Blade Runner (1982) Director: Ridley Scott
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Sheep?, Blade Runner is an extraordinary neo-noir dystopian detective film that was under-appreciated in its day but is now hailed as a classic. Watching Blade Runner offers a unique kaleidoscope of carefully crafted scenes that nevertheless appear effortless and unplanned. Philip K. Dick did not live long enough to see the film released but the early scenes he witnessed impressed him. After releasing the monumental film Alien (1978), Ridley Scott started work on a cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but he soon moved on to Blade Runner. It was a film fraught with trouble from the outset. Ridley Scott battled with producers, studio budgets, script-writers, and lead actors especially Harrison Ford who did not appreciate how little direction he received and he despised his character’s moody narration as well as the casting of Mary “Sean Young” as the femme fatale due to her relative inexperience. The film was mostly shot at night with enormous covered sets on the Warner Bros backlot. Syd Mead designed much of the futuristic urban scenes, the look of which is reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis. Several revised edits to Blade Runner have been made over the years, including a somewhat unauthorized “Director’s Cut” in 1992 as well as an authoritative “Final Cut” created by Ridley Scott in 2007. I watched the Final Cut version and it was spectacular. It removes Harrison Ford’s Raymond Chandler-esque narration which he despised so much at the time of production, as well as a number of other updates, but unlike the gut-job that George Lucas did to the Star Wars trilogy with the release of the Special Edition collection, in many ways the Final Cut of Blade Runner actually improves the film.
The plot: we are introduced to a dark, and shadowy urban wasteland of Los Angeles in the “future” (2019). The sun never shines, the streets are lit by neon signs, and acid rains pours down from time to time while smoke hangs in the air. We see flying cars and advertisements everywhere encouraging people to colonize other planets. It is a bleak glimpse of the future, but the massive sets are just incredible, with no detail left untouched. In the 21st century, we are told, a company called the Tyrell Corporation begins manufacturing android humans called “replicants” who are designed to mirror humans in every way, except they are given a short lifespan to prevent any threats to humanity. However, after a bloody mutiny at an off-world colony, replicants are now illegal on earth. We are then introduced to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford who was fresh off filming Raiders of the Lost Ark), a jaded and retired former police officer, or a “Blade Runner” and bounty hunter, who is world-wearied from a career of hunting replicants. He is coerced to come out of retirement in order to hunt down four rogue replicants who recently escaped from an off-world facility. The escaped replicants are Roy (Rutger Hauer), Leon (Brion James), Pris (Daryl Hannah), and Zhora (Joanna Cassidy). The replicants are headed toward earth to meet their maker, Mr. Tyrell, to discover if their short four-year lives can be extended.
Deckard hunts down each replicant on the crowded streets of Los Angeles while falling in love with a new experimental replicant named Rachel (Sean Young) created by Mr. Tyrell. Rachel has been implanted with certain emotional intelligence and even human memories. Their romance is odd and awkward –she appears to have been assaulted by Deckard at one point and at another moment she rescues Deckard from a replicant. In the end, Deckard faces off against the last of the replicants Roy (Rutger Hauer) as they play a game of cat and mouse through a dingy, decrepit mansion. Deckard and bruised and bloodied, while Roy is dying. At the final moment, with Deckard’s life hanging on a ledge, Roy reverses course and displays more human empathy and compassion than his human makers. He saves Deckard and delivers a powerful monologue before his replicant body breaks down. In the end, Deckard runs off with his replicant paramour like a pair of fugitives, but not before the film strongly implies that Deckard, himself, is in fact a replicant –this theory has plagued Blade Runner fans for decades (in fact, Ridley Scott wanted Deckard to be a replicant, but Harrison Ford strongly protested).
Greek composer Vangelis delivers a notably haunting and atmospheric score for Blade Runner filled with classical stylings, echoing saxophones, and ’80s synthesizers. It perfectly captures the ambience of the film. 1982 was a remarkable year for blockbuster films. In particular Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was released just two weeks prior to Blade Runner and as such Blade Runner soon suffered at the box office. It received only two Academy Award nominations for Design and Visual Effects (neither of which won). Thankfully it has since been re-evaluated as a cult classic, a masterpiece by Ridley Scott at his prime, and an essential blend of classic Hollywood noir tropes and science fiction intrigue.