Los Angeles, 2019. Earth-toned high-rise temples soar up into smog-covered skies. Factory towers spit fire, and acid rain collects between the neon-illuminated fissures that separate the mammoth buildings. The city has become a mutant hybrid, a futuristic yet archaic urban leviathan. The L.A. streets are home to an exotic blend of races, while whites are housed in forbidding, monolithic skyscrapers. Everyone who can afford it has relocated to one of the “off world colonies.” To make this prospect even more enticing, the Tyrell Corporation has designed humanoids called replicants to be used as slave labor on the foreign planets. These synthetic beings are virtually indistinguishable from real humans, but the law forbids them from setting foot on Earth. Yet some of these androids manage to slip through the net, and it is the job of the “blade runners” to hunt them down and “decommission” them. Is this an allusion to the Day of Judgment, where only the innocent can escape the confines of hell? Perhaps. Nothing in this film rich with philosophical and theological admonishments would seem to indicate the contrary.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) used to work as a blade runner. Now a disillusioned ex-cop, he roams the damp streets with a chip on his shoulder like a film noir crusader. He was the best in the business, which is why the bureau want to reactivate him when a band of four rogue androids, two men and two women, makes their way into L.A. Their “life expectancy” has been programmed to four years. Now, they want to know how much time they have left to live, and they’ll do anything to prolong it.
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the leader of these humanoid bandits, is blond, buff and demonic. Meeting his maker Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), a futuristic Dr. Frankenstein, proves an existential disappointment for Roy. Tyrell lives in a pyramid-shaped structure reminiscent of that of the ancient Mayans and sleeps in the bed like the Pope’s. Unfortunately, the great creator is in no position to grant the android a new lease of life, and the fallen angel kills his maker in a dual father-God assassination.
Blade Runner is based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968) by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote the story that inspired Total Recall (1990). The film bombed at the box-office, but is nonetheless seen as a milestone in sci-fi. It is a dismal, philosophical fairy tale with mind-boggling sets, sophisticated lighting design and a grandiose score by Vangelis. Alongside Liquid Sky (1982) and The Hunger (1983), Blade Runner is among the most significant ‘80s New Wave films. One could label it “post-modern” or attribute its power to the director’s eclecticism. Scott’s mesmerizing layering technique showcases his knack for integrating architectural elements, the intricacies of clothing articles, and symbols originating from a wide array of cultures and eras.
The film makes productive use of astoundingly diverse codes, synthesizing their Babylonian confusion into a compact means of communication on the L.A. city streets. In a mélange of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), film noir, the imagery of Edward Hopper and the comic book sketches of Moebius. Ridley Scott creates a widely driven piece that demands its audience to consider the essence of human identity. The film’s subtext gradually unfolds throughout its story, raising issues of the conscious and subconscious. The homonymic link between protagonist Deckard and mathematician Descartes is only part of the rich body of motifs that hint at the film’s underlying philosophy. Also not to be overlooked are the variations on the “eye” motif throughout the picture. Here, too the film synthesizes a word’s homonymic potential, alluding to the “I” inherent in the work “eye.” The eye is a universal symbol of recognition and a sense of self-awareness “unique” to humans. Yet in Blade Runner, the androids are also equipped with this level of consciousness. “We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical,” Batty declares at one point, laying claim to his humanity as well as his body and physically, one of the most important topics of the 80s.
