“Time to die,” said Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty at the end of his programmed replicant lifespan in 1982’s “Blade Runner.” But in Hollywood, nothing ever really dies — especially if it has brand recognition and franchise potential.
Last week’s news that Alcon bought rights to expand the iconic sci-fi pic with prequels and sequels no doubt stirred up fans for better or worse. But for Hollywood producers and creators, it also stirs up questions of how a beloved property can be smartly exploited while maintaining the cachet of the original.
Attempts have ranged from stellar to so-so; Paramount largely achieved the feat with its reboot of “Star Trek” in 2009; the 1998 “Godzilla” fell far short; and George Lucas failed to match the acclaim or B.O. of the first three with his own “Star Wars” prequels — even though those three grossed $2.4 billion worldwide.
Alcon toppers Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson have stressed that they’re sorting out how to proceed, including whetherto approach “Blade Runner” director Ridley Scott — who’s developing a fourth “Alien” for Fox.
Alcon has produced and financed mid-budget mainstream films including “The Blind Side” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” The “Blade Runner” deal will transform the 14-year-old company — or earn it the scorn of a rabid and vocal fan base.
“We recognize the responsibility. We have to do justice to the memory of the original with any prequel or sequel we produce,” Kosove and Broderick said in a statement. “We have long-term goals for the franchise, and are exploring multi-platform concepts, not just limiting ourselves to one medium only.”
Alcon ventured into sci-fi last year with “The Book of Eli,” which grossed $157 million worldwide.
“The fact that we had a good experience with ‘Eli’ gave us a comfort level with doing science fiction,” Johnson told Variety.
The original “Blade Runner” was a flop theatrically, with less than $28 million in box office for Warner Bros. before going on to become a genre touchstone. Scott’s 1992 director’s cut contained significant changes, including removal of Harrison Ford’s voiceover. A year later, the film was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry.
Three decades after the fact, it’s striking how poorly “Blade Runner” was received on initial release — particularly since it starred Ford, the biggest movie star in the world in 1982 following the first two “Star Wars” films and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
But transmedia marketing strategies hadn’t been fully developed at that point — with notable exceptions such as the “Star Wars” movies, which spun off TV shows, books, toys and games, and, of course, more movies.
The Alcon deal also highlights Hollywood’s long-standing love affair with the late Philip K. Dick, who wrote the novel on which “Blade Runner” was based, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Universal opened “The Adjustment Bureau” this weekend, based on Dick’s 1954 short story “Adjustment Team” — the seventh feature based on Dick’s material. Opening weekend gross was a solid $20.9 million.
The prolific scribe penned 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the sci-fi realm. Dick continues to be a fount of material for studios long after his death at age 53, three months before “Blade Runner” opened.
But as “Blade Runner” grew in stature, studios began to mine Dick’s library, starting in 1990 with “Total Recall,” based on the story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” followed by “Minority Report,” “Paycheck,” “A Scanner Darkly” and “Next.”
Scott’s Scott Free U.S. is developing Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” as a four-part miniseries for the BBC.
It didn’t hurt that “Total Recall” and “Minority Report” were solid hits, even though sci-fi franchises are a tricky business.
Two years ago, after completing work on “Terminator: Salvation,” Halcyon toppers Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson picked “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” as the debut project they would produce through their first-look deal with Dick’s estate.
Halcyon filed for Chapter 11 protection a few months later as a result of a dispute with hedge fund Pacificor, which now owns the rights to the “Terminator” franchise. “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth film, carried a production pricetag of about $200 million and took in $371 million worldwide — despite a largely unenthusiastic critical reception.
Summit’s been attempting for the past two years to reboot its “Highlander” franchise, announcing in September 2009 that it was gearing up the fantasy actioner with original producer Peter Davis along with Neal Moritz producing and Justin Lin directing. The original 1986 “Highlander,” directed by Russell Mulcahy, launched four sequels and three TV spinoffs.
Meanwhile, Paramount’s now prepping its twelfth iteration of “Star Trek.” The 2009 reboot, produced and directed by J.J. Abrams, seemed to satisfy fans and critics well enough to buy some leeway for future installments that essentially negate the original “Star Trek” universe.
The notion of reboots has been most successful in the revival of the Batman franchise, thanks to the idea of “transmedia storytelling,” taking the concept of the bible — a document containing backstory information that film and TV writers rely on for building plots and characters — to an extensive new level.
Alcon’s precluded from remaking the original “Blade Runner,” in which Ford’s character is a retired police operative who hunts escaped replicants in the neo-noir world of 2019 Los Angeles. But Dick’s scenarios provide plenty to work with — including an early scene in which M. Emmett Walsh’s character memorably implores Ford’s Rick Dekkard to come out of retirement.
“I need ya, Decks,” he says. “This is a bad one, the worst yet. I need the old blade runner. I need your magic.”