Production: Blade Runner Partnership-Ladd Co. / Warner
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson
Screenwriter: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K. Dick
117 minutes, Color
In a future Los Angeles, Rick Deckard (Ford), whose job is to destroy renegade "replicants" (androids), has to hunt down a particularly dangerous group of advanced androids designed as slaves; their anger against humanity is all the greater because they have been given only a very limited lifespan.
The screenplay and the film itself went through a number of stages, with Peoples radically rewriting Fancher's original script only to see how much of his filling-out material lost. The first US cut released (preview audiences only) was much longer than the 117 min final US cut, and then for the UK/Europe distribution the film was hardened again with some of the more brutal sequences restored. Some important themes from Dick's book survive in a mystifying way: it is never explained in the film that most healthy humans have emigrated off a pollution-ridden Earth - though the prematurely aging robotics expert, Sebastian (Sanderson), is meant to be one of the sick ones that stayed home; nor is the destruction of nearly all animal life explained - most surviving animals being artificial - though references to it are made throughout, notably in the android empathy test, where lack of sensitivity to animal life is a key clue to the androids' supposed lack of real feeling. Strangest of all, the possibility that Deckard himeself may be a "replicant" exists in the final cut only as a subtext, unmistakable once pointed out, but missed by almost all audiences except, Ridley Scott has said, the French. Scott's own "director's cut" of Blade Runner, released in 1992, makes the subtext much clearer and deletes the voice-over narration.
Blade Runner has many narrative flaws, including a happy ending tacked on allegedly against the director's wishes, but remains one of the most important sf movies made. The density of information given right across the screen in the future setting (production designer Lawrence Paull, visual consultant Syd Mead, special-photographic-effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, with Scott himself being primarily responsible for the look of the film) is extraordinary, showing almost for the first time - though fans had spent years hoping - how visually sophisticated sf in film form can be. Blade Runner's film-noir mise-en-scene, with its ubiquitous advertisements (and rain), its Los Angeles dominated by an oriental population, its punk female android (Hannah), its high-tech traffic alongside bicycles, its steam and smoke, its shabbiness and glitter cheek-by-jowl, is film's first (and still best) precursor of the movement we now call cyberpunk. Blade Runner is even better, and much more ambitious, than Scott's previous sf film, Alien, and is especially interesting in its treatment of the central theme: whether "humanity" is something innate or whether it can be "programmed" in - or, indeed, out.
|The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction|
Less concerned with fidelity to his credited inspiration, Philip K. Dick's novel, than with creating a futuristic film noir (replete with replicant femme fatales and laconic violence on the rain-slicked mean streets of Chinatown, AD2019 style), Scott blows a sizeable budget on a perversely trying to match the scales of B-picture plotting and state-of-the-art production design. Overwhelmed by the magnificent sets and attention-grabbing visuals, the slim narrative of troubleshooter Rick Deckard (Ford) hunting down a group of semi-humanized robot replicants often threatens to disappear completely, especially when enigmatic fragments of Dick's original conception are re-introduced without explanation; and the recource to voice-over musings from the hero smacks of a pre-release loss of confidence as much as of a generic homage. Though Ford makes an adequate stab at reviving the trench-coated cop role, the noir fatalism that does manage to cut through the smoky neon haze is largely supplied by his robot antagonists, programmed for only a four-year life span precisely lest they engage in introspection and revolt. The sleekly enigmatic Young, the lithely doll-like Hannah (and even the sinuous charmer Cassidy) represent nice, deadly puzzles for our hero, while Hauer virtually steals the film with his curiously moving presence as a renegade Aryan replicant who's fighting blindly for more time to appeal against his DOA destiny.
|The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction|