Science fiction this weekend with Philip K. Dick’s revered novel from 1968 – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A prolific sci-fi genius, the American author (who died in 1982) didn’t find much success during his lifetime, but since his novels began being adapted into Hollywood films, he’s become quite the posthumous legend. Happily, he did get to see this novel being developed into the legendary 1982 film Blade Runner before he passed away.
This is a rare example of a film adaptation being far superior to the book which inspired it. Whilst Dick’s sci-fi novels are brimming with remarkable ideas (Minority Report, Total Recall, The Truman Show – these are only a few of the adaptations of his work), we’ve often struggled to find his writing particularly enjoyable. He was a creative powerhouse, no denying it, but the stories ultimately lack cohesion. The result here is, particularly if you’ve seen Blade Runner, an average book which has exceptional, even radical, concepts which paved the way to create one of the best films of all time.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
For the record, the excellent The Man in the High Castle is Philip K. Dick’s finest novel, in our opinion, although it says a lot this is far removed from much of his other works, which are typically based on high-concept ideas set in the distant future. His central theme was the concept of reality – what is existence, how do we know what anything is, and how is it that we don’t know what isn’t actually is not?
Science fiction during Dick’s era was still sneered at and considered childish, in the way many critics peer down unimpressed at video games in our era. Science fiction is now more widely considered acceptable behaviour for adults to indulge in, of course, helped along by the aforementioned film adaptation and the rise of geek culture (didn’t you know? It’s now cool to be a geek!).
The plot follows the life of bounty hunter Rick Deckard who has to retire what are known as Nexus 6 androids – these, typically, have gone errant, yet look exactly like human beings but with superior abilities. He’s charged with taking out an exceptional few androids who have returned to Earth to try and further their lifespan. In the course of “retiring” them, Deckard begins to question what it is to be a human, and if the androids he is killing are capable of feeling empathy, remorse, morality etc.
In synopsis form it sounds striking and orginal – the latter it certainly is, but Dick’s narrative style doesn’t match the more convincing tone visionary director Scott adopted for Blade Runner. As such, if you’re a fan of the film we’d recommend you read it, but otherwise it’s simply, as aforementioned (were you paying attention?), a decent novel with remarkable ideas which became a genius film.
Simply saying “Blade Runner” to many movie buffs will be enough to make them crap their pants. Such is the fanbase – many will name it their outright favourite film. Despite its critical acclaim now, Ridley Scott had a nightmare filming it due, mainly, to studio interference.
Philip K. Dick oversaw parts of the 1981 production and commented Rutger Hauer was the perfect Roy Batty (the main antagonist). He also approved of Scott’s work (being particularly blown away by the famous opening sequence), but suddenly died in March 1982, a few months shy of the June ’82 release date.
Blade Runner initially met with mixed reviews but, a decade later, Scott released the Director’s Cut to remove, principally, the unpopular Harrison Ford narration the studio bods had insisted would help the audience understand what was happening. Ford and Scott had already clashed on set, so delivered moribund voice overs which are considered ghastly even by the actor.
Blade Runner was always brilliant, frankly, but the subsequent adjustments, including the Final Cut edition in 2007, have added to it and we’re very big fans indeed. We think it’s Scott’s finest moment, with the film boasting some remarkable set-pieces and all of it is powered along by the otherworldly Vangelis soundtrack. Get it watched, if you haven’t yet, as the belated sequel is out in October of this year: Blade Runner 2049.