Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#1,332. Blade Runner (1982)

Directed By: Ridley Scott

Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young

Tag line: "Man Has Made His Match... Now It's His Problem"

Trivia: At one point, Pete Townshend was asked to compose the film's music, but declined due to bad experience he had working on 1975's Tommy

Equal parts Metropolis and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner weaves a tale of a wondrous (albeit bleak) future in which mankind has lost its way.

The year is 2019, a time when androids - known as “Replicants” - look and act entirely human. This, of course, makes many people uneasy, and as a result, Replicants have been banned from Planet Earth, serving instead as laborers in the outer reaches of space and programmed with a limited life span of only four years. 

When news arrives that Replicants Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Pris (Daryl Hannah), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), and Leon Kowalski (Brion James) have stolen a ship and are now hiding out in Los Angeles, Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a cop who specializes in hunting down Replicants, is brought in to “eliminate” them. But are these four here to start trouble, or are the Replicants simply looking for a way to stay alive beyond their pre-determined four years?

Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a 1968 novel written by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is a visual masterpiece, from the opening shot of Los Angeles, revealing the awesome technology that has taken hold of the city, to the bizarre workshop of J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a place where the very concept of life is redefined on a daily basis. Even a tense scene late in the movie, set on the rain-drenched rooftops of L.A., is as beautiful as it is thrilling. 

Story-wise, Blade Runner feels like a ‘40s or '50s film noir, following a hard-nosed cop as he carries out his assignment, regardless of the consequences (the theatrical version, which features narration by Deckard, is also a throwback to such classic noir flicks as Double Indemnity, Detour, and Force of Evil, where the main characters narrated their own stories). At the same time, Blade Runner has a lot in common with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in that it provides a gloomy view of things to come, a future in which technology has advanced leaps and bounds, yet has done nothing to further the human condition, serving instead the corporate entities that have taken over the world. 

Oddly enough, the Replicants, who have learned to appreciate the value of their lives, sometimes feel more “human” than their flesh and blood counterparts. Rachael (Sean Young), a Replicant working for the Tyrell Corporation, harbors another woman’s memories, yet fully believes them to be her own, while Batty, so wonderfully played by Rutger Hauer, is both villain and victim, occasionally winning us over to his way of thinking (his “Tears in Rain” speech is as poignant today as it was in 1982).

Blade Runner has been re-edited several times over the years, resulting in as many as five distinct versions of the film (Scott’s director’s cut, released in 1991, eliminated, among other things, Deckard’s narration). Yet, regardless of which version you ultimately watch, Blade Runner is both a visually stunning experience and a troubling portent of mankind’s possible future.


Anthony Lee Collins said...

I was just thinking of this last week -- reading about all the different versions and wondering which was available and which I'd want to see. I still remember seeing it in a theater when it opened. That opening shot, and the music, and my then wife and I said, "This is gonna be good..." :-)

James Robert Smith said...

This remains my all-time favorite film. From studying the history of it and how it came to end up in its final form, I am convinced that the movie's uncanny excellence is the product of a series of accidents. So this is one case wherein the so-called interference of producers overruling the director, and of editors having a voice in removing extraneous (and even harmful) scenes were of paramount importance in giving us a great movie instead of a train wreck.