When I was 10 I saw Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ in the theater. I know, my parents were bored and it looked like the perfect movie for me. Turns out they were right (for once) since this is still my favorite movie.
The constant rain-drenched streets, flying cars and weary expression of my hero Harrison Ford won my little mind over. I had not yet read a single Philip K Dick story yet the tale of a robot hunting cop who may be a robot himself immediately clicked with me.
That morning, I can clearly remember the daily paper’s article on the future depicted in Blade Runner as being pessimistic and bleak. The article showed the spinner cars and towering edifices intended to be office buildings.
I was just a kid still into Star Wars at the time, but I knew a good thing when I saw it. The mashed together old and new designs were so unlike the Buck Rogers and Star Wars visions of the future my kiddie eyes were used to. It was more than interesting, it seemed feasible and sadly inevitable.
Blade Runner does more than simply embrace the film noir look, it makes love to it, giving birth to a dark and alienated world completely divorced from itself. The film gave us images so vibrant and otherworldly; monolithic sky scraping edifices, inescapable advertising, an over-populated planet, science gone mad, the constant flutter of cops overheads… things that more or less make up our current reality.
The pervasive theme of loneliness is almost painted over those left behind after a galactic expansion into the unknown, (as the announcer offers a ‘new life in the off-world colonies!’). The world in Blade Runner ran in direct opposition to the science fiction films that I was then used to. Instead of zipping off into space for grand adventure, the characters in this world are living in a smoky haze filled with garbage and abandoned luggage.
A loner himself, Deckard (played by Ford) is a former cop trying to lose himself in the mishmash of urban cultures that. It’s almost a relief when he is pulled into service of hunting Replicants by creepy origami enthusiast Gaf (played by the future Adama from Battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos.
Yet Deckard still has such trouble understanding who he is and what he is doing in his life. Despite his boss assuring him that the subjects of his hunt are unfeeling androids, Deckard has trouble seeing himself as anything other than a murderer. He surrounds himself with his work but does very little detecting. His method seems to consist mainly of stumbling through a sloppy trail left by his quarry.
The theme of loneliness is personified in the Replicants, a life form so newly sentient that they are terrified by almost everything they experience. Unsure of what they are, unsure of what it is to be human (or if they even want to be human), they are lead into a mutiny in heaven (to coin a phrase from Nick Cave) by their leader Roy Batty. Roy embarks on a pilgrimage to meet his maker that ends in tears. The tale that Blade Runner tells is so epic that it feels like a masterpiece from the future.
The recurring idea of memory and what it means to human existence is remarkably poignant. The replicants are shown as having what appear to be random Kodak prints in their possession, as if they are not sure what they are for yet feel that they serve some kind of totemic importance. Upon multiple viewings it suddenly dawned on me that Bryant, Deckard’s boss, also has what appear to be vintage snapshots in his office, as does Deckard himself. This lends to the theory that the entire population are replicants themselves living out their lives in a bizarre imitation of humanity. This would also explain the behavior between Deckard and Rachel which appears aggressive but may be a kind of ersatz form of imitated affection. For a movie that I have watched on heavy rotation for as far back as I can remember, there are always new things to find.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that I read the novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ and learned that life in the eyes of the author, Philip K Dick, was both beautiful and terrifying… and far closer to the eventual mad landscape our current world has become.
It’s interesting to note that much of Blade Runner was influenced by a comic by Dan O’Bannon and Moebius, The Long Tomorrow. O’Bannon and Moebius were brought together as collaborators on the infamous Dune project helmed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. A film that, while never made, spawned many a project including Alien and Blade Runner.
To accompany the film, Marvel Comics released one of their best film adaptations (the other being the often overlooked Time Bandits) with the help of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson (of Flash Gordon fame). The comic was released as both a graphic novel and a mini-series.
A pair of video games were released as tie-ins, one for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC 6128 by CRL Group PLC (1985) lacking the signature soundtrack by Vangelis (due to licensing issues), and another action adventure PC game by Westwood Studios (1997).
Choose wisely which you hunt down on ebay first. Rumor has it that the Westwood Studios game is outstanding and years before it’s time.
The film is being released on a DVD for the 25th anniversary (much fancier than the digipak version I own). The rumor is that we’ll see a multi-disc box set including both 1982 original theatrical versions (U.S. domestic and uncensored International cuts), the 2006 remastered Director Cut’s, the remastered Final Cut, and bonus features, is scheduled for fall 2007. The Final Cut cleans up the print, sound mix and adds a few touches here and there to the overall product.
The entire set is due for release in autumn 2007 and will come as a five-disc set in Deckard’s Voight–Kampff briefcase with a state-of-the-art digital print along with a spinner toy replica and a host of other goodies.
Chances are, you are familiar with this movie, know it inside and out (with and without narration), but I urge you to look at the film with new eyes when it comes out in the fall.