The first of many cyberpunk movies, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner embodies all the subgenre has to offer.
Despite lukewarm box office performance in 1982, Blade Runner has earned its place as one of the most important films in science fiction cinema. It tells the story of hard-boiled Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) being tasked with the retirement of several escaped replicants who have made their way to Earth. The movie was Ridley Scott’s visionary, science-fiction adventure after the rising star finished directing the space-horror, hit Alien.
The film shows the roguish Rick Deckard stumble and booze his way through his latest case: a group of Nexus 6 replicants gone rogue. As a blade runner, he has to find them before they can reverse their life expectancy fail-safes.
The film not only has philosophical subject matter, neon aesthetics and powerful storytelling devices, but it also receives further consideration due to the multiple versions of the film itself. Since its release in 1982, fans have discussed the pros and cons of each new release (there are seven in total).
Blade Runner has become a fixation within cyberpunk fandom. William Gibson was famous enamored with the movie. Fearing the similarities between the film and his upcoming novel, Neuromancer, he famously rewrote a large portion of the book.
Seriously, chummer, can you even call yourself a cyberpunk if you haven’t seen Blade Runner? Maybe you just need a little convincing? Read on, and we’ll tell you why you’ve gotta see this most-classic of cyberpunk movies.
One of Harrison Ford’s Most Iconic Roles: Rick Deckard
Honestly, I’ve never been one of those guys who was into Harrison Ford. I never got the appeal. I thought Han Solo was a little flat and Indiana Jones was too un-relatable, but Deckard? Deckard is a guy I get. He’s a hard drinking, tough guy who has some obvious trauma and issues in his past, but he’s still trying to figure out how to do the right thing. Deckard is a frustrated and troubled guy, just doing his job despite his misgivings.
There’s a few great scenes that really outline where his heart is in all of this. While chasing down a lead on one of the replicants, he is in the dressing room of the adult entertainer, Zhora (Joanna Cassidy). Even though he begins to suspect she’s the replicant he’s tasked with hunting down, his guard is still down. He politely waits for her to get dressed after her performance. Because of this, she is able to surprise and get the better of him. The whole scene before the fight is layered with comedy and charm. He is both flirting and questioning her. She plays coy and keeps him at a distance before attacking. What follows is an intense and bloody showdown in the streets of Los Angeles, 2019. Once he confirms that Zhora is a replicant, Deckard guns her down like Billy the Kid while the citizens of LA watch the neon spectacle.
So Deckard is tough, yet vulnerable. He barely holds his own against the replicants in long drawn out fight scenes. You sense that the differences in strength and endurance will turn against him in favor of the replicants. But unlike most movies where the hero wins on his own, Deckard lives in the “real world,” a world where other factors shape the situation. In the fight scene against Leon (Brion James), Deckard is about to be killed when he is saved by another replicant. Rachel (Sean Young) is someone with whom Deckard initially has empathy for. By the end of the movie, they are in a complicated relationship. Deckard’s flaws may be his greatest traits in Blade Runner.
Los Angeles In 2019 — Looks Kind of Familiar
Los Angeles has a complicated relationship with science fiction. In many films, a very bright and clean LA will be blown up and decimated. Blade Runner’s vision of the future is a more realistic (and accurate) one. A very dirty, crowded and loud world looms all around the denizens of Los Angeles. There is no end to the lights, the noise and the color of the polluted atmosphere. William Gibson was right to worry about The Sprawl.
Blade Runner galvanized the neo-noir mood that set the tone for the emerging cyberpunk genre. The cars look like something man would build and mass produce to fly around a crowded and complicated city. Even the rain seems gross because of the smog. Everything looks grimy and old even though it’s meant to imply a near-time future that has (by now) already happened.
Roy Batty’s “Tears In Rain” Monologue — What It Means To Be A Replicant
Synthetic humans play a recurring role in Ridley Scott’s early work. In Alien, they’re used as a plot twist: one of the characters is revealed to be a synthetic working for the evil corporation with secret counter orders that result in the death of the human crew. In Blade Runner, Scott builds upon that idea. The replicants were initially built as a slave labor force, given their durability and strength in environments where humans suffer. Eventually, this led to the replicant rebellion and the fight for their independence. All replicants are banned from Earth, resulting in the creation of the blade runner task force. The Nexus 6 replicants are automatically the bad guys, even though they just want to live. The only real way to ensure control over a physically stronger and mentally superior fighting force is to build in automatic protections. In the case of the Nexus 6 units, it’s a life cycle of only four years. Replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) can feel his body slowly failing him. He is trying desperately to save his own life.
To recap — we have a sentient robot who is stronger than everyone on earth. He is desperate to stay alive. His crew of remaining replicants make for a sympathetic and interesting counter to Deckard’s decidedly human condition. Where Deckard feels broken and in some ways sad, they seem determined and desperate to live. This desperation makes them bad-ass machines, with Roy punching through walls, squashing heads and breaking Deckard’s fingers one by one as a punishment for the murder of the other replicants. Even though he is a killing machine on his last leg, he still finds time for an existential monologue about his short, complicated life.
Tears in rain, man. It’s tears in rain.
Could You Pass The Voight-Kampf Test? What Does It Mean To Be Human?
The core themes of the movie surround humanity, identity, transhumanism and agency. Replicants and humans are basically the same. Early in the movie, Deckard applies the replicant discovering Voight-Kampf test to Rachel. He discovers that she is a replicant but doesn’t realize it. That’s a scary idea. We’re not going to tease this out here. I’m not sure I’m qualified.
It is humanity that many of the replicants are chasing throughout the movie. They feel human, they just want to be free to live like humans. It’s a crazy thing to watch the reps chase something that we take for granted.
But what is it really? Even in the climax of the film, Roy Batty is still chasing his humanity. He saves Deckard, a man sworn to kill him. Blade Runner raises the question that is implicitly asked throughout the film: are we human enough?
Blade Runner’s Cult Following Is Bigger than Scientology’s
One thing that has to be discussed anytime you talk about Blade Runner is the massive following behind what was essentially a cinematic flop. It basically broke even at the box office. The multiple forthcoming cuts have made various changes to the film. The director’s cut notably removed Deckard’s voiceover from the theatrical cut. Harrison Ford has stated that the voice over should have never had been in the film to begin with. Recently Blade Runner: The Final Cut was released to blu-ray and Netflix. It is considered Ridley Scott’s specific vision for the film. This version maintains his creative control and input. The question that is always asked amongst fans is which version is the best.
Blade Runner is one of those films that you really do just have to watch to understand. It’s got a ton of great stuff: robot humans, rogue former cops, great lighting, practical special effects and a great soundtrack. It’s a film that keeps people coming back for more and more over the years, so much so that it spawned the sequel Blade Runner 2049 featuring Ryan Gosling.
Now tell us you don’t want to see this movie!
We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for Blade Runner.
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