Blade Runner: The 8 Mins First Act

If you want to be a professional screenwriter, be open to spoilers.

Furthermore, be open to the weaknesses in your favourite films. Most often, it won’t harm your love for the film. Some of the handful of films I re-watch every year, I won’t mention in my seminars because I appreciate them for reasons other than their story.

As a matter of fact, I use some of my favourite films as examples how not to do it.

BLADE RUNNER is such a film.

I have never stopped enjoying this movie. To my personal taste, BLADE RUNNER has the most perfect marriage of astounding visuals and a downright gorgeous score. The film addresses philosophical and ethical issues that were challenging when the film was released, but even more now, in our increasingly over-technological and digitized society.

Yet, despite the film’s phenomenal reputation, the original release of Blade Runner was close to a non-event. The film flopped.

It is not that hard to see what could have been a possible reason for its failure. Let’s look at the first twenty minutes in terms of its plot points. The numbers refer to the counter reading on my DVD player.

    00:00 Opening titles

After titles and rolling text, the film opens on a spectacular night skyline, painting a dystopian picture of Los Angeles, anno 2019.

After a prolonged series of establishing shots, we enter into an interrogation room where a character by the name of Leo is undergoing an ’emotional response’ test, the

    02:40 The Voight-Kampf Test

At the end of a 2mins scene, we have the first plot point in the film: Leon shoots his interrogator. But we don’t have a protagonist yet. Therefore we first descend to the streets and alleys of downtown LA for the

    07:30 Introduction of Deckard and arrest

We find him reading his newspaper, he is called to a foodstall and orders noodles. While he is eating, he is being ‘arrested’.

The counter now reads 9.30mins and we have had two plot points, only one with our hero. Like it or not, this movie is slow.

It takes another one minute transition scene (traveling) before we enter into the next scene:

    10:45 Introduction Bryant

This scene contains the Inciting Incident: Bryant ordering Deckard to go out and ‘retire’ four replicants. He is reluctant but: “No choice, pal.” Second plot point for Deckard.

    12:30 The Mission Explained

What follows is three minutes of pure exposition, no real plot point: Captain Bryant gives Deckard some more details on the job and, hey presto, Deckard is on his way to retire replicants.

Guess what?

    15:30 End of Act One

You did read that right: the first act contains less than sixteen minutes and only a measly two plot points for our main character.

Actually, drop the opening titles and Act One finishes only thirteen minutes into the film. Or worse: only eight minutes after we see our hero first.

For a movie with a running time close to two hours, this is simply not enough.

No proper introduction of character. No ‘ordinary world’, no ‘refusal of the call’, no ‘mentor’.

Fans have argued this is all on purpose, because Deckard has no history. He is a replicant himself and was created for the mere purpose of chasing the outlaws.

Nice try, but it doesn’t work. It might in a short story, a novel(*), a play perhaps? Not in a movie.

(*)The source work, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep has ample character introduction before it enters into the story of Deckard retiring the Nexus-6’s. Check out the novel or read Paul Sammon’s brilliant Future Noir, about the making of BLADE RUNNER.)

    5 thoughts on “Blade Runner: The 8 Mins First Act”

    1. There was a refusal of the call – Deckard turns down the job when he sees Bryant but Bryant bullies him into accepting: ‘If you’re not cop, you’re little people’. If a scene had been added to show Deckard’s ordinary world, I don’t think this would have added to the film. I get a very clear impression of Deckard’s character just from his first scene – I don’t need to know more about him.

    2. I don’t think it’s a 15 min first act. It’s the standard 30 minutes like every first act. At almost 30 min exactly Deckard’s driving through a tunnel, as if he was driving towards his new world. That’s when Rachel goes to see him and their relationship starts to develop. His relationship with her is part of this new world.

    3. Hi Tim – Yes, you’re absolutely right. But my point is that you can’t just write by the numbers like that. You need to back it up with story and character. In those first 30 minutes of Blade Runners, there’s very little of either.
      I’m a fan of the movie, and watch it every few years again, but we have to ask why it was such a commercial flop. In this article I’m trying to analyse one possible issue.

    4. It was a commercial flop because of the studio meddling. It may have been a bit before it’s time but the director’s/final cut was far better than the “theatrical release” and probably would’ve fared better.


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