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Revisiting Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner"
Re-Evaluating a Cult Classic
More than three decades after its original release, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) remains one of the most polarizing films in the science fiction genre. If you scan its review pages on IMDb or Amazon, you'll find hardcore fans who will defend Blade Runner to the death, claiming it to be the single greatest sci-fi movie of the last 50 years, as well as unimpressed viewers who condemn it as boring, incomprehensible, pretentious, and overrated. Until recently, I wasn't sure which side of the fence I stood on with Blade Runner. I had only seen the film once on cable TV in the mid-'80s and though I thought the film's visuals, special effects and set pieces were phenomenal (and still do) I never felt that I really "got" it and was left wondering what all the whoop-de-doo was about. Looking back, the main reason that I was disappointed in Blade Runner back then was most likely due to my age (I was in my teens). My experience with the science fiction genre was rather limited at the time and I was probably expecting Blade Runner to be a shoot'em up action film, simply because Harrison ("Han Solo," "Indiana Jones") Ford was in it. I certainly wasn't prepared for Ridley Scott's extremely dark, film-noir injected vision of life in the hellish Los Angeles of the future
Blade Runner was based on the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by science fiction icon Philip K. Dick, and though enjoyed a measure of critical acclaim upon its release in 1982 it was not a success at the box office. It wasn't till the film was released on home video in the mid '80s that word of mouth began to spread about it and Blade Runner soon achieved status as a cult film. As the years passed, the film's reputation grew and critics regularly praised Blade Runner to the Heavens. After reading dozens of articles and reviews citing it as a landmark in science fiction cinema, I eventually became curious about re-visiting the film. The problem was deciding which version to revisit. I'd seen the "theatrical" cut of the film back in the '80s, but since its initial release Blade Runner has been the subject of numerous re-edits, revisions and re-releases. According to Wikipedia, there are no less than seven (!) "official" versions of Blade Runner in existence. Some of these versions differ only slightly from the original theatrical cut, while others were major overhauls that actually changed some audience members' viewpoint of the entire story. Some of these alternate versions include the Workprint (a pre-release version screened for test audiences in early 1982), the International Version (shown in theatres outside of the U.S.), the Broadcast Cut (which edited certain scenes to meet television standards), the so-called Director's Cut (which, despite the name, is not truly a "Director's Cut" since it was released without Ridley Scott's final approval), and most recently, the "Final Cut," which was supervised by Scott himself. "The Final Cut" had a successful theatrical re-release in 2007 before becoming a top seller on DVD. Each of the different "cuts" seems to have its own set of supporters and detractors, but I opted for the '07 "Final Cut" when it came time to finally re-experience "Blade Runner," figuring that if this version was good enough for the notoriously picky Sir Ridley Scott, then it was good enough for me.
The Story...(Spoilers ahead!)
Los Angeles 2019 doesn't look like a very nice place to visit, and I certainly wouldn't want to live there, either. It's dark, dirty, overcrowded, and constantly rainy. Gigantic skyscrapers rise up above the polluted landscape and flying vehicles zip past huge billboards advertising the Off-World Colonies, which promise tired Earthlings a fresh start. A pre-credit crawl informs us that the Tyrell Corporation has perfected the Nexus series of "Replicants" -- genetically-designed "artificial humans" with superior strength and intelligence. Replicants are used as servants and slave labor on other planets, performing the dangerous or unpleasant jobs that humans can't (or don't want to) do themselves. After the Replicants attempted to revolt against their human "masters," their presence on Earth became illegal and if any Replicant sets foot on the planet, the Blade Runners - an elite squad of policemen whose specialty is tracking Replicants down and "retiring" (i.e. killing) them - are called in. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a burned-out former Blade Runner who's forced back into service after a group of particularly nasty Replicants escape from a shuttle (causing the deaths of numerous humans in the process) and make it Earthside. The escapees are part of the newest, most advanced series of Replicants, the "Nexus-6," and are superior to humans in almost every way except one - their life span. As a fail-safe option against their sometimes-dangerous nature, the Tyrell Corporation programmed each of the Nexus-6 Replicants with a mere four years of life. It is believed that the escapees are nearing the end of that time and have returned to Earth to find out how to extend their "lives."
