been altered.

Still, this was for almost all involved the project of projects, the one that no one has forgotten and that everyone sighs the deepest of sighs over. "Everything on 'Blade Runner' was a little bigger, a little better," says Rutger Hauer wistfully. "You can only be a genius so many times in your life."

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