A powerful and moving tale of what it is to be truly alive, Blade Runner is one of the all time greats, worthy of the expansive analysis and discussion it has undergone since its initial release in 1982.
Early in his feature film career and arguably aligning himself with others considered auteurs in the eye of the public and critics alike, Ridley Scott directed the film adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K. Dick, 1968) and renamed it Blade Runner. Offering a parallel narrative instead of a straight retelling, Blade Runner was visually a massive hit and equally powerful in the delivery of the major themes of the book. Taking many liberties with the characters and plot points and re-weaving them into a story that was more suited to a film project, Blade Runner would go on to be considered one of the all time great films with several re-cuts being released since its original 1982 theatrical version hit the screens. Blending a unique a bold visual style with an excellent and timeless soundtrack composed by Vangelis, Los angeles in 2019 looks a lot different in the Blade Runner universe and holds one of the most compelling stories about what it is to be truly alive.
In 2019, androids known as Replicants have been outlawed on Earth after several rebellions on the off-world colonies. Used predominantly as slave labour, Replicants are fully self aware machines designed to look and act like humans but with increased strength, speed and durability. Implanted with a four year life span to stop them from becoming completely empathic (thus being no different from humans and impossible to detect) several Replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) return to Earth in hopes of finding their maker and extending their lives.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner. Trained in the tracking and eliminating of Replicants (otherwise known as retiring), Blade Runners are the first and last line of defence against rogue Replicants that attempt to infiltrate Earth. After one such Replicant is caught and subsequently murders the Blade Runner tracking him, Deckard is put on the case to track down Roy Batty and his band of Replicants across the streets of L.A.
The plot is rather straight forward with little in the way of major twists and turns. It unfolds as a classical Noir plot does and follows many of the tropes of that genre. Deckard is a heavy drinking, moody and self servant detective who cares little for the plight of Replicants or humans, content with simply existing in the almost constant rain of 2019 Los Angeles. Roy on the other hand is full of passion and love for his fellow Replicants, desperate to find them and himself a cure for their doomed mortality. His experiences have filled his short life with times that Deckard could never believe, his limited opportunity window forcing him into adventurous crusade. The dichotomy between the two is fascinating and one of the most well written protagonist/antagonist character relationships in film history. Deckard is human and alive but barely living, existing from day to day eating noodles and drinking whiskey. Whereas Batty is a machine and dying but shining as bright as a newly formed star. Their relationship, the difference between the two and the implications each character’s make up has on the narrative has been talked about for decades and will likely be talked about for decades to come.
The film boasts an incredible visual style full of substance. The opening shot of an imagined futuristic Los Angeles, darkened by pollution, littered with factories and furnaces , producing for a world that is long past its natural life span. The great pyramid of the Tyrell corporation (the manufacturers of the Replicants) watches over all that happens in the city as the rich sit atop their figurative ivory towers, safe from the decay and rotting of the streets below. Eyes play a massive part in the symbolism and visual thematic exploration of Blade Runner referring to many elements of the story and characters. From the Voight-Kampff test (the means of determining if a person is a Replicant or not) to the all seeing eye of the Tyrell pyramid, there is much to be garnered from the importance of eyes in Blade Runner and it is delivered with exquisite visual expertise.
Similarly the soundtrack evokes incredible images of the future that is plagued by its own mindless consumption. It is totally reminiscent of a lonely saxophone that is typical of a classical-noir film but with a mystifying electronic twist. Every drawn out note takes you on a trip through the skyline of this terrible future that is as beautiful as it is poisonous.
Blade Runner features an intensely engaging thematic exploration of what it is to be human and further still, what it is to be alive. The ideas explored in this film are, to their credit, a simple scratching of the surface of the ideas explored in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. However it is perfectly reasonable to view the two works as completely separate entities. Whilst they share themes, ideas and characters the approach to such narrative devices is entirely different, and enough so that Blade Runner is more than able to stand on its own, away from its source material. Such high concepts have rarely been explored in such an accessible way that allows even the most causal of viewer to walk away from this film with something they didn’t have prior. The visual mysticism coupled with the hypnotic soundtrack draws you into a tragic tale of a man trying to save his family and the consequences he suffers for simply being what he is. You owe it yourself if you’ve never watched it. It is without a doubt, one of the all time greats.
Written by Alfie Smith