#473) Blade Runner (1982)
OR “Repli-can’t Stop the Feeling”
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick.
Class of 1993
First, a confession: I’ve never seen “Blade Runner”, which makes me a godless heathen in the eyes of many. After much deliberation, this post is based on my viewing of the Final Cut from 2007.
The Plot: In November 2019 (aka our Old Future), “Blade Runners” are a special police force tasked with hunting down lifelike androids called replicants. Retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is called back to the Los Angeles force to track down four especially dangerous replicants (Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy and Brion James), who are illegally hiding on Earth. His investigation leads him to replicant creator Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and his secretary Rachael (Sean Young), who doesn’t realize she’s a replicant. Long jaded from his work, Rick finally confronts the complexity of what makes a human truly human. Also he might be a replicant. Jury’s still out.
Why It Matters: The NFR mentions the film as a “box-office and critical flop when first released” (not entirely true, but go on) and gives a detailed plot description. An essay by journalist David Morgan is a more extensive appreciation for the film.
But Does It Really?: “Blade Runner” has been built up quite a bit during my lifetime, and while I liked the movie, I wasn’t blown away by it. It’s a well-crafted piece of science fiction with effective, imaginative world building, but it’s easy to lose track of the story amongst all the bells and whistles of this universe. “Blade Runner” is a movie I respected more than I enjoyed, but it is also unquestionably a great movie that survived a rocky beginning to become a classic, and deserves its well-earned spot on the NFR.
Everybody Gets One: Actors Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah, cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, and composer Vangelis. Speaking of…
Wow, That’s Dated: The main giveaway is the iconic synthesizer-heavy soundtrack by Vangelis, fresh off his Oscar winning work in “Chariots of Fire”.
Title Track: At one point “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was to retain its title for the film adaptation, with alternates like “Dangerous Days” and “Android” in consideration as well. Ridley Scott and screenwriter Hampton Fancher liked the title of “The Bladerunner“, a completely unrelated sci-fi book by Alan E. Nourse (split into two words for William S. Burroughs’ proposed film adaptation), and got permission to use the name. Both Nourse and Burroughs get a special thanks in the credits. And now you understand why this title makes absolutely no sense.
Seriously, Oscars?: “Blade Runner” was met with mixed critical reception, and was lost in a crowded summer movie landscape that included “Poltergeist”, “Star Trek II”, and megahit “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial“. Despite this, “Blade” managed two Oscar nominations, losing Art Direction to “Gandhi” and Visual Effects to “E.T.”. Despite nominations at the Golden Globes and Baftas, Vangelis’ score failed to receive an Oscar nod.
- By all accounts, “Blade Runner” was a difficult shoot, preceded by the original backers pulling their funding 10 days before filming began. This was Ridley Scott’s first film in an American studio, and he clashed often with a crew unaccustomed to a British directing style. In addition, Scott and Harrison Ford argued constantly regarding their interpretations of Deckard (though in more recent interviews, both speak highly of the other). The only person who seemed to enjoy the film was Philip K. Dick, who enthusiastically approved of the screenplay as well as Douglas Trumbull’s special effects. Dick died three months before the film’s release, and “Blade Runner” is dedicated to his memory.
- It’s easy to see why this film works. In addition to the excellent foundation of the source material, the choice of film noir as the movie’s genre is inspired. Everyone in traditional film noir plays things cryptically, emotionless; not unlike this movie’s replicants.
- Another factor I caught early on: not a lot of dialogue, but plenty of subtle non-verbal communication. I had to keep on my toes for this one.
- Shoutout to James Hong, M. Emmet Walsh, and Edward James Olmos, three character actors in the “They’re In Everything” category making supporting appearances here. They don’t get much to do, but it’s always a pleasure seeing these three.
- Everyone’s great, but Rutger Hauer is on another level. He is wonderfully ruthless as Roy Batty, yet simultaneously charming. Hauer lures you in to empathizing with Roy’s complex motives.
- Wait, is this where everyone gets the “Zoom in, Enhance” trope from? “Blade Runner” was so prescient, other movies and TV shows just assumed this technology was real!
