Blade Runner is about to get a prequel. Ridley Scott will partner with his commercials company, RSA Films, to make Purefold. A series of webisodes set in the Blade Runner universe. Those who know me know I’m an obsessive fan of the original film and have seen it too many times to count. On New Year’s Eve, my friends get a kick out of watching me turn off the volume of the film and recite the lines by heart. I moderated a Blade Runner panel at last year’s Readercon alongside Geoff Ryman and have read Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, Retrofitting Blade Runner, and More Than Human, Rutger Hauer’s biography, along with dozens of other texts. You’d think I’d be be psyched, right?
There are so many things that can go wrong with Purefold. All one has to do is say George Lucas, and the problem becomes apparent. Blade Runner is a near-perfect film, from my point of view, that explores archetypal themes in ways that had never been done before. It’s a Pinocchio story: “I want more life, fucker!” But it was also strongly dystopian in ways that, unlike, say, Logan’s Run, were familiar. We recognized the neon-lit streets and the crowds and the dark skies as one possible future we were rapidly heading towards. Original reviewers said the film was slow, hard to follow, and shallow. Careful reviewing, over the next few years had even Gene Siskel reversing his original harsh critique. Subtleties of dialog, expression, and setting were revealed. The film was a masterpiece, misunderstood because it was billed as a sci-fi action thriller, when we all know it’s a dystopian film noir detective story that ruminates on the meaning of life. Those early viewers must have felt like someone going in to watch Star Wars and getting Gattaca instead. Or, if you will, Platoon instead of Rambo.
I’m afraid Purefold will fail because I don’t believe you can capture the essence of a soul yearning for life, for existence in ten minutes. Not without cheapening it. But this is the time of Facebook and Twitter and Youtube (which, Conan O’Brien tells us, will merge into one time-wasting entity in the year 3000 called YouTwitFace.) Case in point: “Purefold will use [an] interactive format, as it unfolds in five to ten minute shorts driven by reader input culled from the social aggregator site FriendFeed.” People don’t have time for actual setup, pacing, and plot. Even Battlestar Galactica, which ran a series of successful webisodes, did so against the background of the series, and so could focus on plot instead of character development. I’m afraid this will be Blade Runner in 140 characters.
The other thing that has me worried is the conspicuous product placement: “Purefold definitely will have…product placement, as RSA Films is bringing in a number of advertising and marketing agencies to help secure funding for the project.” But, wait! you say. Blade Runner was chock full of products! Yes, it was. But the Atari and Pan Am and RCA logos weren’t put in the film to sell products. This was Ridley Scott’s interpretation of a highly technologized future. Now imagine Rutger Hauer putting on his Nike’s (big swish in focus) and then picking up his iPhone to video-call Pris (Apple logo large on screen). Yes, it will be as god-awful as the Nokia console in the latest Star Trek. Blade Runner was commenting on technological commercialism. But I fear that the webisodes will lose this message and simply become commercial, losing the irony completly.
But who knows? Ridley could pull off something amazing. I must admit a little excitement. After all, this is in the universe of my favorite film. But wisdom has me doubting the outcome. Nevertheless, I had low expectations for Star Trek, and was pleasantly surprised. I’m going to give the new series a chance, though I will be watching with a skeptical eye.
Addendum: I found this article which just speaks of Purefold as a vehicle for advertisers. It makes me ill to think of it.