The last PSA of the year. I wanted to end things on a high note, so I thought I would finish my sprinkling of Public Service Announcements about cinema with a movie that should be mandatory for moviegoers of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner sits atop the apex of science fiction in a very real sense with a very small handful of peers, and I don’t say that in a sensationalistic manner. This movie, released to dumbstruck audiences in 1982, revolutionized the way sci-fi movies are made. For America, it re-institutionalized the intelligent science fiction film, a genre lost in a mire of post Star Wars mania and established Ridley Scott as a director wh0 had something meaningful to say as a filmmaker. It’s a hypnotic, passionate futuristic noir about the very nature of humanity, and what it means in a cold, harsh future. It’s one of the best there is, and I think before 2009 closes out, you should invest just 2 hours of your time to this beautiful sci-fi masterpiece.
Based on a novel by sc-fi legend Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner takes place in 2019, where we follow a detective named Decker who is on the trail of four humanoid robotic workers called “replicants” who have escaped from an off-world mining operation to hide on Earth. Decker is a retired “Blade Runner”, a detective who specializes in tracking non-organic humanoids and terminating them. He has been called onto this special case after one of a series of four runaways blows away a younger Blade Runner after being interrogated and escapes into the city. Decker travels from the tiniest cracks in the nasty, futuristic slum of 2019 LA to the top of the splendorous Tyell Corporation building, where the replicants are designed by the reclusive Dr. Tyrell himself, in search of information about these 4 strange runaways who look and act almost exactly like humans. He learns about their history, their design, and a most interesting failsafe on their particular model; a four year lifespan. Decker begins to deduce that perhaps these four are on Earth to discover a way to increase their lifespan, an act they feel that only Tyrell can give them. But along the way of tracking them down, he begins a strange relationship with a woman named Rachael, who works at the Tyrell Corporation. They harbor feelings toward each other, but Decker knows something about her that keeps him reticent; she is a replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Implanted with false memories, Tyrell created her as an experiment. Decker struggles to come to grips with this strange fact amidst his own feelings about her, the constant struggle to track down the replicants and their relentless leader, Roy Batty, and his own doubts about the assignment and his own humanity…
This is such a thematically dense work. Ridley Scott took an almost obsessive attention to detail as a director and turned it into something exquisite. Los Angeles 2019 is an absolutely complete world, a slum of a city that only houses the people who could not afford to live off-world. It is a world constantly darkened from the shadow of the skyscrapers and the industry that towers above, and there seems to be no hope left in the streets. Much like the noir films of the 40s and 50s, the city is a perpetually darkened hellhole, and acts as a harbinger of the ills to come. Scott’s futurescape takes from Lucas’s idea of a “used future”, but it goes so far beyond that. This is a dilapidated future, where the only lights arrive from neon signs and where the streets are filled with the whirring and buzzing of machines instead of the sounds of people; a future devoid of humanity in its human population, another interesting thematic decision.
And the cast is simply amazing. This might be the best Rutger Hauer performance I’ve ever seen. He plays the antagonist, Roy Batty, with such an intensity that it cannot be contained on the screen. He is a replicant, but he is more alive than any of the downtrodden humans he encounters on Earth. He is strong in heart and in spirit, and his is the true tragedy of Blade Runner, because while he is not human, his soul is great, which makes his four year lifespan all the more cruel. And his love interest, the attractive replicant Zhora, played by Daryl Hannah, is equally tragic. She is a playful female replicant who wants to live life to the fullest. Her character, as much as Rutger Hauer’s encapsulates a love of living that is exceptional and magical in contrast to the real human characters. Harrison Ford plays one of the greatest role of his career as Deckard, the replicant hunter whose life is slowly unraveling. He plays it with a style reminiscent of Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, a wise-talking gumshoe with a street-wise wisdom that is constantly at odds with the evil he encounters on the mean streets that puts his soul constantly at hazard. It’s a rich, complex character that will have you guessing, in some rare moments, whether he is even human, or if he is another lively replicant with a good heart and a short life. Sean Young is beautiful and compelling as Rachel, the replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She plays the character calm and cool, but underneath her exterior lies a confused and terrified woman who doesn’t understand what exactly is happening to her. Sean Young brings a surprising vulnerability here that I was absolutely NOT expecting, and it’s one of those things that really brings home why this is just one of the best films out there. Her candid romantic scenes with Deckard will leave you both moved and fixated to the screen as the two dance around their own emotions in totally unexpected ways.
Ridley Scott asks quite a few questions of us, some that we are perhaps not entirely prepared to answer. The nature of man, his destiny in an unknown future, and what it truly means to be alive are pondered very loudly here. Blade Runner is a very intelligent, beautiful movie that digs into the subconscious and forces us to confront ourselves in a very meaningful way. The characters are incredibly rich, vivid, and well-written, the score by the prog-new age group Vangelis somehow gets better with age, the story is powerful in a way that most sci-fi could only dream of being, and the film itself is still gorgeous, even after all the various cuts and versions to be released (for a more in-depth history of Blade Runner‘s rocky history, stick with me in 2010 for my planned essay on the making of this classic and how it might have easily been different!). It’s a timeless film that only seems to increase in character and insight as the years go on. I have so many things to say about this, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that if you have any desire to watch sci-fi, then this film is absolutely part of the curriculum! I give it 10 unwitting replicants out of 10! My highest recommendation!
Tomorrow I will take on the great and wonderful Fellini film 8 1/2! Until then!