- If you only know Joanna Cassidy from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit“, have I got a movie for you. Not only does Joanna kick butt (literally) as Zhora, she also kicked butt 25 years later for Final Cut reshoots. Side note: The snake is hers.
- Sean Young’s work in this movie tends to be eclipsed by her later controversies ([cough] Catwoman), but she gives a nicely disciplined performance here as Rachael. And while we’re talking about Rachel; silence is not consent, Deckard!
- This is one of Daryl Hannah’s first movies and breakout performances. Pris seems to be going for a glam rock/”Cats” audition look?
- Roy definitely says “father” in this cut; I don’t know what you all are hearing.
- Yes, this movie predicted lifelike AI and voice command technology, but it also predicted that PanAm and the Bell System would still be around in 2019. And no matter how bleak a sci-fi future is, they always have flying cars.
- Roy’s one design flaw: the standard “don’t kill the protagonist immediately” rule. Is that an Asimov thing?
- Feeling that Roy’s final monologue had too many extraneous details, Rutger Hauer rewrote it himself by halving its length, and adding the final “tears in the rain” simile. Ridley Scott approved, and the result is a wonderfully profound movie moment.
- But of course, all that really matters is this film’s ongoing debate: Is Deckard a replicant? Ridley Scott says yes, Harrison Ford says no. Personally, I side with Ford; Deckard’s taxing job and life have rendered him incapable of showing real emotion, making him indistinguishable from a replicant. That being said, the film presents enough content in favor of either answer, making for an engaging discussion and an appreciation of Ford’s performance.
- “Blade Runner” was met with indifference at the box office, but the new advent of home video helped earn the film a cult following. Ridley Scott also cites MTV as responsible for the film’s resurgence, noting how many ’80s music videos feature “Blade Runner”-inspired dystopian futures.
- Practically every major piece of science-fiction media of the last 40 years can trace its aesthetic back to “Blade Runner”. Hell, without “Blade Runner”, there’s no steampunk!
- “Blade Runner” led to a reexamination of Philip K. Dick’s work, and several of his other stories have been turned into movies, notably “Total Recall”, “Minority Report”, and “A Scanner Darkly”.
- Among the many filmmakers who have listed “Blade Runner” as an influence on their careers include Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, and Denis Villeneuve, which really worked out in his favor.
- Talk of a sequel dragged out for decades, but one finally arrived in the form of 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049” by…Denis Villeneuve! Like its predecessor, it’s a well-made meditation on AI ethics that underperformed at the box office. Unlike its predecessor, “2049” actually won a few Oscars, including one for long-overdue cinematographer Roger Deakins.
- The original novel has had several official sequels, which take the “Blade Runner” name for brand recognition.
- Also of note is the 1998 film “Soldier”, written by “Blade Runner” co-writer David Peoples, who considers it a “sidequel”, occurring in the same universe as “Blade Runner”.
- Oh, and I guess “Prometheus” (and therefore the entire “Alien” franchise) takes place in the “Blade Runner” universe? Not sure how deep the Ridley Scott Cinematic Universe goes.
And now a brief history of The Many, Many Cuts of “Blade Runner”.
- An unsuccessful sneak preview of “Blade Runner” led to the producers adding a new “happy ending”, and voiceovers from Harrison Ford explaining the plot to the audience (Ridley Scott did not have final cut approval).
- Sometime around 1990, Ridley Scott’s workprint cut of “Blade Runner” (without the studio mandated changes) was rediscovered, and after a successful run at a few film festivals, was released in 1992 as the “Director’s Cut”. That title is a bit of misnomer, as Ridley Scott did not feel that the workprint represented his true vision for the film. Although Scott gave notes to the restoration team, he did not personally oversee the Director’s Cut.
- In the early 2000s, rumors of a definitive cut with Scott’s direct involvement began circulating, but licensing rights issues delayed the Final Cut until 2007. The Final Cut’s changes are mostly cosmetic – cleaning up picture quality, correcting continuity errors – and I can confirm that it makes for an unobtrusive first viewing.