Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection, and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy on a daily schedule of themes:
Blade Runner is one of a handful of movies that keeps hope alive in the hearts and minds of science fiction fans that great genre films can happen.
Every once in a while a miracle happens, and all the myriad elements come together in the right way, at the right time, and we get a great movie out of it. In this instance, just for example, a 1968 novel by Phillip K. Dick, an excellent all-around cast, and the right director in the person of Ridley Scott to get it right. Widely, and justifiably recognized as one of the best science fiction movies ever made, this film is a sterling example that when film noir and sci-fi meet good things happen. Even though this film takes place in the future, it almost perfectly creates the mood and look of a classic 1940’s private eye movie. Even the tech portrayed in the film looks like it came from that era.
The result of all this is a stylish neo-noir-film that is remarkably memorable, satisfying and kicks ass. As usual, in the fashion of film noir, It is a dark, brooding, and a grim world we visit in this film. A corporate dystopia that seemingly never sees the light of day. The opening scene is a shot of a vast cityscape with multiple smokestack-like structures billowing eruptions of smoke and flame. Dark and a little foreboding, this future world seems perpetually shrouded in night. The corporations have won, the war to save the environment has been lost, and earth resembles a vision of hell.
One of the things I love about this movie is how, without hesitation, it plunges the viewer right into the story. Blade Runner’s narrative mostly remains uncluttered by lengthy character introductions and lots of unnecessary information. You are expected to pay attention and keep up with what is developed as the story hurtles, like a bullet, towards its conclusion. There is a brief introduction in text that establishes the premise and after that another short scene that creates tone.
As it often occurs in science fiction, this is another case where humanity’s cleverness has come back to bite it in the ass. The Tyrell Corporation has created a line of androids called replicants so lifelike it is difficult to distinguish them from real human beings. These advanced models called the Nexus-6 series are becoming problematic in some ways, they are developing unique ideas about the way things should be, and that has repercussions. One being they rebel against their human counterparts and end up killing people in the process. It is because of this problem the replicants are built to only live for four years before they die. Assigned for labor and jobs in space colonies, it is no longer legal for them to be on earth. Stronger, tireless and as intelligent as real people, rogue replicants are hunted and terminated by specialized police officers known as Blade Runners and the terminations they execute are referred to as retirement. Seeking a solution to their looming mortality, six of these rogue replicants have successfully reached earth, and after an unsuccessful assault on the Tyrell Corp compound, four remain and become the target of a police investigation. A blade runner gets assigned to the case.
We get introduced to Leon (Brion James), who is brutish, hostile, and violent. He is in the process of getting a standardized test designed to determine if he is man or replicant using the Voight-Kampff machine; a sinister looking device that serves as a futuristic lie detector. The scene turns suddenly violent when Leon shoots his examiner. This scene catalyzes all the events that follow.
We next meet Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the titular blade runner. Deckard is weary. and maybe a little morose. He is just about to enjoy a meal when he is interrupted by Officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos), who is spooky in appearance, along with his ability to suddenly appear seemingly out of nowhere at a moment’s notice.
Deckard gets taken to the office of his former supervisor Bryant (M Emmet Walsh) where he gets summarily informed that he is being drafted from retirement and given the case of the rogue androids to handle. Deckard refuses, but not very convincingly, and after a little threatening from Bryant agrees to take the case
The replicants in question are excellently portrayed. Along with Leon, who is a military model, they include:
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) a highly intelligent, white-haired Aryan looking combat model. Hauer comes close to stealing the show. He is commanding onscreen, and his quietly portrayed menace is almost palpable.
Pris (Daryl Hannah) a basic pleasure model, who is also the plaything of Roy and as dangerous as the rest. She displays evidence of having a possibly psychotic disturbed mind.
Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) who was once part of an off-world death squad, but has now found employment as an exotic dancer. She is a deadly mix of beauty and sudden violent action.
Decker’s hunt for the rogue replicants begins with a visit to the massively imposing Tyrell Corporation headquarters where he meets Tyrell and his assistant Rachel (Sean Young), an advanced model of the Nexus-6 line that thinks she is a real human being. Her memories are the implanted memories of Tyrell’s niece. Rachel’s first appearance on the screen is remarkable. She is a truly impressive example of feminine beauty. She is noticeably doll-like in appearance, and her movements make the same impression, but that’s where the similarity ends, she quickly establishes she is a bitch. Intelligent, smug, and a little hostile with plenty of attitude. Deckard and Rachel meet again, and he eventually falls for her, and she for him.
Meanwhile we find Roy and Leon seeking another way into Tyrell Corp, by way of one of his suppliers, a genetic scientist (played by the immortal James Hong) who designs and make the eyes for the Nexus models, this plays out in a brief but memorable scene in a freezer where he does his work. This scene leads to another character J.F. Sebastian another acquaintance of Tyrell and an employee of the ubiquitous corporation who becomes central to the story’s plot. Pris arranges to meet Sebastian, win his sympathy, and ingrain herself into his trust and apartment, where Roy joins her later.
In the meantime, Deckard has managed to track down Zhora and Leon by way of a photo and an artificial snake scale. Deckard is not your typical he-man heroic super-cop. When following up on the clues, he is almost comically incompetent and one has to wonder how he has survived as long as he has in his line of work. Zhora quickly recognizes his attempt to deceive her with his clumsy improvised ruse an she is quick to resort to violent action in response. She escapes but is followed and killed by Deckard who uses the iconic LAPD 2019 Blaster, a future handgun version of an elephant gun. Afterward, almost immediately, Deckard is attacked by Leon who again comes close to killing him until Rachel shoots him with Decker’s weapon that the blade runner has dropped in his fight with the super strong replicant.
The story nears its climax when Roy, assisted by Sebastian manages to visit Tyrell and subsequently kills him after Tyrell confirms there is no way to reverse his short-term life. Sebastian dies as collateral damage as well.
The story ends on a melancholy note. Deckard gets Sebastian’s address, and when he goes to investigate, he is attacked by Pris in one of the film’s most memorable scenes and kills her. Roy returns soon afterward and is saddened by what he finds, seemingly determined to kill Deckard in revenge. A chase ensues, during which Roy disarms the blade runner and methodically breaks some of his fingers. The pursuit continues and ends up on the rooftops of the buildings, where it looks like Deckard is doomed to fall to his death, until, ironically he is saved by Roy who has tired of killing and death. His body is shutting down, and he utters the now classic soliloquy that marks his demise.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.” (This famous monologue was an improvisation by Hauer.)
Deckard returns to his apartment and finds Rachel safe and alive. they are in love and plan to escape. The seemingly endless night has surrendered to daylight and the hope for happiness they share.
It’s worthy of note the film received a mixed response from critics and did not do great at the box office due to a lot of genre film competition at the time amongst other things.
Aggregate critical website Rotten Tomatoes sums it up. The site’s main consensus reads “Misunderstood when it first hit theaters, the influence of Ridley Scott’s mysterious, neo-noir Blade Runner has deepened with time. A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece.”
Blade Runner ends on a hopeful note while leaving a lot of questions unanswered, does Rachel live longer than the other Nexus models? Is the couple’s escape successful? It has also been brought into question whether or not Deckard himself is a replicant. Opinions vary, but Scott has stated it turns out he was. We now know better since the arrival of Blade Runner 2049