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Ahira's Hangar • View topic - Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

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Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Moonwatcher » Mon Mar 22, 2010 1:44 am

Okay, so recently I finally read Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that was the basis for one of my all-time favorite films, Blade Runner.
I'll be perfectly blunt up front: I prefer the movie. I expected more from the book than what I got.

One of the problems is that nearly all the characters in the novel seem shallower than in the film, especially the principals - Deckard, Rachael and Batty. These three, as played onscreen by Ford, Young and Hauer, were a vital reason why the movie impacted me the way it did. But in the book, they are all annoying and it never lets up. Rachael is a bitch of an android right to the end; Batty is a feeble, ineffectual leader of his group; and Deckard finds them all and retires them far too easily. There is no drama to the whole search-and-destroy mission. I get what Dick is saying: that Deckard is able to track down androids with relative ease because they all have a basic inability to pass off as human beings no matter how good they think they are. I get that Dick did not intend for the reader to sympathize with them (Luba Luft being a possible exception). Yes, the point of Dick's "andys" is that they are "cold, cruel and heartless."

But that puts me back at square one: these are shallow characters that leave me indifferent as a reader. I guess I simply find Ridley Scott's "more human than human" replicants more fascinating than Dick's sub-human androids. Scott's replicants show a kind of fight in them - the will to preserve themselves in the face of insurmountable odds - that is absent from Dick's andys. However, I'll concede this does make Blade Runner's replicants a bit more problematic due to their complex natures, in contrast to the book's more straightforward androids. Having this inner will to fight for their lives suggests, at least to me, that they have some intangible thing: a "soul" if you will, that Dick's andys lack. It brings up the question: can an artificial construct really have a soul?

Luba Luft is maybe the most sympathetic android. I'm somewhat confused by the timeline of events, though: I had thought she and the other andys in the story were recent arrivals on Earth, but the description of Luft's time there seems to imply she's been on terrestrial soil for a lengthy period - long enough to build a career as an opera singer. At any rate, even though Luba evokes sympathy, Dick emphasizes that the andys still murdered human beings in order to get to Earth to make a better life for themselves. Although Scott's replicants are more glamorous than Dick's andys, Scott doesn't gloss over their ruthlessness either: recall that within ten minutes of the film, Leon guns down Detective Holden. They're handsome specimens, but they easily turn killer on a dime.

J.R. Isidore is maybe the most layered and sympathetic figure in the whole book, given how much we peer into his thoughts compared to the rest of the characters (Deckard included). His misplaced friendship with the rogue androids who take refuge in his apartment building makes me pity him, as I pitied J.F. Sebastian in the movie. Isidore's visions of the "tomb world" are riveting. This is where Dick's prose really soars; it's as if Isidore is tapping into some cosmic reality greater than himself.

On the other hand, I seriously cannot stand Rachael as she is in the book. Why did she kill Deckard's goat at the end? To gloat at Deckard's impotence - i.e. his unwillingness to "retire" her when he had the chance?

And Roy Batty? His unremarkable, mundane execution by Deckard is quite anti-climactic compared to the epic confrontation between the two in the film.

The empathy box and "Mercerism" are things I don't miss in the movie. Mercerism in particular would have possibly confused the film too much (though I concede that BR's script has enough confusing/contradictory elements on its own).

The "Buster Friendly" show in the book seems very quaint to me. The notion that one channel, one program could so dominate the airwaves on Earth and the off-world colonies is more far-fetched to me than the idea of sentient androids. I realize the book was written before the age of the 500-channel universe, but I still find the scenario a little ludicrous. As for Buster Friendly himself, I assume he's a Big Brother figure - whether a benevolent or sinister kind seems to be left to the reader to decide.

Deckard's obsession with acquiring a real animal to replace his defective electric sheep provides some entertaining humor in the book. Its inclusion in Blade Runner might have endeared it more to audiences. But BR works fine for me without that element. I'm just glad the film didn't end up as a complete comedy, as was the case in the very first Hollywood treatment of the novel.

As for Deckard's strange "merge" with Mercer towards the end of the book, I'm not sure what to make of it. I'm reminded of the merging of POV's of the separate versions of Dave Bowman in the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would have made for a much more fanciful, mystical kind of movie - quite different from the realistically grounded one Scott was making.

Same with Mercer's sudden appearance to Deckard in Isidore's apartment complex. I guess it was meant to resolve Deckard's conflicting attitude towards Mercerism, but I'm glad it was not in Blade Runner. I think it could have easily been an awful, cheesy B-movie moment. Not that I'm saying a skilled filmmaker like Ridley Scott couldn't have done something with it. But on the written page, you can more easily get away with things like that.

The novel's resolution with Deckard returning to his wife is another thing that leaves me indifferent. It is emotionally vacuous compared to the movie's poignant coda with Deckard and Rachael fleeing toward who knows what future they have together. This doesn't mean I'm cheering on infidelity: in the movie, Deckard's marriage was dead when the story began, so it wasn't as if he had a wife to return to. And since we never saw her in the film, there's nothing to attach our sympathy to. (Without the voice-over, we wouldn't even know Deckard had been married.)

Whatever my problems with the story, I have to say PKD's prose is cogent through it all. This is a very readable book. Despite the futuristic gadgetry and philosophical musings, Dick's writing remains relatively jargon-free. In the end, I have to give my nod to Dick's original novel, for without it there would be no Blade Runner. But for me, it is Ridley Scott's cinematic vision that brings Dick's story and world to vivid life.
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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Tue Mar 23, 2010 4:28 pm

Great post MM. Will be reading my (abridged :( ) version soon, and will post my comments here. Although, it's been a very long time since I saw the movie.

