The Bad Art of Voice-over in Blade Runner '82


The voice-overs in Blade Runner '82 were reluctantly added after the film was shot. Scott eliminated them from the '92 Director's and the 2007 Final Cut.

Scott was right to drop the voice-overs because they are badly written and badly read by Ford. But there is a more fundamental artistic reason why the voice-overs don't work well.

The first question to ask about the use of First-person voice-over is what is its artistic function? The answer is that it creates an aspect of a character that action and dialogue cannot--his inner life. It presents a consciousness reacting, reflecting and articulating responses to events and characters. ( See: The Art of Voice-over for an extended discussion.) So the artistic decision to use a First-person Voice-over is the decision to make the mind of the character--his thoughts and feelings--an essential component of his character.

It is instructive to compare Deckard in the film to Deckard in the novel. Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the central character. The novel focuses on the change that takes place within him. Dick renders this change in Deckard's consciousness largely by the extensive use of internal monologue, which is one of the primary ways in which fiction represents what is going on in the mind of a character. Because we see Deckard talking to himself we know what he's thinking about from the very opening scene through to the end. We can see the process of the change taking place in his consciousness. We understand that he's different in the end--not externally, but internally.

Deckard's consciousness is not the focus of Blade Runner. The story is not about his internal changes. The film creates Deckard's character by means of his actions and dialogue. He is quite an inarticulate character who has very little significant dialogue. (Does he have a memorable line? ) Although Deckard is the central focus of the main plot-line, Roy becomes the dominant character largely because of what he says and the way he says it.

The fact that since the '92 release, Blade Runner without the voice-overs is considered the "real" Blade Runner indicates that the voice-overs are not essential to Deckard's character or to the meaning of the story.

Adding First-person voice-overs to an already finished story cannot work well because the voice-overs have to be an integral aspect of the character.