WFTB Score: 16/20
The plot: 2019: Alarmed by a massacre on an off-world shuttle, the police order ‘Blade Runner’ Rick Deckard to seek out and destroy the latest generation of Replicants, robots virtually indistinguishable from humans. His deadly game of hide and seek is complicated by his relationship with Rachel: beautiful, intelligent, and one of the Replicants he is assigned to ‘retire.’
Based on the Philip K Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridley Scott’s second future-based film (the first being Alien) was infamously messed about with by nervous studio bosses concerned at the ambiguity of the film’s denouement. This review is of the 1992 director’s cut which restores most of Scott’s vision.
And what a vision it is. Calling on the services of 2001 effects maestro and Silent Running director Douglas Trumbull, Blade Runner presents a vision of the future that is both credible and convincing, Los Angeles presented as a perpetually dark city where neon tubes provide the main source of light and adverts are projected onto buildings, where hovering police cars patrol the poor, immigrant-filled quarters of town. It’s not a unique vision, but only because the style has been copied in endless films, games, and television shows since (Total Recall – based on another Dick story – perhaps unsurprisingly springs to mind).
Rising high above the poverty are glittering buildings such as that belonging to the Tyrell Corporation, the makers of the ‘more human than human’ Nexus 6 Replicants that Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been assigned to kill, or rather ‘retire’. Such care has been taken in the set design of this building (inside and out) and others, and in the costumes for Deckard, elderly ‘Creator’ Dr Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and his special project Rachel (Sean Young, looking like a film noir femme fatale), it is hard to tell when the film was made.
Of course, clues are given in details like the CRT televisions and primitive computer graphics, and the age of the actors is fairly obvious; but by and large Blade Runner succeeds because it projects a view of the future which does not have 1982 stamped all over it. This is also true of Vangelis’ sparse, spacey score which adds greatly to the atmosphere.
The story itself is a very simple game of hide and seek. The Replicants are led by Roy (Rutger Hauer), who with the help of Pris (Daryl Hannah) gains access to genetic engineer J F Sebastian (William Sanderson) and via him, their ‘Maker’ Tyrell. Deckard must find and retire the Replicants, but he is distracted by Rachel, who does not know she is a Replicant until Deckard conducts tests on her.
Aside from a chase which sees the other Replicants killed – exotic dancer Zhora and disturbed manual worker Leon – there is little action other than the final hunt in the creepy building where Sebastian lives. Again, atmosphere is key here, and the scene where Deckard searches for Pris among Sebastian’s weird toys is nothing short of brilliant.
As with the special effects, the film’s script thrives on attention to detail. The provoking questions of the test used to expose Replicants and Rachel’s vivid childhood memories that blind her to her artificiality are just two examples of the film’s intelligence, which creates atmosphere in the absence of action and raises significant questions. If the Replicants are virtually human, do ‘humans’ have the right to enslave or destroy them? What, in fact, constitutes being human? Not to give the game away, but Roy’s last speech is a thing of beauty, as is the ‘proper’ ending to the film that the director’s cut restores.
However, you can understand why studio bosses may have wobbled. In the era of The Empire Strikes Back and E.T., this is a science fiction film with no laser gun duels or spacecraft battles, few laughs, zero merchandising opportunities and an ambiguous ending. Blade Runner is undoubtedly serious stuff and there are only so many times you can use the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘atmospheric’ when the word you really want to use is ‘slow.’ Blade Runner excites the mind rather than the heart, but it should be seen: as the director intended, and on as big a screen as possible.