With Blade Runner 2049 in theatres, here's all you need to know about the original Harrison Ford-starrer
When Blade Runner premiered in 1982, it polarised critics and bombed at the box-office. What happened then is a piece of fascinating Hollywood history chronicled in books, documentaries and articles. The movie, which saw many versions (possibly seven, including a director’s cut) released on home video and DVD, went on to achieve universal acclaim and gain a cult following. In the years to come, magazines and movie portals would pay tribute to the film, with many critics including it in their best of all time.
Now, 35 years after the original’s release, Warner Bros. has made a belated sequel — Blade Runner 2049, a testimonial to the status and popularity of the original. The new film, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), features Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford (reprising his role of Rick Deckard in the original), Jared Leto and Robin Wright. Some critics have hailed the new movie — which released on Friday, 6 October 2017 — as one of the greatest sequels of all time.
Blade Runner, set in November 2019, is a neo-noir science fiction film, which drew praise for its special effects and production design upon release. It was nominated for two Oscars, but failed to win any (the movie lost in the visual effects race to E.T.)
The film is darkly lit with many characters, including Deckard, fighting their internal darkness. The movie is loosely based on the novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K Dick. Other film adaptations of Dick’s novels include Total Recall (made twice, the first starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck and Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.
The movie explored themes of authoritarian government, role of all-powerful corporations, environmental degradation and, most importantly, the question of what makes us human.
Set in the urban squalor of a dark, dystopian Los Angeles of the future, the story follows Deckard, the burnt out cop (blade runner), as accepts one last assignment to retire — a euphemism for killing — four replicants, who have escaped back to earth from an off world colony, in an attempt to increase their life spans. Los Angeles is re-imagined as a Japanised, dying city in which the rich literally live in spaces above the poor. The city with its polyglot inhabitants is neon lit, overcrowded and sports advertisements for many companies, including Coca Cola and Budweiser. Spinners (flying cars), used by policemen including Deckard, are a constant, threatening presence. Though there is no mention of the internet or cell phones, video phones make several appearances.
The replicants — androids — are led by Roy Batty played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, whom modern audiences will recognise as the head of Wayne Corporation in Batman Begins. The cast includes other little known actors including Sean Young and Edward James Olmos.
The replicants, who are identical to humans in every way, have more agility, strength and near equal intelligence. They are bioengineered by the powerful Tyrell Corporation and are hired as skilled labour to work in off world colonies. When Deckard’s investigation leads to the Corporation, headed by Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), he is asked to test a replicant called Rachel (Young). Deckard administers Rachel the Voight-Kampff test, a procedure to tell replicants from humans, and releases that she doesn’t know that she is a replicant. The transformation Deckard undergoes as he goes around accomplishing his mission forms the rest of the story.
The music is by the Greek composer, Vangelis, who had in 1981 won the Academy award for best musical score for the classic, Chariots of Fire. He composed several themes for Blade Runner, largely using synthesisers. The score is subtle and non-intrusive and helped bolster electronic music in a big way. The screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher and reworked by David Peoples after Scott came aboard.
The animal motif (electric sheep), a large part in the novel, is muted in the movie. Natural-born animals are absent and genetically designed ones, more expensive than a house or car, have replaced them. An artificial owl is present at Tyrell Corporation and is witness to the murder of Tyrell. The scale of an artificial snake leads Deckard to a stripclub, where a replicant is the attraction of the night. A dove flutters towards the sky at the climax, probably representing temporary peace. Added to this, it is raining perpetually in Los Angeles. It is also suggested that many of the wealthy and influential have abandoned earth for other planets.
Combine these factors, and you realise that earth is dying — of possible climate change, a ruined ecology and a harmful environment. When Pris (Daryl Hannah), who is a pleasure model of replicant, questions J F Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic designer, he confesses that he flunked the medical test required for relocating to an off world colony.
The movie may be envisioning a future in which robots will be able to freely mingle with humans. Much controversy surrounds the question of whether Deckard himself is a replicant, an aspect left ambiguous in the film. The most obvious reference to this dilemma comes when Rachel ask Deckard if he has given himself the Voight-Kampff test, only to find out that the detective has passed out. At the end of the movie, Deckard sympathises with Batty, the replicant leader, saying that he was seeking answers for the same existential questions we all ask — where did I come from, where am I going, and how long have I got.
Ford’s acting style is departure from his more famous roles in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, both made before Blade Runner. He is more vulnerable as Deckard, both physically and psychologically. He is scarred and desperately seeking redemption, which arrives in the form of Rachel. The cynicism and sarcasm are there, but well-hidden behind a serious demeanour; the foolish grin is all but gone. His narration in the movie (Ford is on record saying that he hated it) is a constant in American neo-noir and a throwback to the era of Robert Mitchum and Humphrey Bogart.
The cyberpunk aesthetic of Blade Runner also had a deep influence on the science fiction genre. Movies like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), Terminator (1984) and Gattaca (1997) are few of the films that owe a debt to Scott and his vision behind Blade Runner.
In the end, Blade Runner has the hero beating the baddies and getting the girl (at least in the version I saw). And among all the questions the film provokes with its multi-layered script, this soul satisfying answer is the one we should try not to miss.
Updated Date: Oct 07, 2017 18:00:08 IST