In part four of this never-before published 2007 interview with author Paul M. Sammon, we discuss the immediate aftermath of Blade Runner‘s failed theatrical release, concerns about setting the film in 2019, and the marking of Blade Runner: The Ultimate Collector’s Collection disc set.
STEPHEN SLAUGHTER HEAD: After the failure of Blade Runner at the box office, did anything about that, perhaps ironically, enliven in you more of a determination to investigate what went wrong, and maybe even try to keep the movie on the minds of fans … as if to say, Look what you missed?
PAUL M. SAMMON: In a way, it did. It actually inspired me to reconsider what the tone of the film actually is.
You know, it’s funny, when I just saw The Final Cut again last week – I’ve seen it about four or five times since its been out – once again I was struck, ultimately, as to how sad a motion picture Blade Runner is. I think a lot of people, for some reason or another, are perhaps too obsessed with the amazing graphics in the film that they tend to overlook the melancholic underpinnings of the story – it’s in the mood and the atmosphere. That’s another thing that’s always attracted me to this film, the fact that it has a siren call – it’s almost like a lost lament. It’s almost like a goodbye to a civilization that doesn’t even exist. It’s like a requiem for a fictional metropolis. And at the same time it’s very much commenting on where we are headed.
HEAD: Also, I guess ironically, this would seem so right for audiences right at the start of the Reagan era.
SAMMON: Very true. This was the beginning of the Reagan era, when we were supposedly all very optimistic and America was in its ascendancy again. But Blade Runner had the foresight to look more critically at contemporary culture and say … well, you might be happy, or at least think you’re happy, with the way the world is going, but we’re going to show you the way the world is really going. And we’re going to give you one possible dead-end that it might wind up in if things go on the way they are today.
HEAD: You know, one has to wonder if 2019 was just too early.
SAMMON: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. [He sighs] In fact, very early on I had a short discussion with Ridley about that. I’m a lifelong science-fiction fan – literature and the film – and was pretty well-versed in the genre well before I met Ridley Scott. This is one of the things I pointed out in one of our early discussions.
Ridley said “We’re are going to put the story forty years in the future.”
I said “Flying cars? Forty years in the future?”
He looked at me and said, “You don’t think there’s going to be flying cars in the future?”
“I don’t know if there’s going to be flying cars in the future,” I said. “But I do know that one of the mistakes filmmakers often make when they do a science-fiction film, and they’re trying to make slightly contemporary, is they never set it far enough ahead in the future for the technology to be believable.”
It’s like, when you go to a movie and it takes place ten years in the future and people might have rocket packs. [He laughs] Stuff like that. They never seem to really be realistic about how much time it takes for the technology to catch up. Yes, we have a rapidly advancing technological society, but not that rapid, not that fast.
HEAD: I’ll say this, I was in high school at time [Blade Runner] was released. And from my point-of-view then, I was thinking … Wow! I can’t wait until 2019! It’ll be so darn cool. So, yeah. Oh, well.
SAMMON: [He laughs] Exactly! Regarding one of the things you’d asked me a little earlier, about when I first began to write about the Blade Runner and what led me to be obsessive about it. It was initially simply my desire to be as comprehensive as I could in reporting everything went into the making of that motion picture. And, as I already said, also to more or less inform readers as to how films actually get made. But what also happened was something I didn’t expect.
Once the film came out and did so poorly. and I felt so much … I just felt sorry for everyone, you know? Because it’s like, Jesus! We all went through so much to get this movie done. And here, people actually tried to make something adult, and something … you know, the kind of science-fiction film people were always saying they’d rather see – one with real people and believable situations and drama and conflict and, you know, questioning and probing social criticism. Well … it’s there it all is folks. And nobody went to see it.
HEAD: As a crew member on films, I certainly empathize with this. For example, I worked really hard on the movie Betsy’s Wedding, as did everyone on the crew. The film is largely forgotten, but, you know … there’s all this incredible work we did. One puts their heart into these things. It’s terribly frustrating.
SAMMON: Yes! And that Blade Runner failed … it pissed me off a little bit. And so I started to get a bit more intrigued by the after-life of the film. And then of course right after, relatively speaking, Blade Runner came out the whole explosion of home-video and videocassettes happend. Then all of a sudden it started to find its second life. So, it was almost a film that had been born again. It was as though I was watching it suddenly be made a second time, and reconnect with the audience. It was just one thing after another. So I’ve certainly always been interested in, and at times perplexed by, this motion picture. But believe me, it isn’t everything in my life [He laughs]. No way. I have many other interests. I have a very varied life. Lots of other things.
HEAD: I’m led to wonder if there is or could ever be another film that you might find as interesting as Blade Runner to commit so much time to.
SAMMON: Well, you never know, it could be out there. I just finished my latest book, it just came out.
HEAD: Oh really, tell me about that.
SAMMON: It’s called Conan: The Phenomenon, It’s a big coffee table art book about characters that the pulp writer Robert E. Howard created back in 1932. And with this, there’s so much material. There’s like seventy-five years of accumulated material – all kinds of media, not only motion pictures and the Schwarzenegger films, but pulp magazines, comic books, paperbacks, board games and computer games. It’s another pop-culture force that has been growing and multiplying and kind of like virally invading the pop-culture consciousness for decades. And I’m fascinated by the character Conan as well. I guess if I can be called any kind of artist at all, I suppose I’m one who very consciously strip-mines his childhood [He laughs].
HEAD: How would you say the press for Blade Runner is going this time around? Are you going to be doing anything for the DVD release specifically? Is there going to be any kind of organized push for it in the next couple of weeks?
SAMMON: Well, Warner home video has actually been very … again, I’m going to sound like I’m being completely superficial here but I’m not … This has been one of those rare instances when a studio has so gotten behind its twenty-five-year-old film that you wonder, Jesus, I wish this had all been there when Blade Runner first came out [He laughs]. That’s kind of biting the hand that feeds you in a way. But what I’m trying to say is, Warner Home Video has been really good about pushing The Final Cut and the DVD set in terms of raising popular consciousness about it and getting the word out. They have been really supportive.
One of the things they did was at the San Diego Comic Con in late July. They mounted this big Blade Runner panel there that Ridley Scott was at, and Joanna Cassidy and Sean Young, Joe Turkel and James Hong and myself and Charles de Lauzirika and other people. And they had kind of a round-robin press conference before that. So a lot of press was done then.