By Carter B. Horsley
This science fiction movie succeeds brilliantly
not only because of its remarkably imaginative art direction and
superb acting, but also because of its brilliant plot and sensational
score by Vangelis, one of the world's few great virtuosi of electronic
It is a dark, Gothic tale based on Philip K.
Dick's fine novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."
Whereas "The Seventh
Seal" (ranked second in Carter B. Horsley’s Top 500 Sound Films) and "2001"
(ranked third) achieved their greatness by examining fundamental
metaphysical questions of great import with stunning artistry,
"Blade Runner" presents a rather dreary future world
in which metaphysical questions are secondary to emotions that
are stronger in some robots than humans, an intriguing and powerful
Dystopias envision supposedly utopian worlds
that are perfect in many regards but suffer from a loss of emotion
or individuality and "Blade Runner," to a certain extent,
takes this approach as would Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."
"Blade Runner" spurns the pyrotechnical
promise of all-powerful aliens to narrow in on the psychological
problems of man's inventions. It is a thriller, not a horror movie,
about the urge to live of some "replicants'' programmed to
live for only four years yet imbued with memories of their non-existent
childhood, youth and much of their adulthood.
The movie opens with an incredible set of a
vertiginous Los Angeles drenched with rain and multi-story advertising
billboards. The mood is dreary and very film-noirish and we soon
met the lead character, Deckard, played with laconic weariness
by Harrison Ford, whose specialty is "blade running"
- hunting down stray and dangerous replicants, who were created
to be slaves in extra-terrestial, or "off-world," mines
and who have commandeered a spaceship and returned to earth. The
replicants are created with great skill to look very much like
humans by the Tyrell Corporation, whose head, Tyrell, is played
by Joe Turkel with quite sinister jocularity.
Ford is brought to his former boss's office
by Gaff, a fellow bladerunner, but one with even less of a sense
of humor than Ford's. Deckard is given a briefing and his assignment
is to ferret out the remaining returned replicants at large.
Deckard visits the Tyrell headquarters and
is introduced to Rachel, Tyrell's assistant, an ravishingly beautiful
woman, played by Sean Young. One of the four remaining escaped
replicants had been captured, but escaped. Tyrell explains that
the replicants came from the latest and most advanced "batch"
of replicants, and also surprises Ford by revealing that his assistant
is actually an even later model replicant but that she doesn't
know it yet. Ford sets out to find the escaped replicants but
also has been mesmerized by Rachel, who does not know she is a
replicant until later when Deckard confronts her with evidence.
Deckard manages to track down one of the replicants,
Zhora, played with great sensusality by Joanna Cassidy as a snake
charmer, and after a wild chase shots and kills her only to be
attacked by the replicant who had escaped capture earlier. The
replicant is about to shoot Deckard when he is shot from behind
by Rachel, who wants to know more about herself from Deckard.
Meanwhile the other two replicants, Pris, played
by Darryl Hannah, and Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, are tracking
down Sebastian, played with great sensitivity by William Sanderson,
one of the scientists who helped to make them. Pris is one of
the most remarkable characters in film history, a great beauty
in wild costume and make-up capable of great coyness and violence
and acrobatics. Hauer gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the
leader of this group of renegade replicants, a determined individual
of immense resolve and strength - his will to live is perhaps
the greatest ever shown on film, uplifting and very tragic - and
he is a truly worth antagonist and villain for Ford and Tyrell.
One of the highlights of the film is the encounter
by Pris and Roy in Sebastian's studio in the great Bradley Building,
one of the nation's first major atrium buildings, which actually
still exists in Los Angeles. His studio is filled with his inventions
and toys, which predate and out-charm the animated toys of much
later films like "Toy Story."
Pris and Roy know that their limited lives
are drawing to a close quickly and they enlist Sebatian's support
to get Roy to meet Tyrell, who likes to play chess with Sebastian.
When they meet, Tyrell informs Roy that there is nothing that
can be done to save them and he is brutally killed by Roy.
Deckard tracks Pris down in Sebastian’s
Studio and manages to kill her but only after narrowly escaping
death in a terrific fight scene with her. Roy returns to the studio
while Deckard is still there and they have an incredible fight
and Deckard tries to flee and is eventually saved by Roy, whose
time has run out. Deckard watches him die in front of him in a
wonderful scene, not without sympathy and respect and a resolve
to not let the same fate befall Rachel.
Roy's death is violent but also very poetic
and very moving.
The movie ends with Deckard and Rachel fleeing
to an unknown fate.
A "director's cut" version was released
in 1992 and it substituted some new scenes for the beginning of
the film in which, in the original, Deckard provides a narration,
and it also gives some hints that Deckard himself may be a replicant.
Devotees of the film are divided on which is the better version.
The plot, then, is fairly simply, but the intensity
of the direction and the acting coupled with the truly marvelous
score by Vangelis and the very creative and atmospheric art direction
of Douglas Trumbull, transport the viewer so convincingly into
the story and the disenchanted future world of Los Angeles that
the movie transcends its genre and style to become an epic, emotional
drama of lasting and great impact.
While Ford's performance fortunately has lost
the youthful exuberance of naiveté of Star Wars, it does
manage to foreshadow some of the gentleness he would show in his
best film, "Witness," and avoid the bravura non-sense
of the Spielberg "Indiana Jones" series and his more
mature performances as John Ryan in movies based on Tom Clancy's
Ford's performance here tries hard to adhere
to the stoniness of hard-boiled film noir detectives, and is not
bad, but pales in comparison with the stellar and startling performances
of the rest of the cast that raise this film up tremendously.
"Blade Runner" is a very haunting
experience and its soundtrack stands near the very top in its
beauty and atmospheric setting. The movie compells the viewer
to challenge his sense of history, perception, and human capabilities
and does so without superhuman heroics.
Ridley Scott had made "Alien" the
year before "Blade Runner" establishing his reputation
as a great director, especially of scary science fiction movies.
For afficionados of blood and gore, "Blade Runner,"
then was something of a let-down from the terrifying thrills of
"Alien," but it is a much slower-paced work. Still,
"Blade Runner" is much more profoundly moving because
of its more interesting characters and because its focus is cerebral
and emotional and not merely visceral.