Tears and Unicorns: Why I Love Blade Runner!

BELFAST Tease-O-Rama’s recent club night inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which took place during this year’s Belfast Film Festival has given me an excellent opportunity to shamelessly revisit this sci-fi masterpiece.

Based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, filmed under the working title Dangerous Days and featuring an iconic poster designed by John Alvin; right from the get go Blade Runner grabs your attention with its dark and grungy visuals and fantastic special effects designed by Doug Trumbull, which are accompanied by an unmistakeable score by Greek composer Vangelis.

Before becoming such a cult-classic, Blade Runner initially divided audience and critic opinion when it was released back in 1982. Scott has put this down to studio intervention on the film’s original edit, which caused severe friction between the director and studio officials from Warner Bros. Scott has subsequently returned to Blade Runner on several occasions, tinkering with his film on several occasions as he tries to bring his version of Blade Runner to audiences old and new.

Firstly in 1992 with the release of his Director’s cut and again in 2007 with what he’s claimed will be his final and definitive cut. Unlike many director cuts these latter versions of the film vastly improve upon the original, removing a troublesome voice over by Harrison Ford that studio officials had initially insisted upon and restoring a dream sequence involving a unicorn that was originally cut from the film completely; sadly this sequence removes much of the ambiguity over one question that has long bugged fans of the movie, is Deckard a replicant or not?

Despite its futuristic setting the film plays out like an old fashioned film noir, with Harrison Ford’s character Deckard cast as a pseudo-PI. He’s persuaded to come out of retirement and ‘retire’ four synthetic beings who have escaped the off-world colonies and returned to Earth; these skin-jobs as they’re referred to by police officials are led by Rutger Hauer’s charismatic but extremely violent replicant Roy Batty.

After watching the film so many times I don’t feel like this group of replicants are the outright villains they might initially appear to be. Undoubtedly they commit some pretty horrible and nasty things throughout the feature, but they do so merely to get closer to their creator. Despite being androids they demonstrate the very human characteristic of wanting more life than the four years allocated to them by the Tyrell Corporation.

What I’ve always loved about Blade Runner, no matter what version I’m watching is its dark and gloomy attitude towards the future, well I say future we’re now only three years away from the world in which Blade Runner exists. Much like Scott’s previous feature Alien it painted a downbeat, dystopian view of things to come; it gives us a society that is heavily industrialized and ruled by big-businesses, the police are omnipresent and more importantly it’s a world where science has destroyed the boundaries between man and machine with the creation of replicants; their creators pride themselves that their creations are more human than humans themselves.

I do find it strange though that a film in which the central protagonist has to eliminate replicants that the heart and soul of the feature should in fact be an android; but Sean Young gives a standout performance as Rachel. Throughout the movie she discovers that she is in fact a replicant, the childhood memories she cherishes aren’t even her own. Deckard initially takes considerable glee in telling Rachel that she isn’t human, but throughout the film he finds himself strangely drawn to this stunning femme fatale and ultimately she becomes a redemptive figure for this hard-drinking, world-weary individual.

In the next few years we’re going to be getting a sequel to Blade Runner, a sequel I don’t think the film ever really needed in the first place. My worry is that with the advancements in CGI and special effects we’ll lose the physicality of the original movie, the fantastic sets for this film helped immerse us within the world that Deckard and co-existed in and I just can’t see any film ever replicating that again.

In closing as Roy Batty tells Deckard near the film’s finale about all the things he’s seen, back then Scott had the confidence to leave those images to viewer’s imagination; he allowed us to paint our own vivid pictures of what attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion would look like. My biggest fear with this forthcoming sequel is that it’ll want to show us more and leave less to our imagination, but we’ll just have to wait and see what Villeneuve serves up.

I just can’t see this sequel ever matching the cult-status, or having the anywhere near the same impact as its predecessor. Blade Runner set a blue print with its tech-noir approach towards the future that’s been rehashed by many directors ever since, but its attitudes towards artificial intelligence means it’s probably a film that’s even more relevant now, than when it was released 34 years ago.

Written by Jim McClean (@legacurrylad)
Written by Jim McClean (@legacurrylad)




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