The original, financier/studio-mandated ending of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one of the most notorious cases of outside tinkering in modern movie history—resulting in an original theatrical release with a much-derided voice-over track and a “happy ending” that erased the ambiguity and emotional uncertainty of Scott’s original cut. And in a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable, Scott discussed his unexpected collaborator on that ending.
It’s a story that’s been out there for a while, but it’s still an awfully interesting example of frustrated filmmakers lending each other a hand. “I had finished Blade Runner, and it was a disaster,” Scott explained to THR. “My investors were giving me a really hard time, saying ‘You can’t end the film with picking up a piece of origami, looking at the girl, walk in the elevator, nod, and bingo that’s it.’ I said, ‘It’s called a film noir.’ And they said, ‘What’s a film noir?’ That was a big problem. And he said, ‘We have to test this with an uplifting ending, where they will go off into the wilderness together.’ I said, ‘Well if they go off into a beautiful wilderness, why do they live in this dystopian environment?'”
Scott couldn’t even bring himself to shoot such a terrible ending, but then he remembered Stanley Kubrick—being Stanley Kubrick—had shot far more helicopter beauty shots than he needed for the opening of his adaptation of The Shining.
“By then I had talked to Stanley a few times,” Scott recalled. “I said, ‘I know you shot the hell out of The Shining, can I have some of the stuff?’ So at the end of the film in Blade Runner, that’s Stanley Kubrick’s footage.”
But wait, you might think. Didn’t all 17 hours (yes, you read that right) of Kubrick’s footage have the Torrance family Volkswagen Bug in it? And you’d be right, good job. But, as Hitfix notes, a difference in aspect ratios saved the day.
“He said, ‘wait a minute, you got a vehicle [in the scene]?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Long.’ ‘Oh, shit. Every shot I’ve got has got a Volkswagen in it.’ Then he went, ‘Oh, what do you shoot?’ I said, ‘Anamorphic.’ ‘Ah…when you project mine, it’ll look oblong. You’ll be fine.'”
Here’s that original theatrical ending, with the discarded Shining footage: