Blade Runner is a 1982 dystopian scifi film drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford as the titular character. The film was loosely based on Philip K Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Despite the initial commercial and critical failure of Blade Runner (when it was first released in 1982), the film has attained cult status in the years since and has been retroactively hailed as one of the best science-fiction films of all time.
S P O I L E R S
The premise of Blade Runner is simple as all effective story premises should be —
“A blade runner must pursue and terminate four replicants who have illegally returned to Earth to find their creator in order to prolong their existences.” This basic synopsis distilled Dick’s novel to its absolute essence but does no justice, of course, to the nuances of the book or its vaunted adaptation.
The strength of Blade Runner lies purely in Scott’s presentation of a dystopian future. Previous examples of depictions of dystopian futures – like A Clockwork Orange, Soylent Green and Logan’s Run – do not quite match up to Scott’s vision of 2019 San Francisco, in the context of Dick’s imagining of a ravaged Earth inhabited by the dregs of society, as the wealthy and the powerful had already escaped to colonise the galaxy.
Thrown into this maelstrom environment, we have the replicants – android slaves made to satisfy human needs viz. war and sex. Thus, Roy Baty (Rutger Hauer, in his career-defining role) and his motley crew are on earth to lengthen their life spans (limited to 4 years) and need to locate their creator, Tyrell.
Enter : Rick Deckard (Ford) – a “blade runner” (though that term is never used in Dick’s novel) – essentially a bounty hunter tasked to destroy (“retire”) rogue androids. Deckard is assigned to hunt down Batty and company, a mission he reluctantly accepts.
Deckard’s characterisation as the jaded somewhat conflicted detective is fashioned in the finest film noir tradition. This genre reference was doubled down in the original theatrical version which featured a Deckard voiceover (removed in subsequent edits), awkwardly over-explaining the story events.
Also, hinted in the later cuts, the idea that Deckard himself might be an android himself (!) — again, while teased in Dick’s novel as a mindfuck device, Deckard is firmly established to be human. While conceptually, that idea might seem intriguing, it does not make sense in the context of the film’s narrative and only confuses matters.
The other character factor is Deckard’s romance with Rachael (Sean Young), another Tyrell replicant. The trick here is that Rachael is unaware that she is an android until Deckard uncovers the truth. This relationship creates tension and conflict within Deckard as he is also assigned to “retire” her.
The original version also featured an incongruous ‘happy ending’ as Deckard and Rachael drive off into the sunset in a jarring tonal shift – studio executives were obviously hoping for a feel-good factor to close the film. Thankfully, later editions have removed this risible scene completely.
In the final analysis, Blade Runner succeeds due to its immersive tone and atmosphere – this visual presentation has been copied by numerous scifi films and TV shows in its wake. However, its lack of a compelling plot was compounded by an ill-advised sequel – Blade Runner 2049 – which only fudged narrative logic even further, but that’s another story altogether.
… still there’s more …