Blade Runner is a 1982 science fiction movie starring Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a policeman called a Blade Runner who hunts down artificial humans called replicants, which by 2019 have been outlawed on Earth. (30+ years later we have Blade Runner 2049.) His mission in the movie is to stop four replicants that have infiltrated Los Angeles, the leader and most dangerous of which is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who have come to try to extend their lives past the 4 years that they were built with. Throughout his investigation he becomes close to another replicant, Rachael, who is unaware that she is herself not human as she has been implanted with false memories.
With Blade Runner 2049 and my “First Impressions” review of it coming out later this week, I rewatched the original film for the first time in years. Blade Runner has been repeatedly named as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, even being ranked as #1 by The Guardian and IGN. I think I’ve established by now that I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so why have I watched it fewer times than I’ve seen Watchmen?
Let me clarify two things: I actually do like Blade Runner, and I’ve never seen the original (and generally considered inferior) theatrical cut; this review is about The Final Cut and The Director’s Cut. So no, my criticisms of this film do not include Harrison Ford’s voiceovers or the censoring of some of the more intense scenes.
Warning: spoilers follow.
Blade Runner, at multiple points, is boring. Not the whole film overall, but at several times I could feel my attention starting to slip and wanted to multitask instead of focusing entirely on what was on screen. The overall plot itself doesn’t even feel as though it has very high stakes as Batty is near death for much of the running time and even saves Deckard at the end. The replicants’ mission to extend their own lives is shown to be impossible and none of them would have survived more than another 2 years. Would they have gone on a rampage if Deckard hadn’t interfered? Maybe, but this is never addressed as a possibility and they’re not immune to gunfire anyways.
Also, I never felt an emotional connection to Deckard. We’re given enough of his backstory to know who he is and why he’s in this situation, but I never really felt overly concerned when he was in danger. None of this is on Harrison Ford, who turned in an excellent performance considering the tone and setting of the film, but I wish he had been written with either a more tragic or interesting element to make me care about him more.
The saving grace, however, is that none of this is the focus of the film. Blade Runner is one of those movies that is not driven by plot, but instead by world-building and its thematic elements. This really is a beautiful looking movie where the visuals can keep your attention even if the plot can’t.
Los Angeles as seen here fully envelopes the viewer and we see a universe as completely realized as that of Star Wars, in fact I’d bet quite a lot that George Lucas took inspiration from this for the world of Coruscant. In fact a lot of directors have specifically named Blade Runner as one of the major influences when planning a film, such as Christopher Nolan when making Batman Begins.
The reduced lifespan and manufactured nature of the replicants act as a fascinating mirror in which we can contemplate what it means to be human. A major plot point is that replicants are unable to properly process emotions since none of them live long enough to learn how to. It’s interesting to note the dichotomy presented between intellectual and emotional intelligence in Batty, as he is shown to have an intellect rivaling that of his creator but acts in a way that would prevent him from blending in with normal humans.
The other most interesting replicant is Rachael, and how she is able to have more normal emotional responses due to her implanted memories. You can read into these characters’ actions in retrospect and come up with some interesting points to debate with others or even yourself.
Overall, this is one of those movies that is more fun to think about than actually watch. The questions raised by it are ones which humanity has been pondering for centuries and which we’ll probably never answer, but are presented from a viewpoint not often considered. The problems with its pacing and low stakes of its conflict, however, prevent me from becoming fully invested while watching it and make me question why it’s been rated as the greatest sci-fi movie multiple times. This is a good, even great picture, but certainly not the greatest.
Rating: 4/5 ★★★★