How Stanley Kubrick’s unused helicopter footage from “The Shining” ended up in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”

By on December 13, 2015

In March of 1982, after a workprint of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was test-screened in both Denver (3/5/1982) and Dallas (3/6/1982), the disasterously bad reviews that the audience gave the film sent the picture’s studio Tandem Productions and the film’s executive producers, Jerry Perenchio and Bud Yorkin, back to the director with the news that they should re-think the film’s downbeat ending. They set about making new plans to give Scott’s film a less ambiguous and more optimistic ending.

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If you’ll recall the ending of the original film, we end up seeing Deckard and Rachael (Harrison Ford and Sean Young) running away, into the mountains, driving into a brightly-lit vista that seems rather incongruous to the rest of the film, which is overwhelmingly dark and gloomy.

One off the reasons for this was that Scott had no money left in his shooting budget, and had to resort to asking his friend, director Stanley Kubrick, to “borrow” some of the unused helicopter footage that Kubrick had filmed for the beginning of his 1980 film, The Shining.

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Kubrick assured his friend Scott that it wouldn’t be a problem to use some of his unused aerial footage — he’d shot 17 hours of it, his camera following Jack Torrance’s yellow VW Bug as it drove along a winding mountain road.

Here’s what we read over at Open Culture‘s 2013 posting by Colin Marshall:

Flopping in 1982 but ultimately accruing more critical acclaim and cinephile esteem than perhaps any other science-fiction film, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young, has become the quintessential modern example of a work of art before its time. Director Ridley Scott, a true cinematic pragmatist, had his suspicions about the film’s box-office fate even during production:

“The fact is, if you are ahead of your time, that’s as bad as being behind the times, nearly.”

“You’ve still got the same problem. I’m all about trying to fix the problem.”

He and his team decided they could fix one “problem” in particular: the film’s ambiguous ending, which apparently left cold those who saw it. So cast and crew went to Big Bear Lake, where they shot a new sequence of Ford and Young escaping into the mountains.

“I didn’t know how long we’d have together,” says Ford’s protagonist Rick Deckard, in the final words of his faux-hard boiled explanatory voice-over. “Who does?”

The tight shots inside Decker’s flying car, built to soar across a dark, dense, neon-lined post-Japanification Los Angeles but now cruising incongruously through a lush forest, came out okay.Alas, cloudy weather ruined all the wide-angle footage captured at greater distances.

Scott remembered that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a couple years before, had opened with just the sort of overhead mountain driving imagery he needed.

This gave him an idea: Kubrick “must’ve done a blanket shoot of every peak in Montana for The Shining using the best helicopter crew. I’ll bet you he’s got weeks of helicopter footage.” He did indeed have plentiful outtakes and a willingness to hand them over, which meant the first version of Blade Runner in wide release ended with shots from the very same photography sessions that produced the beginning of The Shining.

For all the ingenuity that went into it, this relatively happy ending still, in a sense, wound up on the cutting room floor. Excised along with that widely disliked voice-over as new cuts and releases restored the picture to its original form, it gave way to the originally scripted ending, with its much more suitable (and memorable) final line delivered by Edward James Olmos as Deckard’s colleague Gaff:

“It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?”

(h/t Colin Marshall, who hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics).

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.