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Blade Runner from the Pyle’s point of View In this paper, we draw upon the methods of deconstruction discussed in Forest Pyle’s essay on making cyborgs and making humans in cinema and apply them to the film Blade Runner. In the first place, a science fiction (SF) film somehow related to a prior written text should be approached within the larger context of adaptation theory, that is, in terms of the theoretical relationships possible between film and literature in general. A movie may be based a novel, but it should not be thought of as an illustrated novel or the moving picture of a novel. Writing and film convey different meaning, they are produced with different goals in mind, and have different impacts on their audiences. Forest Pyle notes that films which foreground their adaptation of prior written texts can illustrate three broad approaches to adaptation, each approach involving very different assumptions about the use made of the literary text: borrowing, intersection, and fidelity of transformation (Pyle, 1992). We, of course, refer to the adaptation of P. K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into the Blade Runner. We have to add that Pyle’s explanation of the range of possible relations between a film and a prior written text suggests that most denunciations of SF film adaptations are based on the assumption that the film should only be judged in terms of fidelity to the letter of its written signified.
Curiously enough, such an assumption closely parallels the approach to interpretation championed by E. D. Hirsch: validity in interpretation is to be measured against the writer's intent (Pyle, 1992). Most of the critics who complain that SF films "betray" or "fail to live up to" their literary sources seem to equate the letter of the written text with its intent and demand that only such an inferred intent rule the film adaptation. Blade Runner offers the city as a complex and changing form: a fractal environment, in a sense. The chaotic complexity of the film's urban space is a function of superbly synchronized special effects, providing the balance of order and disorder. The first view of the city is an extreme long shot which takes in the entire space through one totalizing glance which defines it as an undifferentiated and homogeneous site of industrial overgrowth. The next shot offers a fiery smokestack--the first monument to punctuate this diabolical space--and this is followed by the city visible as a reflection in a ghostly eye. That eye then begins to penetrate the space, moving forward over the metro space to finally locate the massive structure of the Tyrell corporate headquarters. In the sequence which follows, the camera located Deckard, the blade runner, by literally coming down to street level: the neon signs, futuristic attire, and lighted umbrella handles now become accessible to perception and inspection (Bukatman, 1989).
As Scott Bukatman's description of the opening scene of Blade Runner reminds us, its semblance was so visually compelling that its fractal-like complexity stays with us long after we have stopped talking about its ridiculous ending or other dramatic scenes. Pyle notes that Blade Runner's excessive scenography and new articulations of architectural and electronic space have established the film as a document of postmodernism, an emblem of cyberpunk aesthetics, an elaborated spectacle whose look has almost completely overshadowed its plot and characterization (Pyle, 1992). Ironically, this 1982 adaptation of a novel published in 1968 seems to have had everything to do with the future of SF film and of SF literature, and little to do with the past of either. Blade Runner offers perhaps the most striking example we have of an SF film whose impact and cultural meaning have very little to do with those of the written narrative from which it was adapted. Pyle also writes that it is Blade Runner the film, not the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that has become such a focus of post-modern cultural theory, and it is the film rather than the novel that seems to have provided the paradigms for future worlds in so many cyberpunk and other recent works of fiction.
Our goal in this paper, however, lies not with considering this film as a text or product, but with considering the process of its making--the practical realities of adaptation of SF literature into film. One of Blade Runner's first scene many ironies is that J. S. Sebastian, the lonely Tyrell Company employee who befriends Pris and Roy, suffers from a disease that prematurely ages him, linking his mortality to the genetically planned four-year life span of the replicants he helped design. When Sebastian tells Roy and Pris, "There's some of me in you," his pride has a rueful double edge. Pyle argues that had Philip K. Dick lived to see the completed film made from his novel, he might have said much the same thing, as some of his work certainly lives in Ridley Scott's movie, although perhaps in ironic fashion. Pyle calls Blade Runner as an adaptation--for creating, a landscape of the mind, vivid and compelling and complete, that for one breathless moment of suspension of disbelief seems to be the real thing, the authentic future, which we can in no other way experience than through the medium of lens and light and screen. Philip K. Dick's own conception of the novel and screenplay as "two halves to one meta-artwork" posits yet another--that we attempt to see both written text and film as part of the same hermeneutic system, one whose interpretation emerges from dialectical comparison, a search for equivalents rather than a gleeful cataloguing of apparent infidelities.
Blade Runner does indeed constitute an important part of the "meta-artwork" initiated by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The movie does provide an experience as deserving of critical attention as is its written antecedent. This is the accomplishment of Blade Runner, an accomplishment that should serve as a challenge to both creators of SF adaptations and SF film critics.