Philip K. Dick published Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in 1968. It was 1982 before the story would make its way to the big screen under the title Blade Runner. The title Blade Runner comes from a treatment William S. Burroughs had been working on whose story is completely unrelated. The treatment was never going to be filmed so Ridley Scott bought the title and used it for his film.
Dick wrote many books over his long career and Electric Sheep is one of his most famous. As well, many of his stories have been translated to the big screen: Total Recall, Payback and most recently A Scanner Darkly just to name a few. These films have ranged from terrible to great and it’s safe to say that Blade Runner ranks amongst the finest films ever to come from Dick’s source material.
The film itself has had a tumultuous life. There was conflict between Scott and the studio when it was filmed and Scott was forced to change the film for its original theatrical release. A happy ending was tacked on and Harrison Ford was brought back in to record a voice over track because the studio was worried the audience would not understand what was going on.
In 1992 Ridley Scott released a directors cut of the film that was closer to his original vision. He even added in the unicorn dream sequences which was footage left over from his film Legend. Now in 2007 we await the release of what is to be Scotts definitive cut of the film, which will see a theatrical release as well as DVD. What will this new film hold in store for its fans? Only time will tell.
The year is 1999 and much of the world is in ruin after a devastating war and people are encouraged to move to off-world colonies to avoid the deadly radioactive dust that fills the air.
Our hero is Rick Deckard. He works for the San Francisco Police Department as a bounty hunter who hunts down renegade androids, which are outlawed on Earth. He lives in apartment building with his wife and they have an artificial sheep that he pretends is real to impress his neighbors. Recently his senior hunter was incapacitated by a Nexus- 6 (the latest android model) and it’s up to Deckard to hunt down the six remaining androids in the San Francisco area.
His hunting leads him to the Rosen Corp., the makers of the Nexus-6, where he meets Rachael Rosen. Deckard uses his Voigt-Kampff test to prove Rachael is an android but she doesn’t believe it. Deckard is able to hunt down three of the androids, one posing as an opera singer and another as a police officer. All while doing this he begins to question whether he himself might be an android.
Later at home Deckard is visited by Mercer (a sort of god/prophet in this world) who tells him that sometimes doing the wrong thing is necessary.
Meanwhile the last three Nexus-6 are hiding out in a mostly abandoned apartment building. In this building lives John Isidore, a man who has low intelligence and is not allowed to leave the planet. Isidore befriends the Nexus-6. Deckard shows up to retire the last three. During the fight Mercer appears and saves Deckard’s life from being shot in the back by the Nexus-6 named Pris, who looks just like Racheal.
After the ordeal is over Deckard takes a walk in Oregon where he finds a toad long thought extinct. He brings it home only to discover it is artificial. He’s too tired to care and his wife orders some artificial flies for it.
Rick Deckard is a retired Blade Runner, a bounty hunter who’s job it is to retire replicants. After another Blade Runner is killed Deckard is called out of retirement and put on the case to retire 4 replicants that are the latest model, Nexus-6.
Deckard goes to the Tyrell Corp. to study this latest model. He uses his Voight-Kampff test on Tyrell’s assistant Rachael and discovers that she is a replicant, but she doesn’t know.
Deckard quickly hunts down two of the replicants, one who is a stripper. The other two are hiding out with a shy man named J.F. Sebastian. They want to use him to get to Tyrell so that can kill him.
Back at Sebastian’s Deckard has a final show down with the last two replicants. In the end Deckard and Rachael decide to run off together. As they are leaving Deckard finds an origami unicorn left by his former partner Gass. Deckard has been having dreams of unicorns and this moment leads him and us to believe he may in fact be a replicant himself.
Differences and Similarities:
The differences between the book and film range from major to insignificant. For starts the book takes place in San Francisco, 1999. The movie takes place in Los Angeles 2019. In the book Deckard is married while in the film he is single leaving him available to have more of a relationship with Rachael. In the film Deckard has to come out of retirement to being his case, that is not so for the book. As state previously the term Blade Runner was added to the movie and does not exist in the book and while the film refers to the android as replicants the book calls the andys.
A few major ideas and themes are missing from the film, the first being the Mercer religion. This religion plays a large part in the lives of both Deckard and Isidore. Also missing from the film is the Penfield Mood Organ that decides what mood a person should be in at any give time of day.
There are some serious differences with the Nexus-6 as well. Luba Luft the opera singer becomes Zhora, a showgirl, in the film. And in the book it is another bounty hunter, Phil Resch that kills Luba, in the film Phil does not exist. Two very different actors in the film, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah, play Rachel and Pris who are identical in the book. And while Roy and Pris live in the same building as John Isidore, they live with J.F. Sebastian in the film. Then there’s the Rosen Corp. in the book and Tyrell Corp. in the movie.
Beyond all the differences, however, there are many similarities to the two stories. Obviously the major plot line of Deckard hunting down the Nexus-6 is intact and the idea of him questioning whether or not he is a replicant himself remains as well. The mood of the two stories are very comparable as well. When reading the book is it very easy to imagine the world of the movie and vice versa. Philip K. Dick creates very rich detailed worlds and many of his ideas are incorporated quite nicely into the movie.
Which is better:
People always like to say, “Well, it’s not as good as the book.” In this case, however, it’s a very tough call. Electric Sheep is hands down one of Dick’s finest books and is a joy to read. Blade Runner on the other hand is phenomenal movie that stands on it’s own to legs as it’s own creative entity.
So in the case of Electric Sheep vs Blade Runner I’m going to have to call a tie. Keep in mind everything I’m talking about here is in reference to the Directors Cut not the theatrical release. And as far as that new Divinity Cut is concerned, I’ve very excited to see what Scott has in store for us.