For their bodies are precisely what make the androids indistinguishable from their human counterparts. Upon first meeting, Rachel (Sean Young), Eldon Tyrell’s secretary, reminds Deckard of the dangers of his occupation when she asks him whether he has ever killed a human by mistake. Her question sensitizes the viewer to the predicament at hand; sometimes the fine line between humans and their replicas is intangible. Rachel herself has sat on both sides of the fence. Although she has always believed herself to be human, at one point in the film she is forces to confront the reality that she too is an android. There is, however, something “unique” about her. Rachael is a product of an experiment and has been programmed with the memories of Tyrell’s niece, which she latches on to as her own. Her memories are rooted in photos. Likewise, it is photos that help Deckard zero in on the whereabouts of the renegade androids. He uses a picture of an empty hotel room as only a 21st century detective would, or at least, as we might have imagined him to from an 80s perspective. Aided by a contraption known as an Esper machine, he enlarges segments of the photo onto a monitor. This provides him with a sort of X-ray vision that allows him to travel into the depths of the image’s two-dimensional space. He soon discovers a woman’s reflection from within a mirror. The detective embarks on an investigation, which takes the audience on a course through the history of Western Art. Ridley Scott cites various paintings in this scene, including Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Wedding” (1434), a piece which, through focused on its two main subjects, also allowed the spectator to see the artist and his assistant peering out from a mirror. Scott’s knack for turning cultural paradigms on their heads undoubtedly contributes to the intriguing fabric of the film, many of whose images have become ingrained in our collective visual memories. One such example shows Deckard chasing exotic snake dancer Zhora through the chaotic, maze-like L.A. streets, inundated with people. He finally shoots her dead, causing her to fall in slow motion through a store window. One could argue that these shards of glass signify the shattered reality brought about by the role reversals at the film’s conclusion. The blade runner becomes the bounty, and the android Batty is revealed as a compassionate, “selfless” individual.
It is indeed Batty who saves the blade runner’s life in the nick of time and who dies in the end. The moral disparity between android and human no longer exists. This holds even truer if one accepts the hypothesis that Deckard is himself an android. There is some proof in the original version to favor this on-going debate. The Director’s cut, released in 1992, has no voice over and no happy ending, differences that make this theory even more probable. In July 2000, Scott went on record as saying that Deckard definitively was a replicant. An outraged Harrison Ford countered that while making the film, Scott had sworn the opposite. And so the debate goes on.
In the book synthetic humans were called Androids. Andy was the short term.
The computer screen in Gaff's spinner is the same as the one in the Nostromo in Alien, also directed by Ridley Scott.
Dangerous Days was one of the titles considered before the film's final Title of Blade Runner. Dangerous Days is the title of the documentary released in the collector's editions of Blade Runner.
Roy Batty: All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Bryant: I need ya, Decks. This is a bad one, the worst yet. I need the old blade runner, I need your magic.
Tyrell: "More human than human" is our motto.
Deckard: I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life - anybody's life; my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.
Batty: Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.
GOOFS AND BLUNDERS
When Deckard is being chased by Batty through the Bradbury building, there are two shadows visible on a wall; the shadows belong to Director Ridley Scott and Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (this has been corrected for the 2007 Final Cut; the shadows have been digitally removed).
While Deckard is waiting outside the Bradbury, the support cables used to fly the police ship that investigates him are clearly visible. (This has been removed in the 2007 Final Cut.)
Support cables for spinner are visible in the shot where Deckard and Gaff take off after Gaff has told Deckard that Bryant wants to see him (corrected in the 2007 "Final Cut" of the movie; the wires have been digitally removed).
The view of the future offered by Ridley Scott's muddled yet mesmerizing ''Blade Runner'' is as intricately detailed as anything a science-fiction film has yet envisioned. Reviewed by: Janet Maslin of The New York Times.
Blade Runner is both far-reaching and elusive. It is one of recent history's most influential films, as seen indirectly by any number of casual moviewatchers via the decaying, futuristic cityscapes, and eerily human robots of its many science-fiction knockoffs and followers -- yet the 1982 film itself is remote and forbidding, a slow trudge away from narrative convention. Reviewed by: Film Critic.
Director Ridley Scott's 1982 film "Blade Runner" is arguably the most famous and influential science fiction film ever made. It has exerted a pervasive influence over all subsequent science fiction cinema, and indeed our cultural perceptions of the future. Reviewed by: Nick Cramp of BBC.