Harrison Ford Rick Deckard
Rutger Hauer Roy Batty
Sean Young Rachael
Edward James Olmos Gaff
M. Emmet Walsh Bryant
Daryl Hannah Pris
William Sanderson Sebastian
Brion James Leon
Joseph Turkel Tyrell
Joanna Cassidy Zhora
James Hong Chew
Morgan Paull Holden

Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples (based on the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick). 1982. Running time: 118 Minutes.

As a 15-year old watching Blade Runner when it came out back in 1982, I knew somehow that this movie was important. It wasn't until the 1990s that anybody knew how important it was. Not merely was it the most influential science fiction movie made in the 1980s, but probably the best as well . . .

That's right. Forget all the so-called "sci-fi" blockbusters that saw the light of cinema screens in the 'Eighties. Forget Total Recall, E.T. and Return of the Jedi. The best pure science fiction movie made in the previous decade was one that was initially reviled by the critics and ignored by moviegoers. One of the few people who realised its greatness back then was cyberpunk sci-fi writer William Gibson who admitted in interviews to being depressed after seeing the movie. He has been pre-empted: Blade Runner was cyberpunk - two years before Gibson exploded unto the scene with his Neuromancer novel and the term became an overused buzzword.

Blade Runner perfectly captured the mental landscape of the cyberpunk literary genre, just as it perfectly captured the feeling of how it must be like to live in the Los Angeles of director Ridley Scott's 2017. Cyberpunk is after all interested in the man-machine dichotomy. Therefor it is only obvious that a film with the thematic concerns of Blade Runner (what is human? what isn't?) should be crowned as its chief celluloid icon. And it's just as obvious that Philip K. Dick (the author on whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the film is based) should be designated the movement's unofficial Godfather.

While the film merely borrows a few ideas and a few character names from Dick's novel and descends into a typical "bounty hunter in pursuit of his prey" Hollywood plotline, this is beside the point. The point is Blade Runner's look and feel, one that has been oft imitated by a host of films that followed it but never equalled. Later the Blade Runner look became the cliched dystopia of the near future in 1980s/1990s sci-fi such as The Fifth Element, Lawnmower Man II, Barb Wire and Johnny Mnemonics. As one commentator remarked: at first Blade Runner seemed like an unlikely fantasy, then it seemed like a dire prophecy, then it seemed like a documentary on something that already existed and in the end it seemed like an advertisement for something.

For once sci-fi seemed to predict the future correctly. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner offered us a vision of a future that seemed astoundingly real. (That the two futures depicted in the films are so disparate is an article of its won, each movie reflecting the hopes and fears of the time in which it was made). While it is unlikely that Los Angeles will ever resemble the city of Scott's imagination (instead it seems to be a cross between Osaka in Japan and Chicago on a very bad day) , this too doesn't matter. Blade Runner's Los Angeles has its feet planted in reality - it might as well have been the nightmare of any urban planner…

But sci-fi as prophecy seldomly works (and isn't really the point of the genre). It is cyberpunk's own adeptness as coining phrases (for example the word "cyberspace" which is basically where you're reading this article now) that soon delegated it to a mere historical curiosity and (even worse) cliched. However, while the memory of the film has been tarnished by many rip-offs, Blade Runner itself remains as brilliant as it was back in 1982.

Blade Runner is one of those few films that actually got better. In 1992, the original version of the film (before Hollywood execs got their grubby little paws on it) was released theatrically as a director's cut. It featured the most comprehensive changes made to a film by such a so-called "director's cut." Whereas much hype surrounded the Star Wars Special Edition we saw earlier this year, the director's cut of Blade Runner offered audiences more than a few cosmetic changes such as cleaned up special effects and sound, a CGI creature or two. Blade Runner - Director's Cut altered the film's tone and feeling and ultimately its plot as well. Gone was the tag-on happy ending, along with Harrison Ford's voice over. In came a haunting dream sequence featuring a unicorn. This particular version of Blade Runner will go down in cinema history as the definitive version. (Unlike the Star Wars Special Edition which in retrospect seems an odd hybrid of 1970s and 1990s technology all in one movie.)

In many ways Blade Runner is an average movie. Its cinematography is typically 1980s. Scott, like many other directors (his brother Tony Scott and Alan Parker comes to mind) started in the advertising business. Blade Runner has what they call The Look, and The Look looks like a television ad. Yet it is the way that Ridley Scott throws together his many visual elements that make Blade Runner such a unique experience. This is a trick he managed with his Alien movie as well. Scott's visuals are like those of a covert surrealist: he seamlessly blends the familiar with the alien. His human figures are framed by strange and alien landscapes. When he filmed his Black Rain police thriller with Michael Douglas in Osaka in Japan a few years later, cyberpunk has already become true. Unlike many Hollywood movies, the reissued cut of Blade Runner has a crushing streak of nihlism running through it. It is understandable that Hollywood, always intent on selling tickets, were distressed at seeing this original cut. There is no happy ending, Harrison Ford isn't cracking one-liners (like he did as Indiana Jones and in the Star Wars movies). Come to think of it: there are no happy characters! But you wouldn't be happy either living in Scott's Los Angeles. So instead of selling tickets Hollywood made a good movie for once . . .


Copyright © July 1997 James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).