Truly Great Movies: Blade Runner
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” – Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) Blade Runner (1982)
It’s a question becoming more and more important as technology advances to new heights: What defines humanity? Does it all boil down to brainwaves and genetics, or is it something divinely intangible? If we create machines in our image, are we responsible for their actions? This has been the subject of many science fiction films, but none as haunting and introspective as Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner.
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner ditches some of Dick’s finer details (citizens’ obsession with owning live, real animals instead of android copies, Dekkard’s loathsome wife) in favor of a more structured and tightly-knit plot. It works well, and even surpasses the source material.
Scott ,along with art director David L. Snyder and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s vision of Post World War “Terminus” Los Angeles (changed from San Francisco in the novel) is a dark, shaded landscape that combines fast moving images with the slow drip of dirty rain on desolate streets. All the power is high up in the cold towers of the rich and mighty, while Blade Runner Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford)world lies in the slums at street level. The fog-ridden, dank world is illuminated by Vangelis’s resonating score.
Although only hinted at in the movie, Earth has become the ghetto of the universe: all respectable people have left for the “colonies” on other habitable planets. Dekkard’s job is to hunt down and “retire” androids who have become TOO human. These replicants (“andis”/androids in the novel) are becoming self-aware, and are willing to commit acts of violence to perpetuate the survival of their race.
Deckard, much like Montag in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, goes from blissful ignorance to full-fledged loathing of his job once he is forced to view the replicants as more than just wires and circuits. Further complicating Deckard’s ambivalence about his moral compass is his growing attraction to Rachael (Sean Young), a replicant whose world crumbles around her when she is faced with the knowledge that her memories are manufactured, and her expiration date is imminent.
Deckard’s hunt for the remaining rogue replicants brings him into contact with the elusive Leon, Zhora, and Pris, all replicant models hiding in plain sight. It is not until his final hunt for Roy Batty, the most intelligent and lucid of the replicants, that Deckard becomes the hunted himself.
Rutger Hauer’s Batty is a spot-on, brilliant performance. To balance elements of the maniacal with a calm sense of self -worth is difficult acting indeed. Batty is as much a mentor as a machine – he forces Deckard to confront his inner demons even while facing the ticking timebomb in his own brain.
There are seven existing prints of Blade Runner, the least interesting of which is the original theatrical release. It’s no wonder that 1982 audiences were confused by the bizzarre, tacked-on happy ending and vague voiceovers. The only version viewers need to bother with is the 2007 “Final Cut” – which was supervised by Scott himself and authenticated as the definitive edition. This takes out the voice-overs, re-writes the ending and includes more revelations as to whether or not Deckard himself is a replicant. Scott gives the answer to fans in his commentary, but it is much more interesting to find and decipher the clues on your own.
The eternal question remains – can a machine have feelings and a sense of self -awareness and purpose? If it is possible, perhaps humanity itself has a lot more growning up to do before we are worthy of sharing Earth with our own creations.
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