Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #588
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 25, 1982
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $33,800,000
Running Time: 117 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer: Michael Deeley, Run Run Shaw
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Special Effects: Terry D. Frazee
Visual Effects: Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, David Dryer
Cinematography: Jordan Cronenweth
Editing: Terry Rawlings, Marsha Nakashima
Studios: The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers, Blade Runner Partnership
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong, Morgan Paull, Kevin Thompson, John Edward Allen, Hy Pyke
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Vangelis “End Theme”
 Vangelis “Rachael’s Song”
 Vangelis “Tears in Rain”
 Vangelis “End Theme (Reprise)”
As a young child I was always fascinated with what dystopia would look like. Utopia I would gladly take or leave as, aside from all the cherry blossom and free-roaming unicorns, I would imagine it to get dull pretty fast. On the flip side, dystopia was a far more enticing concept. Full of imperfection, overspilling with engaging technology and flashing neon, and doused in heavy rain, this blueprint for a society far less than ideal seemed idyllic to me. Driven to decay by politics, economics, religion, psychology, and science over a number of years, it presented a fascinating proposition. For the record, my vision of utopia was provided in 1985 by a film called Legend, ironically directed by a mad dog Englishman by the name of Ridley Scott.
Blade Runner is no less magnanimous in its alternative depiction and, indeed, considered to be one of the finest science fiction movies of all time, and with so much good reason its scary. Distressingly, I didn’t actually watch it for the first time until the turn of the millennium and, even more bothersome, was the fact that I did so at 2.00am and practically ready for my hypersleep. So when the opportunity presented itself to view Scott’s noir classic on the silver screen in the cut he always intended we see it seemed both poetic and prophetic. With 2019 rapidly approaching, time was clearly of the essence although, having spent 117 minutes in techno heaven, I’m pleased to report that we can push that date back by twenty years and it will likely still be as fresh then.
Loosely adapted from a 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and heavily modified, Blade Runner was knocking about for some time before its pipe dream became a reality. The original screenplay by Hampton Fancher underwent a fair deal of augmentation before making it from page to screen and existed for some time before Scott even signed up for this ambitious project. It must be tough watching something you’ve created alter so much by the time it has developed visually, especially given that David Peoples was brought in to give it one last lick of neon gloss before shooting could even commence. However, when you include a visionary director of Scott’s caliber to a project, you can guarantee he will make every last drop of dystopian drizzle feel real.
This is what transpired as Blade Runner arrived midway through 1982 and nobody had the vaguest inkling as to what they should be making of it. The reason for this is simple – they had never seen anything quite like it before and had no idea how to process such optical data. Consequently it was grossly misunderstood and barely made a return after a stuttering theatrical unveiling. Sometimes I wonder and worry about the intelligence of folk back in 1982. Were we simply dumber? Could it be that mankind hadn’t evolved in all those billions of years, or maybe we were just a little scared of technology? For whatever reason, and not helped by the fact that Scott’s true vision wouldn’t arrive until decades later, it left audiences and critics similarly perplexed.
All these years later and anybody with a motherboard and USB slots has an opinion on Blade Runner and, what’s more, they all appear synchronized. It’s brilliant right? So brilliant that my retinas still burn days later. Moreover, with every year that passes, it pushes the future forward with it. We haven’t yet achieved dystopia and, in that respect, maybe Scott jumped the gun a little. Who am I kidding? I don’t desire to live in a world where it’s dusk at dawn and constantly overcast. I’m more than happy just watching it through the eyes of Rick Deckard and letting him hunt down the replicants. I’ll just sit over at the sushi bar, trying to ignore my inner monologue.
Deckard, of course, is played by none other than Harrison Ford. This time the waistcoat has been replaced by a trench coat and the twinkle in the eye is more of a look of utter desolation, reflecting a retrofitted world that contains no well-meaning wookies to shoot the shit with. He’s lost in this brave new world and, at the same time, it’s all so over-familiar by now. Every breath he inhales is one laden with smog and spoiled dreams; while every sound bite is mechanized, clockwork, and bereft of personality. If ever a guy needed a change of pace then Deckard’s your man. It just so happens that he’s about to be provided one. Call it a busman’s holiday if you will.
Thanks to all that tantalizing technology, some douche has had the bright idea of fashioning a handful of genetically engineered replicants. Pretty much indistinguishable from humans to the naked eye, these doppelgänger drones are manufactured by the über-affluent forward thinkers of the Tyrell Corporation, and are being rolled off the production line as we speak. Underestimated by mankind, they are cast aside and sent to off-world outposts to undertake their menial tasks. However, every now and then, one such replicant will get a bright idea, recruit three of its buddies, and break the curfew. That’s where Deckard comes in.
What better place to begin snooping around than the organization responsible for mass production of these rabble-rousing replicas? Deckard heads off to the Tyrell headquarters to meet their maker Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and here he meets his personal assistant Rachael (Sean Young), a beautiful woman with not too much going on up top. Actually that’s not strictly fair. It’s not that she’s unintelligent, more that said acumen appears to be artificial. While a more thorough test is required to confirm her origin, it appears as though her memories have been implanted and Rachael doesn’t respond well to this fresh intelligence. Despite the fact that bioengineered beings leave him somewhat cold, Deckard feels bad for the girl and offers her a good hard defragmentation to cheer her up.
However, the Nexus 6 nuisances are still at large and not catching themselves so he soon decides to get back to the task at hand. His four hard targets are Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Leon (Brion James), Pris (Darryl Hannah) and their illustrious and more advanced leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and, understandably, they’re not too keen on the idea of being apprehended. Moreover, with their four-year lifespan running out and factory settings looming, they’re determined to reverse their fortunes before the inevitable boot down. Some of them are easier to track than others and, while Zhora and Leon don’t pose too much of a headache to locate, Pris is lying low with her new best friend, genetic engineer and Tyrell alumni J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) while Batty ponders their next move.
