I won’t be getting that deep into Blade Runner as it’s a very old movie and has obviously been dissected so much that whatever was inside is now permanently out. But I will be giving you my impressions of the film as a person who has not been able to watch it all the way through until I was motivated by the release of Blade Runner 2049.
Replicants are an artificial human species, created for slave labor on off-world colonies and since they have greater than average strength, agility, and intelligence than humans, they are banned from living on Earth. Blade Runners hunt and retire (kill) any rogue replicants on Earth to keep them from organizing and revolting. They do this with a combination of detective work, a special test that gauges empathy (called a Voight-Kampf test,) and a handgun (but a cool future-handgun.) Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a retired (actually retired, not dead) Blade Runner who is suddenly pulled back in to hunt and retire a particularly dangerous group of replicants, who just escaped to Earth from off-world, led by a man named Roy Batty. The movie is loosely based on the Phillip K Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (very loosely.)
Blade Runner is noir through and through, so much so that the original studio version had a running narration from Harrison Ford (which actually ruins the movie, so I watched the “Final Cut” instead.) Blade Runner’s dialogue will gladly leave you twisting in the wind if you aren’t careful. Only necessary information is shared between the characters, so it can sound disjointed. Like the stripped dialogue, the narrative is incredibly lean. There’s still style in the moment to moment scenes that further build on the world, but the story itself is incredibly short despite seeming to move relatively slowly. There’s a very clear sequence of events and a slavish devotion to developing the story chronologically. Unlike the more fashionable non-linear narratives of modern films, Blade Runner moves forward at the same pace that Rick Deckard’s investigation does. When he gets stuck the story gets stuck when there’s breakthrough the story speeds up accordingly. This is all taking place along with an awkward romance/cat and mouse with Tyrell’s secretary, Rachel (Sean Young,) that plays with themes of humanity and identity.
The brutal violence of the film (both gun and physical) is a big part of the narrative. There’s very little pageantry about Blade Runner’s bloodshed. Each bullet has a mark, each punch has a target. It’s all direct and it leaves behind consequences for both the person committing it and the victim. This is all evident even before the third act because it’s one of the things that ties Rick and Roy together. Both inflict horrible violence (that the film doesn’t even attempt to shy away from) that sometimes makes it unclear if there is that much of a difference between the two. We’re brought to understand Roy Batty’s perspective a little more towards the ends of the film though, and that makes the themes of death, God, and humanity kick in with a vengeance. Roy’s story is clearly parallel to that of Frankenstein’s monster, but it can also be about the crippling nature of humanity’s knowledge of their own mortality. In this way, we can’t help but empathize with his pitiful mission. It doesn’t hurt that this is possibly Rutger Hauer’s greatest career performance either.
Final Word: I won’t spoil anything further in case you haven’t seen it. Blade Runner is a unique science fiction film with penetrating themes about God, humanity, mortality, and empathy. The visuals and visions of the future are both outdated and it could definitely affect the overall appeal for younger viewers though. The atmosphere is beautifully crafted with a combination of dramatic lighting, haunting music, and detailed set design that sets a clear neo-noir tone. Oftentimes though the story wants to sit and let the latest action or drama set-piece stew before the plot can move forward. As far as the investigation goes, it’s intelligent and straightforward, but it also means that there’s no exposition or helpful hints. It’s all contextual and requires attention (which is why though I have never seen this movie all the way through until now, I have fallen asleep watching it three times.) Having said all that, this is my favorite Harrison Ford movie. Rick Deckard doesn’t have much of a personality, but Ford’s portrayal fits the very definition of the rundown noir detective. He drinks, he’s grumpy, and he struggles to make connections. He is also good at what he does and capable of extreme violence. His character makes it clear to us that there’s nothing glamorous or moral about a Blade Runner’s grim task, and the world he inhabits is clearly not the kind of place for the healthy, happy, or sane. Sean Young is mesmerizing as Rachel, though the romance between her and Deckard (while picturesque) is also fraught with just as much turmoil as his job as a Blade Runner. Rutger Hauer’s Roy builds a worthwhile and dangerous villain but exits on such a powerful note that it’s hard to think of him as just that.
This is one of the best sci-fi films for a reason. Blade Runner is a genre-busting classic that will leave you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.