Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has long been regarded a masterpiece of science fiction that, along with Alien, cemented his reputation as a major director and helped establish the more thoughtful brand of sci-fi that Star Wars had done its best to knock off the mainstream radar in the late 1970s.
For me though the 1982 ‘sci-fi noir’ has always been something of an enigma – raved about by seemingly one and all but never quite clicking with me – so, on getting the chance the to see the movie in a good quality cinema (the BFI at the NFT) I was excited to see if I could finally break through all the talk and get to the actual film underneath.
I’m please to say that not only did that happen, but that I discovered the excellent movie everyone else was going on about too.
Telling the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner of the title, as he investigates and hunts down an escaped group of android ‘replicants’, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) the plot, as in much ‘grown up’ sci-fi is used as a framework on which to hang ideas and, in the case here in particular, some very impressive visuals.
That’s not to discredit the story that is engaging and drives along at a great pace without over egging anything, which a story like this might, and certainly is part of why Blade Runner is referred to as ‘sci-fi noir’ and is quite so enjoyable.
The noir aspect though is certainly most visible in the film’s production design, by Syd Mead and Lawrence G. Paull, that evokes a ‘near future’ mega-city style Los Angeles with oil fields giving way to enormous, 1984-like, pyramids and narrow, busy, rain drenched streets populated by people of all kinds in which our hard-boiled ‘hero’ is found.
The design has become something so replicated in later movies I thought it might lose something, but it still holds its impressive place and it is clear that little that has come since has bettered (or even approached it) as it combines aspects of many styles into a great whole with a balance that other movies have tried but, generally, not succeeded.
Into this world comes a the group of escaped replicants, who have returned to Earth from their off-world postings to seek out their creator and, essentially, try to answer many of the ‘big questions’ humans have always asked. As with a lot of great sci-fi this is clearly a prism through which we may seek answers (or more questions) based around the themes.
Over the years many themes and discussions have been found in Blade Runner but the one that struck me most is, it would seem, the one that the original source (Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep) deals with, and that is notions of existence and personal identity, along with the big question of the meaning and purpose of our existence.
This is all summed up beautifully and comes to a head as Deckard’s hunt climaxes when he confronts Batty face to face on the roof of a dilapidated building in driving rain in what has become known as the ‘Tears In Rain’ monologue. As well as being an impressive piece of performance from Hauer it brings the whole story round on its head by actually making the de facto ‘bad guys’ into genuinely empathic and relatable characters that again builds on the movie’s themes.
Along with a supreme piece of projection work thanks to the BFI Blade Runner has certainly leapt into the list of some of the most impressive and enjoyable films I‘ve seen as it pulls together all aspects of its production (with the music by Vangelis being another highly impressive factor) into something astonishing.
And its all capped off by an enigmatic final scene that leaves some questions intentionally unanswered while posing even more, without feeling like sequel bait or making the rest of the movie feel like its been undermined.
A sequel is now of course in the works, but how that deals with these questions will be a big factor in its success of failure it would seem…
And here’s the Tears In Rain scene (probably best not watched if you haven’t seen the rest of the movie):