When it comes to seminal works of science fiction of the 1980’s, Blade Runner remains high on the list of both fans and critics. Released several times over in both cinemas and home video, there have been multiple versions of this film over the years. For the intent of this review, however, the 1982 theatrical cut will be discussed.
Blade Runner is primarily a science fiction film, but it also has roots as both a detective story, a cyperpunk thriller, and a classic example of film noir. In the not so distant future of 2019, humanity coexists with corporate manufactured synthetic humanoids called “replicants” that are designed to work at various off-world colonies. Because these replicants have gone rouge, a special task force called “blade runners” are dispatched to “retire” these rogue androids.
Rick Deckard is one such agent, having left his blade running days behind him. However, when a group of replicants return to Los Angeles, Deckard is pulled out of retirement/threatened to comply in order to put the remaining androids out of commission. Hiss mission and personal beliefs are compromised, however, upon meeting the mysterious Rachael.
The hunt for these replicants are only part of Blade Runner’s story. Deckard not only must track down the four androids (Leon, Zhora, Pris, and their leader, Roy Batty), but must make hard decisions about Rachael’s fate, while learning more than expected as to what a life is valued as.
It’s these moral and philosophical questions that make Blade Runner such a compelling story. The exploration of this futuristic Los Angeles looks lived in and gritty, with a well-defined tangible “universe” built into its narrative, and evolutions of culture and language. There are also multiple nods to companies such as Atari and Pan-Am (of which there is a real-world running joke that all of the featured company endorsements “cursed” the companies into financial issues and/or closures).
Two of the most standout aspects of the film are the striking visual style and the haunting music. Even today, the special effects, vehicle, architecture and equipment designs hold up well, and don’t look dated. The moody, synthesizer driven music by Vangelis is one of the better sci-fi soundtracks out there, sounding both pulp detective and futuristic at the same time. The film also makes heavy use of symbolism. Some are more subtle than others in their reveal.
The excellent cast rounds out the film, with Harrison Ford playing the cynical, wearied Deckard, and Sean Young’s femme fatale portrayal of Rachael makes her both mysterious and vulnerable. Other highlights include a young Daryl Hannah as a “pleasure model” replicant that grows progressively more insane as the film continues, William Sanderson as the gifted, but childlike J. F. Sebastian, and the psychotic, but soulful Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer. Hauer improvised many of Batty’s speeches, making the replicant more sympathetic of a character that fights purely for the motivation of wanting more life to live.
Blade Runner is more of a slow-paced film, methodical in its meticulously created world. While there are several action scenes, conflicts are usually quickly resolved to again refocus on the aspects of what drives humanity and the value of life.
Blade Runner is a “thinking” science fiction film that, depending on which version you watch, can be interpreted in multiple ways. It’s a dark world that promotes a grim future, but its most poignant moments of light come from observing characters trying to fill the emptiness found from own personal existences.