Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong
Directed by Ridley Scott
Expectations: High. This is my third time through, so I expect to like it more.
Blade Runner is not a film that I get overjoyed with while watching. I don’t even think it’s all that good. But it is unique, and it is well made, and I do like it quite a bit. I don’t expect that to make sense to anyone but me, but that’s just the way it is. I have tons of issues with this film, but regardless I continue to come back to it. If I say nothing more, that alone should tell you that Blade Runner is an interesting piece of cinema. For the record, I watched the 2007 Final Cut this time. I first saw the film about fifteen years ago when I watched a VHS of the International Cut. Roughly seven or eight years later, I watched the 1992 Director’s Cut on DVD.
After three viewings over the last fifteen years and reading the book around the second time I watched it, I still have a hard time following this movie. That could be interpreted as the movie and I just not connecting, or you could take it as the movie being poorly paced and just not telling its story very well. I’m willing to admit my fault when it’s due, but I have to be honest: I think it’s the movie’s fault this time. No amount of tinkering or re-editing can change it, Blade Runner is just a damn slow movie. I like it immensely more now than I did upon first seeing it, but I still think it’s wildly overrated.
The film is based on Philip K. Dick’s masterful novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and it follows the same, basic framework. Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a special cop called a Blade Runner who is tasked with hunting down a group of rogue androids who have revolted and are on the run. To simply run down the plot of Blade Runner is boring, though, and the real glory of the film is found in its broad thematic content. For instance, this group of androids is rising up because they are tired of being slaves and wish to somehow circumvent their creator-imposed four-year lifespan. They’re literally running and fighting for their lives, but as artificial life did they ever really have lives? Philip K. Dick’s work is full of these types of questions and it’s a huge reason why I love him so much. The other major topic of conversation is the status of Deckard as human or android. I would say that it’s pretty definitive that he’s an android, but the ending is perfectly ambiguous and left for everyone to debate over the lengthy lifespan of the film. I don’t think anyone could have guessed how influential and giant this film would get as time went on, and I’d bet that the ambiguity of the ending played a big role in the film achieving its cult status after release.
Blade Runner is also notable for being one of the first major science fiction films for adults. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the tent-pole that defined that subset of the genre, and I can’t think of anything that came close to reaching those heights until Blade Runner. Don’t take this as my way of saying that Blade Runner is on the level of 2001, though. Sorry Ridley, not even close, but just for the sheer fact that it treated its characters and themes with such reverence, and it didn’t aim itself at the action-hungry space crowd of Star Wars, is something to applaud.
The theme of identity and losing your grip on your own reality is a hallmark of Dick’s written work. I would have liked Blade Runner to exhibit a bit more of this, but I honestly don’t remember how much it plays a role in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so perhaps I’m just talking out of my ass there. It just felt like they were very subtly hinting at Deckard wondering if he was an android, and from my knowledge of Dick he would have approached it much more head-on. I can’t complain too much, it was these subtle elements that stood out to me more than anything this time through, and I appreciate the fact that Scott didn’t explicitly try to hammer the question home.
One thing I can universally praise are the special FX. Even today they still look absolutely incredible. Like Scott’s previous film Alien, Blade Runner creates a fully realized science-fiction world and populates it with interesting characters and phenomenal set design. The set work isn’t nearly as good as it was in Alien, but Blade Runner is a larger scale film so they couldn’t pump quite as much money into each set like they could on Alien.
And speaking of Alien, I swear I didn’t plan to watch these almost back-to-back. It just happened that way, but I’m really glad it did. Alien blew me away; I felt like I was watching it for the first time again. It featured truly incredible visuals that are filled with rich imagery, but yet are also quite reserved and stark. Blade Runner is pretty much the exact opposite, with some great visuals that punctuate a much more traditional looking film. The frame is much more cluttered here, a reflection of the tight, urban landscape, but it also lacks the cinematic composition of Alien. I was expecting to gain some new insight into Ridley Scott’s work by watching these two consecutive films consecutively, but instead I got the same feeling I always get from watching two Scott films: that he’s nothing more than a talented director-for-hire. He seems to have no through-line that connects any of his films visually, nothing that makes you say, “That’s why I love Ridley Scott.” I don’t want to take anything away from the success of Alien or Blade Runner, but it’s like they were made by two different directors. I’ll give Scott credit for creating two of the best looking films of the era in terms of production design, and I’m sure his input helped greatly in shaping the look of the two films, but I have to call it like I see it. A great majority of his films were not films that he initiated, they were films that he was hired onto, and I think that’s why his work never feels cohesive as a whole or representative of Scott as a person. I’m a big fan of the auteur theory, and Scott seemingly defies classification by remaining distant from the films he produces. But as I said before, Alien is one of the dopest movies of all time, so he clearly has the talent necessary to crank out quality shit.
No matter what I think of Ridley Scott and this film, Blade Runner is another stunning picture from the man, and one that creates an incredible believable and rich science fiction world. There aren’t many science fiction films that explore grand, adult themes and treat the genre with respect, but Blade Runner does both well. I think it’s too long, too slow and too disjointed to be a true success, but I still enjoy it quite a bit and those FX are absolutely incredible. The music by Vangelis is also evocative and sufficiently futuristic, aurally accompanying the visuals to perfection. If you haven’t seen it, you really should make up your mind about it for yourself. It’s one of those singular film experiences that is unlike anything else out there, influencing tons of films that came in its wake.
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It takes a brave man to say a bad word about this film, and I’m so glad you did. I agree with a lot of your sentiments, Will, particularly Ridley’s inability to create a cohesive narrative in this movie. It is definitely disjointed, lacking a singular emotional arc for us to go on, or even a decent ending (ha!) but visually, it’s decades ahead of its time. I must get around to reviewing this myself at some point. Nice work, my man.
I’m not shy to tell it like it is, and even big fans of Blade Runner have to acknowledge its slow pace. What’s unfortunate is that the novel has a wonderfully rich storyline, but you’d never know it from the disjointed narrative of the film. I do like the ending to the Director’s and Final Cuts where it cuts off as the elevator closes. Watching it now it reminds me greatly of the ending to Inception. The happy ending on the theatrical cut ain’t so hot, though. Those visuals are awesome, though, and highly influential. I’ll never forget the first time I went to the Nokia Live building in LA and there were building-size video ads on the exterior walls. I was in shock, going on about how we were living in the future that Blade Runner showed us, while everyone else there just accepted it as normal.
Glad you enjoyed the review!
I tried to watch this once. I think it was the 1992 director’s cut, but I might be wrong. I got half an hour into it, tops. By then I was bored out of my skull and had to turn it off. Sorry to all the fans out there, but I’ll stick with the novel.
By the way, I don’t remember the novel having any reference to Deckard being an android. It’s been a while, but I think the movie must have added that in.
Hahahaha, I totally understand. It’s damn boring and hard to penetrate but it does offer a lot of good stuff if you can get through it. I’m with you preferring the novel, though, and now I’m really interested in reading it again.
The movie has no specific reference to Deckard being an android, but there are lots of subtle moments and lines that plant that question in the viewer’s mind… but I think that’s only in the Director’s/Final cuts. I believe it is subtly in the book, as Dick usually has his main character questioning his own reality and the reader along with them. I don’t specifically remember it, but I want to say that it was there. Again, I should re-read it.