The year is 2019 and a revolution in robotics some time before by the Tyrell Corporation has created legions of so-called replicants, essentially androids who look human but can perform tasks needing strength or immunity that humans could not carry out without a great deal of trouble, if at all. But the corporation noted these machines were potentially so powerful they could prove difficult should they decide to strike out on their own, therefore a time limit was placed in their manufacture which meant they would be "retired" after four years. But what if they were not happy about that?
What if some began to revolt and pose a threat to society because they wanted more of that oh-so-precious time? Of course, Blade Runner was a science fiction tale, based on the notoriously mindbending fiction of Philip K. Dick, which is why a lot of critics and audiences back in 1982 resisted its utterly immersive world and its themes and questions about what we would do to get more of our lives, and whether it was only worth that to those who were seeing the sands of their hourglass fast running out. Mostly the reactions of the day were complaints it was boring, unrelatable, was a poor reimagining of a Raymond Chandler mystery, and basically so wrapped up in itself that it was hardly worth engaging with unless you wanted to look at the murky special effects (brilliant work by Douglas Trumbull).
However, such had been director Ridley Scott's dedication to fashioning a convincing sphere of the future where its characters could interact that it was only a matter of, well, time before viewers stopped wondering why lead actor Harrison Ford wasn't in something more like Star Wars and accepted this was a genuinely revolutionary work of true substance. Ford played Rick Deckard, the blade runner of the title, essentially a hitman for androids who puts his life on the line to track down the runaways and "retire" them by sending a bullet into them from his fancy handgun: killing them, basically. He's reluctant enough to get back into this business, but when he meets the reclusive Tyrell himself (Joe Turkel) he has another reason to feel uncomfortable.
That's due to Tyrell's secretary being a replicant too, Rachael (Sean Young in a role she spent a career trying to live up to) who is unaware of her origins until Deckard performs a questionnaire test on her and reveals the truth which her creator knew all along. Deckard may be a gruff type, numbed by the inhumanity of his job and the city he lives in - a rainy Los Angeles packed with immigrants who we cannot tell if he tolerates or not since the richer denizens of the globe have moved to other planets - but he has his emotions ironically stirred by a replicant, and cannot resist falling in love with Rachael, particularly when she opts to flee her pampered existence once the awful realisation of what is about to happen to her sinks in.
Meanwhile, there were our baddies - though were they our goodies? The four other replicants are on the run, but they have a purpose, led by Roy Batty, played by a bleached blond Rutger Hauer in a remarkable performance just alien enough to suggest someone not quite human, but quirkily dignified enough to allow us to see why someone like him would be a great loss to the universe should he be terminated either by Deckard's pistol or his artificially abbreviated lifespan. His cohorts were Pris (Daryl Hannah), a fembot for use as sex toy who nevertheless has a vitality many of the other characters do not, violent Leon (Brion James) who is the muscle, and the mysterious Zohra (Joanna Cassidy) who may have one scene, but makes it count.
Roy believes he can gain access to Tyrell through one of his technicians, lonely J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a technological genius denied escape to a better life thanks to his premature ageing condition, and plays chess with Tyrell. This sets up the main conundrum, how could you bargain with God, with the universe that brought you into existence, to gain more life? It's so unfair, the film almost petulantly complains, that this vale of tears is finite, reminiscent of the punchline to a certain Woody Allen film but set in no less profound terms. Scott couldn't leave Blade Runner alone down the years, tinkering with it after the studio altered his original vision and making more overt the distraction over whether Deckard was a replicant or not: in the film itself this remains ambiguous, but it's more meaningful if he's human as he understands humanity and now-sentient machine have the same needs and wishes. Rarely has mortality seemed so poignant in cinema, though difficult to appreciate at first. Music by Vangelis, one of the great 1980s scores.
Talented, prolific British director whose background in set design and advertising always brings a stylised, visually stunning sheen to often mainstream projects. Scott made his debut in 1977 with the unusual The Duellists, but it was with his next two films - now-classic sci-fi thrillers Alien and Blade Runner - that he really made his mark. Slick fantasy Legend and excellent thriller Someone to Watch Over Me followed, while Thelma and Louise proved one of the most talked-about films of 1991. However, his subsequent movies - the mega-budget flop 1492, GI Jane and the hopeless White Squall failed to satisfy critics or find audiences.
Scott bounced back to the A-list in 2000 with the Oscar-winning epic Gladiator, and since then has had big hits with uneven Hannibal, savage war drama Black Hawk Down and his Robin Hood update. Prometheus, tentatively sold as a spin-off from Alien, created a huge buzz in 2012, then a lot of indignation. His Cormac McCarthy-penned thriller The Counselor didn't even get the buzz, flopping badly then turning cult movie. Exodus: Gods and Kings was a controversial Biblical epic, but a success at the box office, as was sci-fi survival tale The Martian. Alien Covenant was the second in his sci-fi prequel trilogy, but did not go down well with fans, while All the Money in the World was best known for the behind the scenes troubles it overcame. Brother to the more commercial, less cerebral Tony Scott.
Never heard of it. Goodness this site digs up some obscurities. In all seriousness, this ranks among that select group of films that succeed in spite of some obvious flaws. The plot is actually less than coherent in part down to Ridley Scott's failure to film some key scenes. It's all dreamlike imagery and subtext. Missing are the humorous satirical aspects of Philip K. Dick's novel which I think would have elevated this a little hire. Rutger Hauer deserves all the praise he's been given but Harrison Ford's solid turn (grumpy voiceover or no) is unfairly underrated and all the more remarkable considering how little direction he was given. Scott only became good with actors some years down the line.
3 Aug 2012
I thought it was worth a review because it was a cult movie that grew so much in reputation after a terrible initial reception to classic status. Ford is essential to this maybe because he hated the film, and that malaise works in his portrayal's favour. As has been observed down the years, it's a film which is better on second viewing thanks to the way it grows in the memory.