N: So, for many years, PKD was a heavy
drug user. How do you think that affected his work, or was it perhaps
even responsible for some of his ideas?
PS: Well, it's important to know that during the latter
phase of his life, Dick had given up drugs. Yet he still wrote some
superior material. So there's that to consider. Again, I think drugs
primarily affected his work in the manner I've already described
- speed helped Dick write a lot more pages than most people could
crank out without amphetamines, but it also fueled his paranoia.
I'm sure some of the imagery Dick included in his fiction was drug-induced.
It had to be. I mean, I still smoke pot occasionally, right? And
despite what endless Republican administrations in my country would
have you believe, marijuana actually can occasionally reward
you with unexpected images or story points, ones you might never
have conjured up while you were straight.
Having said that, I'm equally sure that the preponderance of Phil's
themes and imagery sprang from his own life. From his imagination
and core personality. Phil was very much the philosopher, you know,
and a keen social critic. You don't get those traits from drugs
- you get them from your genes. As well as from observation, and
education and experience.
In Blade Runner there is a huge neon advertising screen,
which at one point shows a young lady popping pills - do you think
this is a reference to the drug culture of the future that PKD was
suggesting would become more prevalent?
PS: I think that moment came from Hampton Fancher and Ridley
Scott and David Peoples. Phil literally had no input into Blade
Runner's script, other than the fact that it was based on his
novel. I mean, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? certainly
doesn't contain passages where giant Geisha Girls pop pills on enormous,
neon-encrusted blimps inlaid with massive JumboVision screens...
Anyway, I think that that Geisha girl/pill-shot was, on one level,
Hampton and David and Ridley's acknowledgement of America's drug
culture. It also was sort of a little joke, you know? "Here
it is, 40 years after 1982, and people are not only still taking
drugs, they're doing it because of blimp advertisements!"
Then there's the fact that Ridley had a pretty strong idea about
the exact nature of the drug that Geisha was taking. He mentioned
it to me after filming, during post (production); it was supposed
to be a birth-control pill. Of course, this makes perfect sense
in the context of Blade Runner's overpopulated universe.
Ridley's notion was that the Los Angeles of 2019 was so densely
overcrowded, manufacturers would naturally stress birth-control
aids at every possible opportunity. Especially during advertisements.
N: It is well known that the film
differs in some respects quite significantly from the book, particularly
with the exclusion of Mercerism. Of course this is inevitable with
any translation of book to film, but Fancher and Scott went further
than simply making necessary changes. You have written of how PKD
finally accepted that Scott's vision was different to that
of the book, but was still valid. Was PKD really happy in the end
with how Blade Runner was being made?
PS: Everything you've heard about Dick attending a private
screening for him to see a special effects and production reel of
BR, and then turning around to say, "This is fantastic!
How did you guys match up this movie to the book I had in my head?",
is absolutely correct. But prior to that screening, which took place
in Marina Del Rey at the EEG facility, Phil had been making truculent
noises in certain publications about how Blade Runner was
dumbing down or mutilating his book. But Phil knew very little about
what was really going on with BR at that point. I think Phil
also didn't realize that people like Hampton Fancher - who's this
tall, good-looking ex-actor Dick had written off as an aging pretty
boy - was actually a man of sophistication and substance. A lover
of poetry, drama and literature. A guy who'd tried to option Electric
Sheep on the value of its thematic concerns, and the quality
of its writing.
also think Phil didn't realize Ridley Scott wasn't your typical
assembly-line director, either. Ridley definitely doesn't have to
make features, you know; he's more than financially secure with
all the commercials he's done. And continues to do. But Ridley loves
movies, and he takes his film work seriously. Probably because he
views those films - beyond the obvious industry glorification that's
involved and the staggering financial remuneration that goes with
that - as another, longer-form way of fleshing out the fine art
histories and graphic abilities he carries around in his head. All
of which is a long-winded way of saying that Philip K. Dick got
lucky on his first adaptation; the primary creative people at BR's
helm were artists, not hacks.
So there's one response to your multi-part question (laughs). Another,
where you mention Mercerism, well, that really gets to the heart
of the problem of translating novels into films, doesn't it? I mean,
it's precisely because of elements like Mercerism and the chickenheads,
and the forecast of virtual reality and influential fringe religions,
which has helped make Electric Sheep a distinctive literary
work. But - and I don't know how many times this has to be said
before the immutable reality of the statement sinks in - films and
novels are two different art forms.
take the simplest example: films rarely seem to measure up, artistically
speaking, against the books they were based upon, right? But think
about the unique demands of the two formats for a moment. A novel
can spend as many pages as it wants delving into the inner lives
of its characters. Yet one page of your typical screenplay translates
into one minute of screen time. And most films still cling to the
two hours or under rule. So even a relatively slim novel like Electric
Sheep, if faithfully adapted, would probably have ran over three
hours, once it was translated into a film.
What I'm trying to say is that if you loved a book, try to step
back for a moment before you condemn its cinematic incarnation.
Try to determine whether you're seeing a good movie first,
rather than an awkward adaptation of a beloved novel. Because what
literature lovers must understand - and I'm one of them, by the
way - is that movies are like moving Cliff's Notes. They hit the
high points of a novel, simply because of the demands of the medium
they're being transferred to. And that's that. So why should anyone
be surprised that the work of adapting Electric Sheep into
BR went through the same process of compression and deletion
that any book-into-movie receives?