Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Passing the Voight-Kampff Test

Rutgar Hauer made doves cry before it was cool.
Philip K. Dick (PKD to most fans) was wrong.

Dead wrong.

Right before he passed away, a loss to the science fiction and fantasy community, PKD predicted that Blade Runner would be a commercial success.  It was crushed beneath the science fiction juggernauts of E.T. and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  It barely covered its own creation.

Now, of course, it’s regarded as a science fiction, neo-noir classic with depth of world and characters that would have Captain Kirk shouting “Deckard!” so loud it would echo in space.  Ridley Scott’s film is such an incredible, undeniable film fixture that it has had several revised treatments on DVD/BluRay, and elicited no end of comments, discussion and controversy among fans over the key “unanswered” question of Deckard’s true nature

But that’s the thing about PKD, he was a big idea man who couldn’t quite connect with his readers.  His genius, and he was a genius, was in the conceptual design of stories.  He was fantastically creative.  Fantastically.  So much so that of his 44 novels and 120 short stories, adaptations have earned over $1 billion in total revenue.

But he was always shy of the mark as it applied to his readers.  For example, almost none of works carried PKD’s original title.  His titles were almost always changed by his editors before release.  PKD himself was remembered as having said that if he could have written good titles he would “have been an advertising writer instead of a novelist.”  

So as we consider the news from Ridley Scott that a sequel to Blade Runner is in development, let’s curb the idea that without PKD it’s doomed from the Tyrell Corporation starting gate.  The writer himself, in expressing his delight over the first film, wrote:

As for my own role in the BLADE RUNNER project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER. Thank you . . . and it is going to be one hell of a commercial success. It will prove invincible.

PKD himself was amazed at what Scott and his team had done in adapting his original work,
How can Deckard not know what he is?
 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  He knew his core story was there, the bones were good and worthy of the adaptation, but the clever nuance and visual effects that helped create the world were only mentioned, if at all, in passing by PKD.  He knew that Ridley Scott had stood on the shoulders of his story, saw further than the author, and captured that vision for audiences.  

This is true of many PKD works that have been adapted.  Just like George Lucas, the better stories are those told by others who can connect PKD's ideas with audiences.  PKD may have been initially wrong about the movie being a “commercial success”, but he was certainly prophetic that it would “prove invincible”.

It has.

It will again.