True film fans shouldn’t be fans of the test screening process. It goes a long way towards homogenizing movies, and the major studios put too much faith in the score cards.
Of course, it’s certainly not a foolproof process. Some of the best films in recent memory did badly at test screenings, and there are of course movies that had great test screenings that went in the toilet with the general public.
Blade Runner has a huge following today, but many don’t realize it was initially a big flop. Warner Brothers had to know it was coming, because the initial previews of the film didn’t go well, and Giant Freakin Robot recently uncovered a document from these screenings that would make any studio executive drown in flop sweat. In fact, they were comments from the people putting up the money for the movie, veteran producer Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio.
In Paul M Sammon’s excellent book on the making of the film, Future Noir, some feel Blade Runner initially didn’t catch on because people weren’t expecting such a dark, gloomy film. Harrison Ford had just come off two Star Wars films and Raiders, and perhaps audiences were expecting something similar, except Blade Runner was a whole different sci-fi film altogether.
In the document that was leaked to Robot, the notes include the following comments from Tandem, the company that put up the money for Blade Runner: “This voice over is terrible, the audience will fall aslepp [sic].” “This movie gets worse every screening.” “Why is this voice over track so terrible…he sounds drugged, where they on drugs when they did this?” “They have put back more t*ts into the Zhora dressing room scene.”
And at the bottom, general comments include, “Up to Zhora’s death the picture is deadly dull,” “Voice over is an insult,” and there is also a note about potentially recutting the film without Ridley Scott’s involvement. If you know the history of Blade Runner, you know that it was not initially well received, and the previews were a harbinger of doom, but this is pretty harsh stuff.
Of course it took time, but Blade Runner today is a classic of the genre. As I always like to do on this subject, I quote Andrew Niccol, screenwriter of The Truman Show and writer / director of Gattaca, who once said the real reviews for movies are written five to ten years after they come out. Quite a few classic films took time to establish their place in history, and Blade Runner’s place in genre history is indeed very well secure.