Once recovered, Trumbull was drawn to manual labor, on Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Drawn to the prospect of detailing a tired Earth rather than something stratospheric, he contributed several elements to the stunning opening panorama, including images projected onto skyscrapers and refinery flames, recycled from the explosions that Trumbull filmed for Zabriskie Point (1970).
He was again nominated for an Oscar, again unsuccessfully, but by then he was directing again. Trumbull originally conceived the psychological thriller Brainstorm (1983) as a showcase for a new high-definition photography process known as Showscan. When MGM balked, Trumbull went ahead, but the project was completely derailed when the film’s star, Natalie Wood, drowned under mysterious circumstances in the middle of filming.
Studio bosses wanted to halt production and claim the insurance, but Trumbull persevered, recruiting Wood’s sister Lana as a replacement for the remaining shots. That there was something releasable was a feat, but the reviews were poor and the box office was lukewarm, sending Trumbull into retreat: “I just had to stop. I’ve been a writer-director all my life, and I decided it wasn’t for me because I had a really tough personal experience… I decided to quit filmmaking.