Rutger Hauer 1944–2019

A terrific actor has left us. Rutger Hauer has passed at the age of 75.

(Poster art by Drew Struzan)

He is best known to genre fans as Roy Batty, the lead rebel replicant in Ridley Scott‘s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner.

Mr. Hauer was also in a film I worked on: The Hitcher.

I was first introduced to Hauer through his Dutch films directed by Paul Verhoeven. My girlfriend Alison Buckles was working at a Hollywood revival theater that primarily showed foreign films, art films and interesting public domain films (like the Why We Fight series whose interest has been recently revived due to the Five Came Back doc). The theater was a two-person operation (Alison and the projectionist). Alison sold tickets to the films and then turned around and sold snacks and drinks. It was a lot for one person to handle so I often joined her and pitched in, either selling tickets or fulfilling the food and drink orders of the theater’s patrons. After this flurry of activity, the first movie started. I’d sit in the back of the theater and watch the films, jumping up to help sell refreshments between movies. I had a blast.

I saw a lot of Verhoeven’s great Dutch films there. I would have never have guessed that the same guy who directed these deeply artistic and spellbinding arthouse films would eventually be making pure popcorn movies like RoboCop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. I must have watched Keetye Tippel (1975; Cathy Tippel in the US) at least six times. Rutger Hauer really stood out in Verhoeven’s Soldier of Orange (1977).

Hauer quickly made the transition to English-speaking roles and Blade Runner. Blade Runner is now considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. My first glimpse of Blade Runner was at Comic-Con in San Diego. My pal Jeff Walker was promoting the film and a copy of the trailer was showing at the convention on an endless loop. I was blown away by the visuals; I watched that trailer over and over.

(Panel from Dan O’Bannon & Moebius’ “The Long Tomorrow”)

I spotted the huge influence that Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Syd Meade had on the film’s look.

(Production painting by Syd Meade for Blade Runner)

I’m a huge fan of this film and own at least five different versions of this seminal movie.

Blade Runner was also a gigantic box office flop in the US.

Because of this, for years I was warned to never mention Blade Runner during a movie pitch.

Question: Why was Blade Runner a bomb in the US but successful in Europe?

Answer: Casting.

In the United States, Harrison Ford is a popular film hero. He’s Han Solo, he’s Indiana Jones. But if you look at Blade Runner objectively, his character in that film is the Bad Guy. He is hunting down replicants whose main initial crime is just wanting to live. Americans didn’t want to see Harrison Ford as a Bad Guy, so they avoided the film during its initial run.

The Good Guy is really the Roy Batty character who will stop at nothing to extend his own life and the lives of his fellow replicant friends.

In Europe at the time, Rutger Hauer was a hero, a leading man. So casting him as the beleaguered Roy Batty fighting for his life made perfect sense to European audiences.

I didn’t want Rutger Hauer for The Hitcher (1986).

My first choice was Harry Dean Stanton.

I loved Stanton’s dark, vulture-esque looks and drew him in my storyboards for the film.

I had no say in the casting, however, and Hauer was chosen to play John Ryder. Hauer did a great job playing Ryder, a character who just might also be The Devil.

The Hitcher is one of the films I worked on of which I’m pretty pleased with the end result. We had an amazing cast and crew for that film and a good script by Eric Red. I consider Rutger Hauer’s performance a key element to that film’s success.

RIP, Mr. Hauer. Your soliloquy at the end of Bladerunner (much of which Hauer wrote the night before the scene was shot) should be your epitaph.

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

4 Responses to “Rutger Hauer 1944–2019”

  1. jim says:

    Bill- I am surprised at the poor reception that “Blade Runner” initially had. I only remember “oohs” and “ahhs” from my friends when it came out. I thought it was clear that the modern sci-fi lineage to that point was “2001:A Space Odyssey”, “Star Wars”, “Alien”, and “Blade Runner”.

  2. I was shocked. I considered it a phenomenal achievement in film making. Until I figured out the Harrison Ford=Bad Guy thing I just couldn’t understand why Blade Runner was bombing.

    I guess it just took a while for people to get it.

  3. aaron says:

    Your reasoning about Harrison Ford’s character makes good sense. In the sequel Blade Runner 2049 Ford’s character is now on the side of the angels and to be honest I like the sequel better.

  4. ‘The Hitcher’ is one of my favorite movies and absolutely one of my favorite Rutger Hauer performances.

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