Arguably Ridley Scott’s most detailed and textured movie – Blade Runner, in all of its ‘Final Cut’ glory, remains American cinema’s most spiritual science fiction film. White doves, operatic synthesizers and heavy rain make up most of our memories of seeing Blade Runner for the first time. Set against the neon backdrop of a futuristic Los Angeles, this neo-noir triumph is rich in aesthetic and dripping in symbolism. June of 1982 was an exceptionally satisfying month for science fiction movie-goers. First came Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan followed by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and by the end of the month, John Carpenter had changed the game forever with The Thing and its ground-breaking make-up special effects. Somewhere in the middle, Blade Runner was released. A film that contemplates the ideas behind the Turing Test, Blade Runner challenges us to consider the complex intricacies that make up humanity. Filled with timeless elements and detail, this iconic Philip K. Dick adaptation has been re-released into cinemas this April by the British Film Institute. When four android prisoners escape from their outer-space slave colonies, retired detective Rick Deckard must track them down and terminate them. The replicants, having returned to Earth in the hope of meeting their creator, are led by Roy Batty; a monstrous being whose thirst for life makes him a dangerous and unpredictable antagonist. Blade Runner is divided into two story-lines which repeatedly intertwine before coming to a climactic head on collision in the film’s operatic finale. Whilst we follow the replicants on their renegade hunt for fuller life we simultaneously follow Deckard as he tracks down each android in a tense, old fashioned and noir-like game of cat and mouse.
Blade Runner refuses to conform to the rules of a specific genre. It’s a dystopian sci-fi thriller and, simultaneously, a brooding detective tale that has more in common with Double Indemnity than Star Wars. Whilst refusing to define itself thematically it also refuses to date. Blade Runner’s intense colour palette still delights the eye. With age comes nostalgia and, like a fine wine, Blade Runner only grows more impressive with time. The central themes are taken from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – where classic science fiction themes are explored; from the human condition to the ethics of artificial intelligence. Blade Runner is the cinematic adaptation but also a separate being entirely. The novel is more concerned with Deckard’s state of mind which Ridley Scott chose to obscure. Blade Runner highlights the crucial differences between film and literature and the vast power of – and extensive difference between – the mediums. Ridley Scott’s Deckard is a mystery. Cold and collective, he displays less human emotion than the replicants he is out to destroy. Harrison Ford, most recognisable as Indiana Jones or Han Solo, gives a performance that is as subtle as it is complex. He is as crucial to the lasting imagery of Blade Runner as Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of Batty – with his peroxide menace and Christ-like mirror imagery. Accompanied by the tranquil sounds of a Vangelis score, with its soothing synthesized drones and haunting melodies, Blade Runner is both a neon wonder and an under-saturated spectacle.
Everyone who’s seen the movie, recalls the bright pixelated Coca-Cola advert with the smiling model that surveys the gloomy streets of L.A. below her but we don’t always remember the interior scenes that make up the vast majority of the film. In the film’s second act, the final female android takes refuge in a house whose residents resemble something found in director Jan Švankmajer’s craft box. We tend to remember Blade Runner’s iconic American aesthetics and return to it to discover a world filled with transnational costume, set and lighting design – adding to the film’s agelessness. The closing battle between Batty and Deckard is rich in electric blues, reflecting the film’s cyberpunk heart. As a white dove soars towards a rainy sky we find ourselves wondering what it really means to be human. The film’s symbolisms of the soul and its contradictory displays of man and machine leaves us realising the importance of empathy and love as we wonder who the real saviours of the story are. The philosophical discussions found in Blade Runner remain present in contemporary cinema; only recently the creepy science fiction wonder Ex Machina explores the moral ambiguities that still remain around replicated life and the ethics of creating and destroying it. Almost 33 years later, cinema is still finding ways to re-invent this unconventional gem. An unwelcome sequel is in the works, with Ford having confirmed his involvement. Whilst attempting to keep an open mind, it is tricky to see how a further instalment could improve, or sufficiently expand, on a film as timeless and hypnotizing as Blade Runner – the literal soul-searching movie.
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