Sunday, 5 September 2010

Book / Movie comparison: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

There are a lot of aspects of Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ that are missing from Blade Runner. Even from the first page of the novel, we read about two things that aren’t present in the movie: the Penfield mood organ and Deckard’s wife, Iran. The mood organ has different settings that regulate a person’s emotions and makes them feel a certain way. It is programmed by dialing the corresponding number of the required setting, for example, 888 is “the desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it”. People are becoming emotionless, like androids (known as ‘replicants’ in the film). They need things to cling to in order for them to feel alive. Along with Buster Friendly (a talk show host everyone watches on TV), the empathy boxes and Mercerism (a religion where people join together to collectively experience the suffering of the mystical figure, Wilbur Mercer), the mood organs provide this.

The omission of Deckard’s wife, along with Roy’s, Iran, means that both of these characters are free to be with other women in the film. Rachael is made to be more of a love interest than the femme fatale of the novel who pushes his goat off the roof, and Pris is a lot friendlier with Roy.

Speaking of goats, the book places a lot more emphasis on animals, both real and electric. This is evident from the change of title when it was adapted for the cinema. There is a longing for real animals, a rarity since the ‘World War Terminus’ which left the Earth covered with a layer of contaminated dust, destroying most animal life on the planet. Animals are seen as status symbols as they are extremely expensive, and those who cannot afford them buy electric ones instead, almost as realistic but not a proper substitute. Deckard’s motivation in the novel for retiring the androids is to get enough money to buy a real sheep to keep on the roof of his apartment and make his wife happy. In Blade Runner he has quit his job but is blackmailed into returning because he’s seen as the only one who can do it.

The almost deserted San Francisco of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? relocates to Los Angeles and is over-populated with people of all cultures. J. R. Isidore becomes J. F. Sebastian, and rather than driving a truck for a false-animal repair firm, he is a genetic designer. In the novel he is a ‘chickenhead’, someone who has been contaminated by the dust. In the film he has a disease that accelerates his aging, giving him something in common with the replicants who also have a limited life-span.

Philip K. Dick’s androids were emotionless beings, heartless and selfish. They were considered to be less than human and were ultimately dispatched with quite easily by Deckard. In comparison, Ridley Scott’s replicants were superhuman. They were more intelligent, stronger, faster and considered superior to humans. They were a lot harder to retire and had the capacity to develop feelings and emotions. Some become “more human than human”: the motto of the corporation that created them.
The movie and the novel are clearly separate works of art. While Blade Runner is not a wholly faithful adaptation, it is still an exceptional film: a thought-provoking vision of the future dealing with themes of existentialism and what it means to be human. In this way, the book and the film perfectly complement each other. The film is a visual feast but is somewhat lacking in narrative, the book provides rich detail and many extra interesting aspects about the dystopian future world. When you experience both, you feel like you have a complete view of the story.


  1. I’ve heard before that book and film compliment each other. As a blade runner fan the novel is on my ”to read list”, I love the title of book ( :

    I’ve always wondered what our dog dreams about, animals must have some thoughts if they can dream, I guess.

    If you like dystopian stories about real and fake, I recommend Huxley’s ”Brave new world”, which I think is even more relevant today than when it was written. The movie from early eighties with 2001: ASO’s Keir Dullea is long, but worth it.

  2. I definitely recommend it, a really great read. It's my favourite book title :)

    Thanks for the suggestion, I might try and get hold of a copy of that after I finish reading all of the Philip K. Dick stories that have been adapted into movies.

  3. Thank you for the comment Emma, I am enjoying writing about interesting and influential movies and at times the books which inspire them. This was a really great article and I'm tempted to include my love of fiction within my blog after reading it. By the way moviesandsongs365 is right, Brave New World is a really great book (I personally prefer it to 1984).

    Keep blogging, I loved reading your Phillip K Dick movie/book comparison! I've pretty much read all of Dick's novels and short stories and I have to say, along with Isaac Asimov (who also does amazing short stories which have been transferred to cinema) and H.G.Wells, he is one of the titans of sci fi xxx

  4. Thanks for your lovely comments Sam, much appreciated :)

    I've bought all of Philip K. Dick's short story collections but have only read the ones that have been adapted into films so far. After I've finished this blogathon I'm gonna go back and read them all cover to cover!

    Thanks for your recommendations. I knew I was given this gift card for good reason - gonna buy myself some new books with it ;)

  5. Hi Emma , and Sam(if you see this)

    I just discovered 30 min short "I'm Here" (2010) by Spike Jonze. I think theme is similar to Blade runner and Philip K Dick. It's pretty "out there", currently free on youtube. "an alternative world, where robotic humanoids live and work alongside the regular population."
    Might be your cup of tea? If so, let me know what you think ( :

    Just got “electric sheep” from library today ( ;


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