The history of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is as almost notorious as the movie itself; an agonisingly uncomfortable shoot had virtually everyone at each other’s throats, the equally torturous post production saw the film recur to be “happier” and ultimately the finished product underperformed at the box office after garnering mixed reviews. However, time – and numerous re-edits by Scott himself – heals many wounds and these days Blade Runner isn’t just hailed as a classic of it’s kind, but its widely agreed that modern sci-fi as we know it simply wouldn’t exist without those rain lashed neon streets and heapings of moral complexity.
So power up that Spinner, put up one of those future umbrellas with the light in the handle and prepare to wade through an experience that, if it hadn’t been discovered, would have been lost like tears in rain…
The year is 2019 (lol) and inordinately grumpy Blade Runner Rick Deckard is bullied out of retirement to take on one last case on the futuristic streets of Los Angeles. Just so we’re sure, a Blade Runner is someone who hunts down Replicants, bio-engineered humanoid workers who boast augmented strength and a limited life span who have escaped their posts to try and blend in on earth and Deckard is tasked with hunting down four such “skin jobs” who have managed to murder their way to earth.
However, despite their fearsome methods, all these advanced Replicants really want is to find a way to extend their minuscule lifespan and live a free life and to do that they’ll have to find a way to get back to the Tyrell Corporation, the company that built them in the first place, so each have tried to blend in the best way they can. Their leader, the insanely charismatic Roy Batty, has a plan to work their way up the chain of command to reach CEO Eldon Tyrell via childlike genetic designer J.F. Sebastian, but during his quest, Deckard manages to find and bloodily “retire” some of his inhuman family.
Inbetween blowing holes the size of a boxer’s fist through fleeing Replicants, Deckard has his very concept of what truly constitutes humanity scrambled after meeting Rachel, an employee of the Tyrell Corporation who, by design, has no idea she’s actually a Replicant herself. Her plight twangs heart strings in Deckard that most likely haven’t been twanged in years and he finds himself falling for this woman who is struggling through an identity crisis like no other – but falling in love with a Replicant probably isn’t the best career move for a Blade Runner and when Rachel inevitably flees her makers, it puts Deckard in an unbelievable tough moral position.
However, before he works this out he’ll still have to put down the surviving members of Roy’s group in a brutal stand off that will leave both men questioning the very fundamentals of what it means to be truly human.
Ridley Scott had essentially rewritten the rulebook of sci-fi visuals with the incredibly tactile world of Alien, but Blade Runner was a completely different kettle of fish entirely – here, cinema’s greatest living visualist crafted an entire future world from the ground up with dizzying attention to detail in the days before CGI that felt incredibly real and utterly plausible. A rain lashed cityscape that featured a skyline crammed with crumbling buildings and massive advertisements lazily cruising across the sky, Blade Runner essentially changed the visual language of a dystopian future overnight, envisioning an Asian-themed, overpopulated world where you can order genetically replicated animals from market stalls and flying cars known as Spinners whizz about people’s heads. Never before or since had the future felt so real and while many have copied this style (Judge Dredd, The Fifth Element and the Star Wars Prequels are all the most obvious attempts to harness that giant, oppressive city look) so far none have quite measured up to the terrible beauty the neon nightmare that Blade Runner served up.
Fitting right in with the decrepit sets and stunning visuals is the performances and the sheer misery of the shoot actually harnesses lighting in a bottle as everyone’s discomfort on set translates to a detached weariness on screen that utterly lines up with the dingy world we’re in. Harrison Ford in particular looks completely done with this shit barely twenty minutes after first appearing on screen, which encompasses Deckard’s burnt out view of the world magnificently and his infamous proclivity towards being somewhat of a sour puss is nothing more than a fucking godsend for the tone of the movie. On the flip side, Rutger Hauer is a bleach blonde dynamo compared to Ford’s sullen musings, pumping out waves of crazed charisma as the synthetic human striving to beat the ticking clock of his DNA in order to become a real boy. The fact that both men resort to devastating brutality in their respective quests blur the lines on who exactly is supposed the “good guy” here as the slaying of a Replicant isn’t played as pretty or even remotely heroic as Deckard usually resorts to shooting them repeatedly in the back as they flee for their lives (fair fights aren’t usually advised when it comes to Replicants)
Its this moral complexity that – while on its initial release – is actually the engine that drives the movie. In true Film Noir fashion, nothing is explained out loud and it’s up to the actor’s faces to relay what’s going on as events take their course and perhaps the most notorious of these is that the film vaguely hints that Deckard may in fact be a replicant himself. Now, while I’m not here to chuck my particular opinion into the ring, it’s a damn good example of the mystery the film evokes even to this day and is a major part of its enduring appeal.
Beyond the sets and effects, Scott combines a near endless sense of ambiguity with a sterling attempt to make every frame look like a genuine work of art; Daryl Hannah’s Replicant pleasure model, Pris, hides in plain sight in a toy room in among the other playthings; elsewhere Sean Young’s alabaster skin and ruby red lips highlight the weird refraction effect seen in a Replicant’s eyes when the light hits them just right while Hauer looks downright stunning during Batty’s last stand; bloodied, stripped down to a pair of trunks and clutching a dove for maximum martyr effect, he delivers possibly cinema’s finest soliloquy as his life slowly ebbs.
A movie that’s flourished thanks to its many mysteries, Blade Runner has enjoyed an extended life far beyond that of its enslaved “antagonists” for very good reasons and will continue to have one for many many years to come. Come for the nightmarish tone, stay for the dreamy visuals scored by Vangelis, I guarantee, you’ll see things you people wouldn’t believe…