Original Theatrical Trailer (1982)
Deckard visits the Tyrell Corporation headquarters to get information on the escapees from their inventor, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, and also meets his mysterious assistant Rachael (Sean Young). During Deckard's questioning, Tyrell confidentially reveals that Rachael is also a Replicant, although even she doesn't know it, thanks to advanced "memory implants" programmed into her genetic structure. Deckard is later visited by Rachael at his run down apartment, where he drunkenly reveals the secret to her. Needless to say, she's less than thrilled by this revelation and runs off sobbing into the streets. Deckard begins pounding the pavement searching for the rogue androids, eventually "airing out" the first of the group - Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), a female working as an exotic dancer - after an extended chase through the crowded L.A. streets. When Deckard's police captain arrives on the scene, he informs Deckard that Rachael has now been added to the "retirement" list as she's disappeared. All the commotion attracts the attention of the escapees' leader, Roy Batty (an ice cold Rutger Hauer, in a career making performance) and his goon Leon (Brion James), who is sent to kill Deckard. Rachael saves Deckard from Leon at the last second (two down, two to go!), which earns her a pass from Deckard after an awkward love scene (when she asks him "If I run, will you hunt me?" he replies "No...but someone else will").
Meanwhile the remaining Replicants, Roy Batty and Pris (Daryl Hannah) have "befriended" J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), an eccentric genetic designer and toy collector/inventor who works for the Tyrell Corporation. Through him, Batty forces an audience with Tyrell himself, where he begs Tyrell to give them "more life." Tyrell informs Roy that this is impossible, but that he should take comfort in the fact that he has "lived" more in his short four years of existence than most humans do in their entire lifetimes. Enraged, Batty kills Tyrell (and Sebastian, offscreen) which sets up an epic Final Battle between Deckard, Pris, and Batty at Sebastian's run-down warehouse home. The scene in which Batty and Deckard go mano-a-mano has become legendary in film circles for its brutality and for the famous soliloquy Batty delivers as his life comes to an end. ("I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." ) Depending on which "version" of the film you see, the movie ends with Deckard and Rachael driving off into the sunset (in a forced "happy ending" that was dictated by the studio) or simply leaving Deckard's apartment together to face an uncertain future before the screen goes dark.
"The Final Cut" Trailer (2007)
Summing It Up...
After seeing Blade Runner through more mature eyes, 20+ years after my initial viewing, I can definitely say that I enjoyed the film a lot more this time around. The futuristic landscapes are still breathtaking and the action scenes are realistic and gritty. Virtually every shot of Blade Runner is artful and packed with eye candy. The pacing of the film, while admittedly rather "slow" by today's standards, allows the story to unfold naturally, rather than moving things along by jamming in random scenes of violence or explosions every few minutes (which is how most "sci-fi" movies nowadays operate). I may not be totally convinced yet that Blade Runner belongs on the list of all time film masterpieces, but at its core, it's a pretty damn good detective story/police procedural that just happens to take place in a futuristic setting. In addition, the DVD transfer of "The Final Cut" looks fantastic; the scenery, costumes and backgrounds leap from the screen, looking like the film was shot yesterday rather than nearly 30 years ago. Visually, Blade Runner is still a marvel and holds up well even when compared to the 'advances' of modern special effects. To sweeten the deal, the 2-disc special edition of "The Final Cut" also includes "Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner" - a three hour (!) documentary about the film's lengthy and troubled production history that will provide a source of endless trivia for the diehard geeks - on a separate disc.
"He say... you Brade Runnah!"
So Is He, or Isn't He?
One debate about Blade Runner that rages to this day is whether or not Deckard is also a Replicant, and if so, whether or not he is aware of it. I'm told that this idea is not even present in the original Philip K. Dick novel (I've never read the book myself, so I can't say for sure), but Ridley Scott apparently believed Deckard was a Replicant and framed the film version to support that theory. On the other hand, Harrison Ford himself has said in interviews that he does not believe that Deckard was a Replicant, and Rutger Hauer agrees with him, saying that such an idea would reduce their big fight scene at the end to nothing more than "two machines beating each other up" instead of the more epic "Man Vs. Machine" face-off that both actors intended. Since Ford was the guy playing Deckard, I'd be inclined to go along with his opinion. Some articles and web sites offer lists of the clues strewn throughout the film that were intended to lead viewers to the truth about Deckard's origins, but all I can say is that they're either buried very deep, or I was simply too dumb to catch them. There certainly aren't any "hints" in Ford's performance as Deckard, because when you get right down to it all he does is drink, smoke, brood, and get the crap beaten out of him every twenty minutes or so for the whole film. Maybe the truth becomes clearer with repeated viewings, or maybe I just didn't watch the right "cut" of the film. Either way, Blade Runner is still a worthy watch that's bound to spark conversation.
© 2011 Keith Abt