Blade Runner has long since won us over by this point with its depiction of a heavily built-up dystopian Los Angeles cityscape, positively brimming with hubbub. The set design is unlike anything else ever committed to celluloid and, when you consider this was before the birth of computer generated effects, it beggars belief just how authentic this future proof metropolis feels. Automobiles have been replaced with jet-propelled “spinners”, the murky streets are illuminated with all manner of LED umbrellas, looking like light sabers with hats on, and huge billboards hang above head, depicting lollipop-licking geisha to assist the population in forgetting that the world around them is progressively turning to shit. To this day, its design is still utterly flawless and it feels like a living, breathing place not too dissimilar to our own image of the near future.
Less generous is Ford himself. It seems ludicrous to suggest that he isn’t firing on all cylinders as nobody could ever accuse this man of being a lackluster performer but his turn as Deckard is evidently somewhat cold and detached. Granted, he wasn’t overly enthused about the constant gruelling night shoots and sitting in his trailer while Scott tinkered constantly with every conceivable bell and whistle, pushing the shoot way behind its intended deadline and ballooning the budget considerably. It’s a far cry from Han Solo and perhaps one of his more understated performances. Having said that, it has long since been suggested that he is actually a replicant and a number of well-placed clues seem to corroborate this. Personally, I like the fact that this remains vague as it leaves us with food for thought long after the end credits have rolled.
On the flip side, and somewhat curiously, most of the emotion shown comes from the unlikeliest places and his synthetic targets know precisely how to tug at our heart-strings. Rachael’s reaction to being informed that her whole life has likely been an implanted lie is particularly poignant and Young’s lack of experience when compared to other cast members lends itself perfectly to making her feel lost and vulnerable. Hannah is no less masterful as the ambidextrous Pris and her relationship with the kindly Sebastian is both sweetly observed and perfectly played.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.”
However, it is Hauer that steals the show in the eleventh hour as Roy Batty offers up more food for thought than we ever could have seen coming. With a pair of piercing baby blues that cut straight through to our inner fiber like sentinels and never less than eloquent in his observations, the lines between good and evil become blurred as the inevitable reboot fast approaches. The closing monologue was largely improvised by the flying Dutchman and this throws the entire audience off-kilter as the realization dawns that he only wishes to continue and, while that is a basic human right to most of us, it is one predestined to be always out of his reach. I have been a fan of Hauer since first watching him as demonic drifter John Ryder in Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher but never has he been so unequivocally autocratic on-screen as he is here.
By the time Blade Runner ultimately terminates, the overriding feeling is likely to be of exhaustion. Like Deckard, we have really been put through the ringer and delivered to a different set of coordinates than we would ever have been prepared for. The way in which Scott achieves this fatigue is beyond calculation and shows just how much of a visionary he is. Granted, this strays some way from Dick’s original template but the far-sighted author actually watched the first few minutes before his death and offered his full endorsement for the director’s cognizance towards his primary objective, even though Scott had never actually read the source fiction.
Of course, as much as he would encourage all the pats on the back that have come his way since, he is also quick to point out that Blade Runner is one helluva team effort. Supremely gifted director of photography Jordan Cronenweth was working through the pain barrier having recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and this underhanded utopia would never have been so inviting and, in turn, inhospitable without his unrivalled perception and implementation. The score from Oscar-winning composer Vangelis is one of the greatest ever crafted and flits between blues, jazz and pounding electronica whenever the tone requires shifting. Meanwhile, the complexity in Fancher and Peoples’ double-pronged screenplay derives from its simplicity and refusal to patronize its savvy audience. This is never more evident than in Scott’s final cut where Deckard’s narration is magnanimously stripped away.
“It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”
Honestly, I could go on all night about how perfect Blade Runner is but I know you’re all itching to play with your LED umbrellas so I’ll wrap things up. However, something still doesn’t feel quite right. I feel like I’ve missed something and it just came back to me so I shall procrastinate not in massaging a few more sets of shoulders. Every last pawn has its purpose and the performances of all involved are more than worthy of note. M. Emmet Walsh is ideally cast as Deckard’s gristle-chomping task master Bryant, I could watch James as Leon and Cassidy as Zhora until the rain subsides, and Edward James Olmos is perhaps the most valuable node as the fascinating and ultimately critical Gaff.
If you haven’t yet had the exclusive experience of Blade Runner then shame on you and me too for taking so long to offer up the disk space it so evidently deserves. However, it’s never too late Grueheads as it is just as relevent now as it was back then, indeed, more so and I can say with my hand on my heart and sporting tears like rain that it is a utopian slice of dystopia, the likes of which we will never see trumped during our life cycles. I’ll take its pleasure, pain too, and raise that with my own happily. For that reason, it will never become lost in time. This one’s for you Roy Batty.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Simply staggering but, then, was it ever likely to be otherwise? The effects are peerless and Blade Runner is commendably vicious at times. This is never more apparent than when Batty meets his maker and reaches in for one last hug with pops, thumbs first. Meanwhile, I’m not best pleased with his digit-displacement technique either and, to Ford’s credit, he really sells each ouch as he clambers topside with only eight active grab pads. Cassidy provides skin and I can confirm that the Nexus 6 models have been bioengineered decidedly well. The lustfully limber Hannah can crack my nuts anytime and, as for Rachael, my USB is already inserted and I’m ready to do some streaming.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill