"Blade Runner" dialogue analysis

December 3rd, 2009 by

This week, as determined by GITS readers, the Daily Dialogue has been featuring famous dying words from movie characters. On Tuesday, the movie was Blade Runner and the dialogue quote was simply “Time to die,” as uttered by Rutger Hauer’s character Roy Batty. That inspired this email from GITS reader Paul Sanford:


I was glad to see Blade Runner show up in the Daily Dialogue today, although abbreviating that moment to “time to die” underplays what I believe is some of the most poetic dialogue ever put to film – the “tears in the rain” speech. I’m glad the Youtube clip featured the entire moment. I think it’s an interesting case study in collaboration, in this case between the writers, the actor and the director. If you don’t mind, I wanted to share what I found when I flipped through the different versions of the script that I have…

In Fancher’s July 24, 1980 draft, Batty has no speech at the end. He’s simply shot and killed by Deckard. Batty does say “time to die”, but only to taunt Deckard during the fight sequence.

This version of the speech shows up in an undated draft (which I believe is from Dec 1980) by Fancher/Peoples:

“I’ve known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I’ve been Offworld and back… frontiers! I’ve stood on the back deck of a blinker bound for the Plutition Camps with sweat in my eyes watching stars fight on the shoulder of Orion… I’ve felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it, felt it…!”

This version is in both the Feb 21, 1981 & May 15, 1981 Fancher/Peoples draft:

“I’ve seen things… seen things you little people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion bright as magnesium… I rode on the back decks of a blinker and watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments… they’ll be gone.”

And the filmed version, with Rutger Hauer reportedly improvising the “tears in the rain” line:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve seen c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain. Time to die.”

Part of the poignancy of the dialogue is that the dilemma Batty references when he dies (“all those moments (re: memories) will be lost in time”) is something we all face in the end…

As I recounted to Paul in an email, what he did was engage in “textual source criticism,” which is something I studied in graduate school as part of my work on the Gospels in the New Testament. And with the proliferation of movie screenplays online nowadays, it’s possible to compare / contrast various script drafts to speculate how the creative process may have worked. Given what Paul has discovered, here is my conjecture re Blade Runner:

* The first draft – Batty with no dialogue / he just dies – led someone to suggest that the moment needed more. If one of the underlying themes of the story is the ‘humanity’ of robots, what better way to show that than have a ‘dying’ robot recount vivid memories from his past, conveying a deep emotional connection to his life-experience.

* The second draft – representing the longest of Batty’s final sides – is an example of taking the idea of the moment needing more and pushing it out. Too far, as it appears because —

* The third draft pulls back some of the description in dialogue and —

* The version in the movie pulls it back even more.

That dynamic of tightening dialogue, even cutting whole sides, is a common occurrence — I’ve seen it time and time again when reading a script while watching the movie. I think that is in large part due to the fact that once they shoot footage and assemble it, the visuals often make some of the dialogue unnecessary. Also, too, a side may read great on the page, but just doesn’t work on screen. So perhaps Ridley Scott let Rutger Hauer wing the last side of dialogue, maybe telling him to tighten it up, or a writer on-set went through the latest version and cut a few references, but after expanding the side, it contracted by the time the movie was done.

One other thing: Notice how the “Time to die” line was present in the original draft, but used to a totally different effect – to taunt Deckard. So while some writers expanded Batty’s last side, then contracted it, somebody along the way remembered that line – “Time to die” – and suggested that might be a fitting coda for Batty, in essence a case of a line going through its own transformation, from taunt to sad irony.

Thanks, Paul, for taking the time and effort for your analysis. Great stuff.

6 thoughts on “"Blade Runner" dialogue analysis

  1. mr. nichols says:

    brilliant analysis. this post is one of the many reasons i can't get enough of this blog.

  2. Jeff says:

    I just encountered this dialogue manipulation the other day. Our patron saint of online pdf scripts, Sheridan, put up a slew of Woody Allen scripts a few days ago (gold mine) and, best of all, the screenplay for one of my favorites of his, DECONSTRUCTING HARRY.

    Now I've seen this film about 20 times or more. Highly quotable, some of Woody's best (and most acerbic!) stuff.

    The script, though, runs almost 160 pages! Obviously an early draft. What I found is that he must have worked and re-worked and noodled out the best bits of that film. All the gags are there, to be sure, but in longer, stretched out, and, thus, far less amusing form.

    I have also found, when writing comedy (or trying to, anyway) that my best bits are usually ones that have been run through the ringer about 1000 times. And, as always, cutting cutting cutting, shortening until…BOOM. You have quips and gags that have that rimshot-cymbal crash you were looking for and just didn't know how to find.

    In short, it ain't easy.

    (conversely, sometimes a joke just blasts onto the page, right out of the gate, and it's flawless in its purest form… doesn't happen often but when it does… pure elation!)

    Can't recommend enough, for those of you into comedy or just great dialogue, to hustle on over to MY PDF SCRIPTS dot com and check out the Woody Allen entries.

  3. Bob M. says:

    A couple years ago there was a big piece on the making of BLADE RUNNER in some men's mag, like GQ or something, and as a fan I was astounded to learn from it that the final soliloquy of Roy was initially suggested and composed by Rutger Hauer himself. The piece made much of the fact that Hauer has humble origins and little education but felt the initial script moment was overblown and so gingerly offered an alternative to Ridley Scott. Which they used. To great effect, obviously.

    If I can find a link I'll post it.

  4. Scott says:

    @Bob M: If you can find that link, that would be great. Thanks.

    @Jeff: myPDFscripts.com is, as you know, one of my favorite online script sites. The Woody Allen entries – hadn't seen that. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. DS says:

    I love the dialogue entry, but Blade Runner is a film that I find overrated, and I never understood why Deckard has no special skills, or why are we following him – what's so great about this guy? And why isn't there any major detective work in the middle of the film? Still, it's got plenty of great moments, but never quite satisfies.

  6. daveed says:

    Also check out Paul Sammon's Future Noir, a comprehensive account of the making of the film, from the script drafts through production and the several different versions.

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