Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a movie whose brilliance and expertise in the sci-fi genre was never fully appreciated until years after its release. There are still plenty of people who find this movie to be greatly overrated, and that’s ok. Even I will admit to the fact that Blade Runner only grew on me after multiple viewings. Now, I consider it to be one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen, with many mesmerizing visuals and philosophical themes embedded in a dark, futuristic world.
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In 2019 Los Angeles, Replicants who were manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation and were being used for slave labor on off-world colonies are now illegal on Earth following a violent incident. Any Replicant who lands on Earth must be “retired,” a.k.a. killed by “Blade Runners.” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is one of these Blade Runners who is given the assignment of finding four escaped and dangerous Replicants who are hiding out on Earth. During this mission, he meets a special Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young), who he falls in love with. In the meantime, the group of Replicants, lead by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), are in search of their “maker,” so that they may find a way to overcome the four year lifespan they were given when they were made, and won’t hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.
Blade Runner has one of the best opening scenes, and nothing even really happens in it. Yet, the first scene in the movie is so perfect for this type of story, as it immediately sets the tone, as well as foreshadows some of what’s to come. It opens to a dark and fog filled city landscape—a futuristic Los Angeles structured in fire-belching buildings (resembling a fiery Hell). One can only guess how badly Los Angeles is suffering from pollution. It gives way to the idea that the world has become even more industrial throughout the years, and that industry and technology has completely taken over. The vision of flying cars further establishes these obvious technological advancements. No wonder people are moving to off-world colonies.
The Tyrell Corporation is seen in the background as two large, pyramid shaped buildings. It’s fitting that these buildings be so architecturally unique, because this corporation is responsible for creating the Replicants, and the man who runs it is almost a god-like figure—the “maker,” as Roy Batty refers to him at one point. The pyramid, as it is reflected in the close-up of a blue eye, also represents the symbol of the all-seeing eye of God. This further introduces the opposing symbols of Heaven and Hell, a recurring theme throughout the movie. Inside one of these pyramid-shaped buildings is a man in a dark, smoke-filled room, resembling any scene you’d see in any old noir film, giving this movie the ominous, detective-like feel that it’s meant to achieve.
Often, in that beginning scene (yes, I’m still talking about the first scene), there are quick cuts to extreme close-ups of a blue eye, where the cityscape and fire are reflected. The eye is an important connection to the film’s narrative, acting as a motif popping up throughout. Looking into the eye becomes the only way for people to tell the difference between humans and Replicants, as the eye involuntarily reacts to things that evoke empathy in a person. Eyes are also linked to memories, and when someone dies, those memories are lost, “like tears in rain,” as Roy states in his end monologue. Eyes are also what Ridley Scott refers to as a “two-way mirror.” They perceive a lot and they give away a lot. This is why the Replicants are often shown with glowing retinas in the film.
Both humans and Replicants struggle to delay death. Mortality is something they have in common, the fact that Replicants can perceive mortality in a similar way to how humans do goes to show that although they were artificially made, they were made so innately human, with memories to boot. Even Rachael doesn’t know at first that she is a Replicant. There’s also hints that lead to questioning of whether or not Deckard is even human. Whether he is or he isn’t is not of dire importance, however, but the question of what it means to be human is important. While the characters with authority are telling you that those who lack empathy are not human, it becomes clear that Replicants, even Roy, sometimes show more emotion than the seemingly dull, human Deckard.
I could honestly go on and on about the themes and symbols in this film–the use of eyes, religion, corporate power, humanity, technology–but then this would end up being a ten page analysis instead of a review. Let’s just say that this film is pretty deep, and the way these themes are laid out before the viewer is brilliant. Although there is action in it, it is not an action-packed film. In my opinion, it’s better off that way. It achieves the depth of a clever sci-fi without being bogged down by inconsequential action scenes.
Despite there being seven or so different cuts of the film, the theatrical cut and the final cut are the two that I’ve seen. The theatrical cut was weighed down by admittedly bad narration from Harrison Ford, as well as a Hollywood “happy” ending. The final cut excludes any narration, has an ambiguous ending, and includes a couple of scenes that are left to the viewer’s interpretation. I find the differences in these cuts to be quite important to the quality of the film as a whole. If I had seen the theatrical cut first, I probably wouldn’t have even liked this movie as much as I do. Of course, there are some people who prefer this version for their own reasons, but I look at it as more of a dumbed down version of the film. I don’t need people to spell out the meanings of things in movies for me, I prefer to come to my own conclusions about what’s going on. It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, at least I have ideas of my own, and the beauty of films like this is that a lot of it is open to interpretation.
The visuals are incredible, and the world that Scott has created here is beautiful in its own dark way. Everything is detailed and adds to the bigger picture of a culturally mixed (yet dominantly Asian), polluted and futuristic world. Often times, visual effects and set designs in sci-fi movies from the ’80s and earlier date really fast, but this one still holds up. I still find it to be one of the most visually appealing movies I’ve seen.
Harrison Ford doesn’t give his most energetic performance here, but I like to think that was intentional. It adds to the ambiguity of his character and promotes the question of whether he is actually human or a Replicant. Also, it allows for a more shining presence of the Replicants. Rutger Hauer really steals the show in this one, the scene with him and his maker, as well as the rooftop scene are a couple of my favorites. Sean Young and Daryl Hannah also give equally impressive performances as beautiful and troubled Replicants.
Blade Runner has become a sci-fi classic despite some polarized views of whether or not it is deserving of its status. It took me a few viewings, but it has become one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time. Full of some great visuals, meaningful images and quite a few underlying themes, it succeeds as a quality dark and futuristic film, and one of director Ridley Scott’s best.