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Should I Watch..? Blade Runner
What's the big deal?
Blade Runner is a science fiction film released in 1982 and is loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film stars Harrison Ford as a detective specialising in the discovery and "retirement" of genetically engineered replicants that are almost indistinguishable from normal humans. The film also stars Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos and Daryl Hannah. Although initially perceived as a flop due to poor box office returns, the film's stature grew over time and it is now considered one of the greatest sci-fi pictures of all time. There have a total of eight different versions of the film released, the most recent being the 2007 "Final Cut", but all have proved popular and influential to countless film-makers in the intervening years. A belated sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (1), is due for release in October 2017.
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What's it about?
In the dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, the Tyrell Corporation produce genetically engineered beings known as replicants, to be used as slave labour on off-world colonies. Replicants are illegal on Earth with specialised police units called Blade Runners tasked with identifying and killing any. One such officer, Deckard, is reluctantly brought in by his boss Bryant to locate a group of replicants who have recently arrived and are completely indistinguishable from normal people. The replicants are led by combat specialist Roy Batty although their purpose on Earth is unknown.
Deckard visits the Tyrell Corporation to learn more about Batty's model, the highly advanced Nexus-6 which boasts not only superhuman strength and intellect but inputted memories to aid their emotional development over their in-built four-year lifespan. While Deckard deals with the task of tracking them down, Batty begins his own mission - to try and infiltrate Tyrell itself...
Trailer of 30th anniversary Blu-ray
Edward James Olmos
M. Emmet Walsh
Dr Eldon Tyrell
Hampton Fancher & David Peoples *
Release Date (UK)
9th September, 1982
Academy Award Nominations
Best Set Direction, Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
It is a rare thing for a movie to get so many elements right but Blade Runner is undoubtedly one such example. The production may have been fraught with issues while Scott and Ford still can't seem to agree on one of the film's fundamental questions. And yet, it is a triumph of vision and imagination that is reminiscent of the very best sci-fi - not since Metropolis (2) has a film had such influence over those following in its footsteps. Taking Dick's somewhat clunky novel (in my humble opinion) and embellishing it with detail and realism, the film is an absolute tour de force. Like the best sci-fi films, it asks the viewer lots of questions - occasionally difficult ones - but it also trusts your intelligence enough to leave some of them unanswered.
Ford puts in one of the strongest performances of his career, demonstrating that he can do more than just Han Solo or Indiana Jones. But his co-stars outshine him - Hauer is unforgettable as the murderous Batty, the android who believes he may have a soul while Young is unfairly overlooked as Rachel, giving a performance that makes the most of the traditional femme fatale character. In truth, you'd need to be paying attention to the actors to notice this because the film still looks incredible today. Sets are distinctive and almost unique to the film, street scenes bustle with life and the moment you see a police spinner take off into the night sky fills you with childish wonder. We know that Los Angeles in 2019 will look nothing like this (well, there's still time!) but we believe the film, such is the strength and clarity of Scott's vision.
- When Pris first meets J.F. Sebastian, she runs away and skids into a parked car, breaking the window. This was a genuine mistake by Hannah as the ground was slippery and wet. Naturally, the glass was real and the accident chipped Hannah's elbow in eight places. She still has the scar.
- The original theatrical version released in 1982 featured a happier ending which reused aerial shots that were cut from The Shining (3) as well as a voice-over narration performed by Ford. It was rumoured that Ford was so against the idea of the narration that he deliberately read it badly, though he denied this in 2002.
- Dick only saw the first 20 minutes of the film during production, due to his ill health. He was impressed, reportedly saying "It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly." However, neither Scott or screenwriter David Peoples had read Dick's original novel.
What's not to like?
Of course, it isn't perfect - no film is - but due to the endless editing and revisions of the film, what flaws were present matter very little these days. Both the narration (which is largely redundant anyway) and the happy ending to the film have gone, resulting in a film that feels quite different from the original theatrical version. It also poses a question that wasn't really explored in the first cut, the question of Deckard's own humanity. Smarter people than I have wrote endlessly on the subject and I'm sure that you could easily find in-depth studies into the matter. But posing the question in the first place was a masterstroke and gives Blade Runner an extra edge over the competition.
As much as it pains me to say it because it's one of the few film soundtracks I actually own, the soundtrack by Vangelis has dated a little bit in places although it still sounds incredible and fits the tone of the film perfectly. The only other issue I can think of is the well-documented appearance of advertising billboards for companies that no longer exist, the so-called Blade Runner Curse. The likes of Atari, Bell and Pan Am have long since vanished into the corporate aether but this is one film that will truly stand the test of time.
Should I watch it?
Blade Runner is an iconic picture, one of the most important and spectacular sci-fi films ever made. If you haven't seen it already, it's a reminder that good science fiction should also be about narrative and themes as well as memorable visuals, effects and realism. This is a film that has so much going for it that any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to watch it at least once. Brilliant.
Great For: sci-fi lovers, fans of film noir, Ford's career, Scott's reputation
Not So Great For: action fans, people who think Star Wars (4) is sci-fi
What else should I watch?
Sci-fi is a fairly loose definition covering many bases from the space-based soap opera that is Star Wars to the slow-motion ballet of bullets known as The Matrix (5). But for me personally, true science fiction works on a much deeper level and makes you ponder the big issues besides how badly you want a lightsabre. Think of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey (6) with its almost oblique questions about evolution and alien life or the silent masterpiece Metropolis, as much as a spectacle as anything conceived on George Lucas's laptop.
Sadly, what I term "true sci-fi" is rarely successful at the box office - at least, that's why I presume we don't see it that often. One of the few recent examples I can think of is another Philip K. Dick adaptation, the Steven Spielberg techno-thriller Minority Report (7). Despite the casting of Tom Cruise and a happy ending that jars with the overall tone, the film is a dark exploration of themes such as free will vs determinism and the invasion of privacy. However, it also works as a straight-up chase film with Cruise playing a cop working with a trio of precognitive individuals who predict that he will commit a murder, forcing him on the run attempting to clear his name.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox