Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah
It is true of most films set in the future that, once said future becomes the present, the world never quite evolves quickly enough to line up with what we’ve been conditioned to think of how the world of tomorrow was supposed to look. Earth as depicted in “Blade Runner” is no exception. We’re nearing close to the era in which this story takes place, and yet the world as we know it looks pretty ordinary by comparison. It is also true that tales such as “Blade Runner” are works of fiction meant to entertain us and, if at all possible, challenge us to open our minds to limitless possibilities. In that regard, “Blade Runner” does its job as impressively as any science-fiction film worthy of the designation ‘classic.’
The setting is Los Angeles and the year is 2020. Although our technological advancements have skyrocketed, humanity still possesses a dubious sense of morality. Extrasolar exploration is a reality, although much of the grunt work is done by artificial intelligence known as Replicants. Saddled with a short, four-year lifespan, their light burns twice as brightly as any human’s. Fairly recently, members of this slave race have gone all Twisted Sister on their masters and decided they’re not gonna take it anymore. This group, known as the Nexus 6 series of Replicants, wants what any young person facing an end to his/her existence wants: MORE LIFE! The revolt is as swift as it is violent, and forces bloody but necessary retaliation. In the aftermath, all Replicants are to be killed on sight. To this effect, special law enforcement officers known as Blade Runners are assigned with the task of identifying and eliminating them. But, of course, “murder” and “execution” are such nasty words, so we refer to the extinguishing of a Replicant as “retirement.”
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is one such Blade Runner although, at the time we first meet him, he considers that part of his life to be over. When four Nexus 6 replicants are found to have illegally returned to Earth, Deckard is dragged kicking and screaming back into the service. He heads first for the Tyrell Corporation where all Replicants were created. There, he discovers that Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael (Sean Young) is a Replicant. Rachael is a special case as she has been given false memories… those of Tyrell’s niece… so that she may live out her life believing that she is human. That plan is shot all to hell when Rachael later tries to provide physical evidence of her humanity to Deckard, who reveals in detail the lie that is her life. This causes Rachael to effectively run away from home. After Deckard tracks down and kills Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), he is informed that Rachael has been added to his hit list. Knowing Rachael to be a danger to no one, Deckard objects to this strongly.
Deckard goes looking for Rachael but is himself found by Leon (Brion James), who comes close to killing Deckard before he is shot through the head by Rachael, using Deckard’s gun. Deckard takes Rachael back to his apartment where he promises not to hunt and kill her like the others. Rachael attempts to leaves but Deckard prevents it, initiating intimate contact that Rachael at first resists, but to which she soon submits.
The remaining two Nexus 6 Replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), form a bond with genetic designer J.F. Sebastian, with the intention of using him to get to Dr. Tyrell. Roy and Sebastian go to see Tyrell who informs Roy that, although he is proud of the great accomplishments of his ‘son,’ he can do nothing at so late a stage to alter Roy’s lifespan. Realizing the futility of his situation, Roy murders his creator. It’s also implied but not shown that he does the same to Sebastian. While Roy is en route back to Sebstian’s apartment, Deckard confronts and kills Pris. Enraged at the sight of his lover’s dead body, Roy pursues Deckard. The hunted becomes the hunter. The one-sided fight/chase escalates to a rooftop, where Roy has the option of either killing Deckard outright, or standing by and watching as Deckard falls to his death. Shockingly, Roy selects a third option and saves Deckard’s life. Both men exhausted, they each sit down. Sensing the end is near, Roy laments the loss of his life experiences… that which is unique to him. As Roy dies, Deckard appears to look upon his foe with an understanding and genuine sympathy. He then returns to the apartment to find Rachael, and the two leave for parts unknown.
Of the many different versions of “Blade Runner,” the three most recognizable are the 1982 theatrical cut, the 1992 Director’s Cut, and 2007’s Final Cut. I have, to this point, never seen the Final Cut and so I am as yet unaware of what alterations were made. It is the Director’s Cut with which I am the most familiar, and so it is that this was the version I used for the purposes of this review. Although marketed as an action film, “Blade Runner” draws its narrative inspiration from film noir. In the “Theatrical Cut” this also included a voice-over narration which has remained absent from all subsequent versions of the film. There’s an awful lot of ambiguity which surrounds the plot, not least of which is the deliberately vague ending (again, altered from a more concrete conclusion presented in the 1982 version). Perhaps most controversial of all is the subject of whether or not Deckard is himself a Replicant without even knowing it. It’s a point of contention among even those who worked on the film; director Ridley Scott asserts that he is, while Harrison Ford disagrees. Personally, I lean more towards Ford’s side of the argument while admitting that evidence does exist that would justify either point of view, such as the unicorn dream. It’s just the sort of debate that I suspect author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” on which the movie is based, would have loved. Pity that he died shortly before the film’s release.
The film’s eye-catching cinematography depicts a corporate, technology-driven society not entirely unlike the one we’ve come to know. This includes many giant advertisements emblazoned on every street corner and skyscraper. The most amusing of these is the recurrence of the logo for the video game company Atari. No one could have guessed that it would be a short time before Atari was no longer the standard-bearer in its field, nor could they have predicted the video game crash of 1983 which almost killed the industry. Beyond its nearly peerless cinematography, “Blade Runner” also boast a terrific soundtrack. It can be said that the best film scores act as an additional character. The synthesizer-heavy score by Vangelis is one of the most alluring and unforgettable aspects of “Blade Runner.” Somehow, when this movie was first released, critics didn’t understand the brilliance of what they’d seen. Even with the more recent, superior revisions, you still get some folks who’ll dismiss the movie because it doesn’t condescend to spoonfeed them everything. Everybody has certain types of movies that just don’t appeal to them and I generally will sympathize, but not when it comes to an all-time work of sci-fi art like “Blade Runner.”