Blade Runner (1982)
For my sixth birthday I received a VHS copy of Blade Runner from my father, even though the age rating was 15. I don’t think it did me any harm. I spent the next few years watching the film regularly, not fully understanding it, but that didn’t stop me revisiting it. Today, I have no hesitation in telling anyone that Blade Runner is, for me, the greatest film ever made.
Directed by Ridley Scott and adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner didn’t start life so well. Documentaries and books I’ve read all talk of difficult production with Scott more interested in the visuals than his actors. Ford and Scott did not get on though they are friends today. A screen test concerned the studio enough to insist that Harrison Ford, firmly against his wishes, provide a narrative to events to help the audience along. The voiceover wasn’t Scott’s vision either. This change didn’t help. Blade Runner failed to ignite the box office, released in 1982, the same year as E.T. There was never going to be any contest really.
The original film is excellent, no question, but the lack of enthusiasm in Ford’s narrative is palpable and often intrusive on key moments in the moment, especially the dramatic ending. This was the version I originally owned but it was the superior 1992 Director’s Cut that really elevated Blade Runner for me. Dispensing with the narration and adding Deckard’s dream sequence of a unicorn that led to a memorable mystery, this remains the ultimate version of the film for me. There have been others since with Scott’s final cut being released in 2007.
On the surface, the story seems fairly straightforward. It’s Los Angeles 2019 where the dystopian landscape is one of heavy rain and dark skies. Those that can afford it or are healthy enough, have left Earth to live on Off-World colonies, while endless arrays of adverts try to lure the unfortunates left behind to a better life elsewhere. Earth is very much like rats leaving a sinking ship. Colonisation was made possible by the use of advanced robots known as Replicants, that resemble humans, and differ only from them in that they lack emotions. At the outset we learn that Replicants are slave labour and forbidden to step foot on Earth. Blade Runners – a bounty hunter unit within the police force – are assigned the task of killing any Replicants that trespass on Earth.
We spend much of the film with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who is coaxed out of retirement to hunt down six Replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), that have come to Earth. The Replicants seem to have designs on the Tyrell Corporation, the company that created them, but it’s unclear at the outset why. While we follow Deckard’s manhunt, we do also watch Roy and the other Replicants trying to evade detection and their plight is arguably more interesting than Deckard’s fatigue with killing and the chance of romance that comes his way. At the start Deckard is the good guy chasing a group of bad Replicants, but by the end your perception of who is good and who is bad may well have changed.
As adaptations go, Blade Runner is one of those rare gems that is actually better than the book and the late Philip K. Dick was said to have been bowled over by Scott’s film, which he felt captured his vision perfectly. The effects hold up well today and Los Angeles in 2019 is a dark and miserable place. Scott’s level of detail is stunning in conveying a future where the Earth has been bled dry and the best life can only be found on another world.
A notable cast all play their parts and create some memorable characters, whether it’s Edward James Olmos as the hard to read Gaff or William Sanderson as the kind hearted and sympathetic J.F. Sebastian. Ford is great in the lead, especially given that he had to improvise a lot with little direction from Scott. However, Blade Runner’s shining light comes in the form of Rutger Hauer who is imperious as Roy Batty, whether he’s wandering the streets in search of answers or delivering one of the classic speeches at the film’s denouement, some of the lines which the actor wrote just minutes before filming! It is a dominant and brilliant performance from the Dutch actor.
Blade Runner is a special film for me in many ways. Released the year I was born and the best gift my father ever gave me, it’s a film that has been with me for 25 years. I have no idea how many times I have watched it but it never gets old or monotonous going through it again. Ridley Scott has made other great films such as Alien and Gladiator, but with Blade Runner he reached his zenith and delivered an undoubted masterpiece that I am so pleased has the recognition today that it truly deserves.
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