Sunday, 21 October 2012
Amid the rumours, speculation and theories concerning Blade Runner it’s possible to forget that behind the legend lives one of cinema’s most enduring and influential science fiction films. Based on Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ridley Scott’s masterful movie has been dissected, debated, re-cut and reinterpreted numerous times in the thirty years since its initial release. Thankfully, despite all this, it hasn’t aged a day.
The story is relatively straightforward: Harrison Ford is Deckard, the titular Blade Runner. He is assigned to hunt down five replicants who have illegally returned to Earth from their off-planet work assignment. These replicants are advanced cyborgs, manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation to provide slave labour on colonised planets. They are created as fully formed adults, implanted with artificial memories of their ‘pasts’ and have the capability to develop human emotions and desires – a four year life span prevents this becoming problematic. The replicants Deckard is hunting are wise to their inevitable demise and, led by the charismatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), attempt to extend their lives by forcing the reptilian Tyrell (Joe Turkel) to re-programme them.
The futuristic world Ridley Scott creates in Blade Runner is one which has been hugely influential. Dozens of sci-fi films over the last thirty years have attempted to replicate the grimy, rain-soaked visuals - which owe a huge debt to classic film noir. There are a few flying cars hovering in the gloom but, by and large, the future looks eerily reminiscent of today’s neon-lit cityscapes. The non-specific sense of place is accentuated by the unnamed city’s residents – Deckard spends an awful lot of time hanging around at noodle bars and there are numerous accents, languages and nationalities represented.
The key to Blade Runner’s enduring appeal, however, is its central question: what does it mean to be human? It’s a theme which is explored from numerous angles and leaves the audience with plenty to ponder. Is Deckard himself a replicant? Is he retiring replicants or killing them? Is Roy Batty the most human character on display? He’s certainly more human than Deckard’s robotic love interest – Sean Young is far too wooden to convincingly portray the most advanced and sophisticated replicant ever designed.
Rutger Hauer, on the other hand, is magnificent. His Batty is the most fully-formed character on screen, a complex and charming combination of shimmering menace, fierce intellect and childlike naivety. His famous closing speech is powerfully poetic and delivered beautifully by an actor at his peak. Deckard, on the other hand, is something of a cipher. Harrison Ford is a hangdog lead, lending the character a convincing air of bruised weariness. He’s actually lured out of retirement early in proceedings and it shows – he’s more than a little rusty and is regularly battered and bloodied in the pursuit of his prey – not least in his climactic showdown with Batty.
A review of Blade Runner really can’t do it justice. With each subsequent viewing it reveals more of itself, and its intricacies have been disseminated endlessly since its release. A quick Google search reveals the depth of interest and discussion attached to the film – interest which has been rekindled since Ridley Scott revealing that a sequel is in the offing. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint in the way Prometheus did.