In 1982, when the first Blade Runner movie was released, it was no box office smash hit. The running time was too long, the pace too slow and themes too dark for an audience more used to goofy teen flicks and trashy b-grade horror movies. Over time a substantial cult following has grown and nowadays Blade Runner is a movie that finds its way onto the top 20 all-time lists of many a serious film buff.
And with good reason. The themes of loneliness and isolation, dominant controlling corporations, destruction of the planet, and the lurking dangers of robotics and AI resonate strongly with audiences, maybe even more so nowadays as these somewhat prescient warnings start hammering home. The movie is also still beautiful to watch and has aged strikingly well. Some of this is serendipitous: thanks to an actors’ strike that was taking place in Hollywood during filming, the set builders and production crew had much more time on their hands to work on the movie, and set about crafting the minute and intriguing details splashed across the screen in every scene. The overall noir look and feel also reduces the impact of the dated gadgetry and effects of many other sci-fi movies of the era. Finally, the minimalist score by Vangelis was magnificent, and supports the anxious (rather than frantic) imagery brilliantly.
Based loosely on Philip K Dick’s seminal work Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner was science fiction by genre, but in reality this was a work of human drama. Harrison Ford plays the lead role of Rick Deckard, who is the blade runner of the title – a specialist LAPD cop trained to eliminate replicants (androids created to withstand the extremes of an unnamed outer planet system redesigned to sustain human life as we wreck our own home). Without giving too much of the story away, Deckard (and the audience) gradually build some degree of empathy for the replicants and their motive for returning to earth to extend their pre-programmed artificially short lives. (As an aside: the term blade runner wasn’t actually used by Dick in his novel. It was a term coined by another novelist, William S Burroughs, but director Ridley Scott liked it so much that he co-opted it for this movie.)
Having seen Ford play more upbeat characters before (Han Solo in Star Wars, Indiana Jones) the moody and considered Deckard was (and probably remains) the role and performance of his career. Director Ridley Scott himself also speaks of Blade Runner as one of the finest in his canon despite future blockbusters like Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Hannibal and Black Hawk Down. As for the primary remaining cast (Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos)? None were as well-known as Ford at the time and sadly none went on to greatness. Only a young Darryl Hannah in the role of the replicant Pris became more widely known hereafter.
(RELATED POST: Inspiration for fabulous Halloween Costumes, Pris the replicant.)
Rutger Hauer, in particular, was perfectly cast in the role of Roy Batty, the leader of the returning group. His performance was balanced, and he gave us the most poignant moment of the script with his haunting death speech (actually penned by Hauer himself on the spot):
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
Available on Showmax or on DVD. There are multiple versions available as Ridley Scott did not agree with the studio’s final edit for cinema release. If possible, try watch the ‘Final Cut’ version, which is how Scott wanted it.
BLADE RUNNER 2049
When a follow-up was announced critics and fans were rightfully worried. How will the producers take a slice of cinema near-perfection and develop a sequel 35 years later without somehow reducing its importance, or worse, destroying its legacy? The best fans could hope for is that they would not stuff it up; there was little chance of improving the original without tampering with its message and meaning.
And luckily this is what we get with Blade Runner 2049. By no means a must-watch movie, but indeed one that leaves the Blade Runner legacy largely intact. What is critical to achieving this is the extent to which the style of the original is retained: glacial pacing, grimy imagery, minimal action scenes, seemingly permanent awful weather, tacky neon signs, gritty acting. Here we have no slick, modern sheen sci-fi with interiors designed by Apple and robots by Sony. The main cast spend most of the movie dirty, sweating and bleeding. Scenes unfold gradually and the storyline retains the essential human drama of the first movie.
Indeed, the intensity of the central moral issue may even be notched up a bit – is it ok for humans to produce lookalikes of superior physical capability, at least equal intelligence and some degree of emotional capability, and then to treat them as slaves?
The thematic and style consistency may well be due to the wise decision of the filmmakers to retain Ridley Scott, in this case as producer. Harrison Ford also returns as Deckard, but he is no longer the lead character. That falls to rising star Ryan Gosling as blade runner K. He brings his typical quiet intensity to the role and never over-acts, keeping us guessing until the very end of the true history of his character.
So, on balance then, Blade Runner 2049 is more a movie respectful of its predecessor than essential viewing in its own right. It’s well made, beautifully shot and well-acted, and the story does come with some intrigue of its own, but it’s best consumed as part of a one-two punch (which was probably the intention anyway).
Currently on circuit.
(RELATED POST: to see our list of the best scary movies of all time, just in time for Halloween, click here)