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Wed Mar 24, 2010 3:10 pm

And wouldn't you know... :D Today somebody at work lent me a whole bunch of movies, and one of them is Blade Runner. :D Awesome.

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Moonwatcher » Thu Mar 25, 2010 12:04 am

Very nice, Av. Though I'd really like some opinions about the book. I don't know if I just don't "get" it, or I do and it simply leaves me cold.
Also, if I've now offended Philip K. Dick fans, well...c'est la vie. As a Blade Runner fan, I've seen my share of negative responses to the film. Not that I posted my comments out of revenge. I'm just being completely honest about my first impressions. Btw, I did not explain things like Mercerism and the empathy box because I wasn't trying for a formal book review. I'm not sure I get the whole thing with Mercerism.

Anyway, happy viewing! (Or not.)
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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:36 pm

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Moonwatcher » Fri Mar 26, 2010 1:59 am

It's nice to know at least that I'm not alone in my view of the book. Again, not saying it's a bad book, just that it's disappointing compared to the film. Which maybe is saying the same thing in a backhanded way. Not sure. But I think your friend hit on something: the novel feels more like the outline of a potentially great story rather than a great story itself. Dick sets forth the ideas, but to me, they just kind of lay there.

And good grief, if you can't clarify Mercerism for me, then we're both in trouble. :shifty:
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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:23 pm

Finished the book, and found it pretty flat and tensionless. Can't say how much is down to the editing though. :( Dunno if Mercer is better explained in the full book...it's been too long since I read it for me to remember.

Will try watch the movie this weekend.

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Sat Mar 27, 2010 6:28 pm

Watched it. Enjoyed it on the whole, but it has aged. There were bits of the book that were good that I missed in the movie, notably the "fake" cops, and no mention of the war, or why animals were expensive. Found the first half (it was the directors cut) very slow. Rutger Hauer was great in it though, especially toward the end.

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Moonwatcher » Sun Mar 28, 2010 3:29 pm

Yes, Rutger Hauer really made Roy Batty his own. I think that was THE role of his career. Though I'd argue that all the actors in Blade Runner crafted distinctive, memorable performances. The acting in this film was under appreciated - but that's always been the case with sci fi films. Anyway, it was those personalities of the characters I missed when reading the book.

I didn't get around to mentioning the "fake" detectives, but now that you brought it up, yes, it was one of the more interesting parts of the book.

While it's true the film did not mention the war, in my opinion that element didn't amount to much in the book, except as a background explanation for the sparse population on Earth. Ridley Scott simply chose a different premise. Instead of a denuded, post-apocalyptic world, he was interested in presenting an overcrowded urban landscape. Neither scenarios are very pleasant visions of the future, I'll say that.

True, the movie never did explain why animals were so expensive. The script went through so many changes that it's somewhat of a minor miracle the film got to be as coherent as it was. But I agree, the story could have been a little tighter. It meanders a bit, which may be why the film dragged for you. I guess I just got used to Blade Runner's pace over the years; it's a movie I can just sit back and wallow in its visual richness.
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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:15 pm

Yeah, it freaked me out...couldn't figure what was going on.

I'm afraid that visually it didn't do it for me anymore. When I first watched it, (long ago), it did. But time had dulled the memory...when I saw the street scene in 5th Element, my first thought was they'd got the inspiration from Blade Runner. When I saw the scene in Blade Runner, all I could think about was how much better it looked in 5th Element. :lol:

This is one of the few movies I think I'd like to see a remake of.

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Moonwatcher » Thu Apr 01, 2010 1:59 am

A remake would have to be something seriously special to eclipse Ridley Scott's film. Sorry that Blade Runner doesn't do much for you anymore, but it remains one of the best sci fi films I've ever seen. I enjoy it for its subtleties, like the nuanced performances and the way the movie was lit and shot. For this film alone, I regard the late Jordan Cronenweth as a god of cinematography.

I saw The Fifth Element when it came out and liked it at first, but it never grew on me the way Blade Runner did. Also, I had more issues with Element's plot than I ever did with Blade Runner. Visually, Element throws a lot of stuff at the viewer, yes, but subtlety is not its strong point. It's a loud, garish piece of entertainment - which is fine by itself, but that's not why I watch Blade Runner. I appreciate BR as an intimate, character-driven mood piece. But I fear that the remake of BR you wish for would turn it into an action vehicle with not much soul.
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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:40 pm

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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Moonwatcher » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:28 am

Well, after reading the synopsis of The Fifth Element at IMDb, I remember more clearly both the fun and annoying parts. For me, the best thing about the movie were those incredible robot beings - the Mondoshawans, the (self-appointed?) guardians of the Elements. I loved their design - and wished I had a model. Those guys were pure awesome.

And hey, a place called The Prop Store in London has a full-size Mondoshawan:

http://www.propstore.com/mondo.htm

Wow. I mean, Wow. Me want Mondo again!

What were we talking about again?
Oh yeah. It seems neither Dick's novel nor Scott's movie do much for you. I see this discussion going nowhere fast. :lol:
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Re: Electric Sheep and Blade Runner: novel vs. film

Postby Avatar » Fri Apr 02, 2010 10:12 am

:lol: The GF read the book after we watched the film, and she preferred the book FWIW. She agreed about the lack of tension in it, but she thought the idea was presented better.

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