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Dissecting the Classics – Blade Runner

October 7, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Blade Runner

October is here, which means my most anticipated film of 2017 is finally hitting theaters. I just hope Denis Villeneuve and everyone involved is up to the task. And if you’ve followed this column at all this year, you probably could have predicted that this film would be covered.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , the column previously known as Taken For Granted. In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

Blade Runner

Wide Release Date: June 25, 1982
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
Produced By: Michael Deeley
Cinematography By: Jordan Cronenweth
Edited By: Terry Rawlings & Marsha Nakashima
Music By: Vangelis
Production Company: The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers and Blade Runner Partnership
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard
Sean Young as Rachael
Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty
Edward James Olmos as Gaff
Daryl Hannah as Pris Stratton

What Do We All Know?
In 1982, Warner Bros. released a compromised version of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The theatrical cut of Blade Runner initially achieved little commercial success and divided critics, but gained a cult status. Its stunningly realized world and complex ideas fired many conversations. In 1991, a “Director’s Cut” was released, cutting the expository narration and the studio mandated “happy ending”. Ridley Scott later refined the film further with The Final Cut serving as the definitive interpretation of what the film was intended to be.

With a history like that, Blade Runner has gone from an influential cult hit to a genuine touchstone in science fiction history. “Is Rick Deckard a replicant?” is one of the most widely discussed questions in film history, with each cut seeming to provide different evidence for each side. But more than just that question compels the dedicated viewer; we are captivated by the setting, stirred by its themes, intrigued by its questions, and changed by the experience.

What Went Right?

In this section, I will attempt to briefly sum up what I love about Blade Runner, but by no means should this be considered a deep look into the film. I am advocating for why you should see it; I don’t want to ruin the experience of analyzing the film in total.
To that end, the basic setup is as follows; in dystopian future 2019, most humans have migrated off planet, most animal life is dead, and most dangerous work is done by synthetic androids called replicants. Doomed to a short life, a murderous band of replicants come to Los Angeles seeking answers from their creator. Harrison Ford plays the titular “Blade Runner”, a bounty hunter in the vein of a film noir P.I. who specializes in identifying, tracking down, and killing replicants.

The film is a visual feast, making amazing use of practical effects to create its sci-fi world of flying cars and towering skyscrapers with neon holographic billboards. But more than that is the props, costumes, jobs and language of the people living on the ground, creating a distinct and immersive culture. Add in the music, lighting, and the signature rain, and you have one of the coolest and best realized worlds in film history. And while Blade Runner may be a thoughtful, meditative drama, it is imperative that we believe in the authenticity of its world.

Most of the focus of this film is on the replicants; what they are, what they do, where they came from, how they work. The first scene shows how humans use a test to detect empathy (or a lack thereof) in replicants. Then we see that the test may not be all that useful when Deckard uses it on Rachael, who is not even aware of her true nature until she is given the test. Just when we thought we knew the answers, Blade Runner changes the questions. It makes Deckard’s hunt for Roy Batty and his rogue androids morally complex instead of cut and dry.

Harrison Ford gives a mostly reserved performance as Rick Deckard, a character that stays cool under pressure. But as doubt starts to creep into his mind, we see that he may be more affected than he lets on. And since the most emotional characters in this movie actually turn out to be the androids…

What Went Wrong?

No matter how much I love Blade Runner, I can acknowledge it’s a flawed masterpiece. I mean, you don’t go through multiple cuts by being perfect. The original cut is marred by the film noir style narration, which explains things too much and delivered by a dispassionate Ford. But even the final cut has problems. The pace is slow, and if you aren’t fully invested it can be a chore to get through. Perhaps the most glaring problem is the romance between Deckard and Rachael. It doesn’t really connect on an emotional level, and there’s some uncomfortable scenes between the two that I’d rather not have in the final cut.

In many ways, Blade Runner is the perfect example of why I have this section. There are no flawless films, but even films with no notable flaws can just be… well, not worth noting. But a movie with issues can still captivate an audience, generate discussion, and have a tangible impact on media going forward. Blade Runner is one of the greatest films ever made and far from perfect. One doesn’t undo the other.

And In Summary…

While A.I. films are more common now, Blade Runner was one of the first major blockbusters to explore the concept and question what truly makes someone human. Are the bored, lifeless, cold throngs of humanity that walk L.A.’s streets in this film really more human than the passionate,caring, hungry to experience life androids they persecute? The film argues “No”, especially at the climax, where Rutger Hauer’s largely improvised speech for Roy Batty’s death is punctuated by a dove flying away. It’s one of my favorite scenes of all time.

While the perpetual question of “Is Deckard a replicant?” is certainly an interesting one that has led to thorough analysis, I think it begets a more important a more question. “Does it really matter?” If the answer to that is “No”, then we’ve learned what Blade Runner seeks to teach us. And it taught that lesson while being one of the most fascinating and engaging science fiction films of all time.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut

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I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. Recent reviews include 2017’s The Mummy, 1973’s The Wicker Man and Grave of the Fireflies.