WARNER BROS. PICTURES (1982)
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson, Brion James
Who are we? What am I? Are we human? (We’re not dancers)
So many questions and theories raised in Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 release, Blade Runner and the 117-minute runtime (for the Final Cut) does its damnedest to resolve as many of these as possible, but there’s just not enough time.
Or is that, in fact, the point?
In futuristic Los Angeles (2019, in fact) Rick Deckard (Ford) is a retired ‘blade runner’ – a crack team of agents employed to eliminate rogue bioengineered individuals known as replicants – beings programmed to look, think and act identically to humans, without memories or past, however. Four have smuggled themselves onto Earth from an off-world colony and decided its fair game to murder a lot of people. Created by the Tyrell Corporation, the Nexus 6 models are only programmed to have a four-year lifespan, however, now they are on Earth there’s a chance they can override the rules and extend their existence.
After a fellow blade runner is killed whilst performing the routine Voight-Kampff test that determines a human from a replicant, Decker is thrust into action. His mission? Hunt down and ‘retire’ (i.e. KILL) replicants Leon (James), Zhora (Cassidy), Pris (Hannah) and the indomitable Batty (Hauer). The replicants, however, are on their own crusade to find their creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Turkel), and ensure they stick around for a lot longer than planned.
Things are never simple, though, as Decker falls for charming, distant humanoid Rachael (Young) – an experimental replicant herself who will also find herself in the firing line of the authorities.
A revelation in film-making when released, Blade Runner is often cited as a Grade-A sci-fi movie, and in some cases, the Grade-A sci-fi movie. Mixing cutting-edge effects, location shots and meticulous miniatures, Scott and DoP Jordan Cronenweth created a grubby, futuristic dystopia like something out of George Orwell’s nightmares. The upper echelons shimmer with neon lights and digital advertisements, whereas street-level is a filthy rat-race of grime, human traffic and police. Everywhere. Flying cars glide through the sky and rain with ease and the computer age is booming. Yes, the effects look dated to a degree now, but in 1982, this was revolutionary stuff.
The movie deals with deep themes of humanity and existentialism - what it means to be human. How could it be that humans have a distinct lack of compassion as opposed to their created counterparts? Are we sure we know just who the replicants are? The questions are there to be pondered. Technology has become both an innovation and a burden to society, and the corporates laud over the little folk at the bottom with their towering logos and adverts. The police marshal every road, alley and skyline, there’s nowhere to run if you wanted to – Big Brother is smothering you. The visual aesthetic is brilliantly created and ushered in the cyberpunk stylings so-oft used in modern times.
Harrison Ford is suitably glum as Deckard – his characterization is vulnerable yet has a spine of steel. Rutger Hauer’s Batty is a wide-eyed beast who always seems to be teetering on the edge of madness, it’s a great performance. Eyes are another key motif of the movie with allusions made throughout, and at one point, detached eyes from a lab are utilized as part of the narrative. Nice. Hauer also managed to improv a classic movie line from the theme – “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”
The action is solid throughout the movie, punctuating the more labored moments. The climactic duel is fast and fraught, rooftop chases blended with soliloquies splendidly. Decker’s pursuit of a near-naked PVC clad Zhora is well-executed as is Batty’s showdown with Tyrell. A sight for sore eyes, you could say.
Whilst the cast all deliver where they need to, Blade Runner isn’t overly keen on giving them any real development. It’s usually easy to relate and root for Ford, because…he’s Harrison Ford, and we know he’s troubled because he manhandles a woman into kissing him...which was weird. However, the plight of the replicants wasn’t as engaging as it should have been, mainly because not enough time is spent with the replicants, especially given how good Hauer is – they’re plight is only glossed over and you can’t help but feel there’s much more that could have been explored without sacrificing quality. Whilst the movie never claims to be a fast-paced action adventure, the pacing is slow and clunky and the narrative is softly sacrificed for the philosophy. This will work for some, the neo-noir thriller stylings pay off at certain times, but at others just fall short. The Final Cut’s ending delivers a fantastically ambiguous conclusion, especially when compared to other iterations. A cliffhanger of sorts that never looked like it would be resolved (until the announcement of Blade Runner 2049).
I can’t put it out there that Blade Runner is the greatest science-fiction movie of all time (Close Encounters, Alien, Aliens, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars are all comfortably ahead of it) but it’s certainly a very decent sci-fi flick. The visuals, ideas and themes take precedence over the overall story and characters, which is a pity as greater development would’ve elevated Blade Runner higher. Still, it’s still a very good movie.
I think I’m human.
October 4th 2017