This goddamn masterpiece hit cinemas in 1982, but met with a mixed press reaction and not much commercial success to support its existence. Studio interference also took its toll, with an enforced “happy” ending and strange Harrison Ford voiceover narration. This led to a 1992 Director’s Cut to remove those two, but in 2007 director Ridley Scott visited the film for the last time to produce the Final Cut. We’re reviewing this today.
Adapted from sci-fi genius Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it’s one of our all time favourite films. Its complex themes on the nature of humanity and reality, along with a remarkable soundtrack from Greek composer Vangelis, plus Scott’s visionary and breathtaking cinematography, and you have a film of immense scope and intellectual resonance. Are we being poncy? No, it’s Blade Runner!
Synopsis time – that means spoilers are ahead! We have one Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who’s quit his job as a blade runner. That’s until a bunch of replicants (robots, essentially, but possessing great physical abilities and indiscernible from humans) break out of an off-world colony and return to Earth. Why? They’re looking for more life, having been built with only a four year lifespan.
These guys are headed by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), an immensely tall, smart, and strong replicant who wants more life. They’re illegally on Earth, though, so these new series six models need to be destroyed – Deckard is re-enlisted as a Blade Runner and ordered to hunt them all down. This means killing them, although the industry terminology is “retire”. This isn’t an easy task, a process clearly taking its toll on the our Blade Runner.
From there, Deckard begins to question his morals and sense of humanity. His mental health is suffering. He’s a heavy drinker, is moody, and appears to be in a fit of existential acceptance – yet, he falls in love with Rachel, herself a replicant. Thusly, you have the question of what is humanity, reality, and the burgeoning sense of wondering about Deckard’s potential artificiality.
Blade Runner isn’t a cheerful film – it’s brooding, has a neo-noir quality (it’s a classic detective story, just in a spectacular future setting), it rains pretty much throughout, and there’s never a glimpse of any sunlight. Deckard’s descent towards completing his odious task isn’t pretty, but the industry trope of protagonists versus antagonists is skewed impressively. You can’t argue against the replicants and what they’re trying to do.
Some critics and fans argue Rutger Hauer steals the show – it does build impressively towards an epic conclusion. But the performances are universally excellent, with Deckard the antithesis of Ford’s more famous outings in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. He was branching out, trying new things, and even though he and Scott clashed badly and the shoot for Blade Runner was a notorious horror story, the end result remains, arguably, the finest moment in the careers of all concerned.
There’s also the legendary closing monologue by Batty. Aware his body is shutting down and there’s not much time left, he makes the decision to save Deckard. He then delivers a rather profound monologue. Rutger Hauer adapted the script significantly for this speech and the scene remains one of the most famous from the film.
Legacy & Soundtrack
Blade Runner’s impact can be seen everywhere. Its aesthetics has been utilised in various other films, video games, comic books, and novels. Scott’s cinematography, the extensive sets he created (going as far as to create entire streets of this future world), the landmark special effects for the time (1982!), the existential setting – they inspired dozens of films and video games.
Author Philip K. Dick, who died suddenly in March 1982 without having seen the final film, gave it his full support. He saw a rough cut and was utterly blown away by it, commenting it was exactly his vision of the future. He also considered Rutger Hauer as the “perfect” embodiment of his character Roy Batty.
Incidentally, and we’re still annoyed by this as we’d looked it up years before, Kotaku ran an article last year pointing out Deckard’s rude gesture in the clip above. By rubbing the chopsticks together, he’s basically telling the chef his restaurant is of shoddy value. It’s those little touches that make Blade Runner so magical – it’s a complex tapestry where so many scenes can be dissected.
Finally, there’s Vangelis’ remarkable soundtrack – it’s out of this world. It’s best described as a fusion of classical and futuristic synthesisers. It’s dark but melodic, with hints of world music throughout, and essentially represents the “retro-future” of the world. Despite the overwhelming acclaim of the soundtrack, it wasn’t available to buy until the early 1990s, so many fans had to make do with bootlegs (or, you know, just watching the film). YouTube has since made that all a bit easier.
Blade Runner 2049
Back in 2015 or so, the news a sequel was on the way didn’t fill us with joy. The strong reviews from the world’s critics did raise our hopes, but when we watched Blade Runner 2049 (2017) we found it to be largely pretentious, plodding, and uninspired. However, to be clear the film did receive a huge amount of critical acclaim – we just don’t happen to agree with it and still maintain Blade Runner didn’t need a sequel.
We didn’t think 2049 was bad – Sylvia Hoeks’ puts in an excellent performance as psycho woman Luv, the cinematography is stunning, and several set pieces are jaw dropping. It’s worth watching, if you want to see where Denis Villeneuve took the story. But it’s no match for its classic predecessor, and it’s worth nothing the lack of commercial success for the film may have blocked the potential for future sequels hinted at in 2049.