TL;DR – The legacy of Blade Runner is not overstated, even if parts of the film have not aged well.
I continue my look into the gems of films from the past that I missed the first time round by today looking at the most topical of films Blade Runner. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey (see review), Blade Runner is one of those films that came out before I was born, so I missed it the first time around, and due to its content it didn’t get a lot replay on TV as I was growing up. Now while I haven’t seen the film before today, I have read the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? As well as this, Blade Runner has appeared in so many countdown and best of lists, and multiple parodies and had homages have been made of it over the years. So even though I have never see the film, I have seen so many separate bits that I have probably seen a decent chunk of the film over the years. So with all of this I was a bit apprehensive before sitting down and watching it, would it live up to the huge cultural impact it has had, well could anything really, let’s find out. Now before we go on just a moment of clarification, the version I saw was The Final Cut, which as far as I can tell is the cut that Ridley Scott prefers, so there is likely to be differences between this and the theatrical release.
So to set the scene, it is Los Angeles the deep distant future of 2019, oh wow, ok let’s move on because there is no joke here that Futurama didn’t already do better. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a former Blade Runner, a police officer whose job is to hunt down replicants (human-like androids) and ‘retire’ them as they are forbidden on Earth. He has not been working for the police for a while, but then six replicants commandeer a shuttle kill the passengers and crew and crash land near Los Angeles, and it is Deckard’s job to hunt them down.
One of the things I was really looking forward to was seeing some of Ridley Scott’s early work. I’ve always found Ridley Scott to be a really interesting filmmaker, when he is firing on all cylinders you get cinematic masterpieces like The Martian (see review) and even if they are movie full of really stupid people like this year’s Aliens: Covenant (see review) it is still visually interesting with an engaging narrative. What is interesting is how you can see elements of both films in here, you have some of the hard-hitting emotional beats of The Martian, whilst some of the characters act so oddly like they don’t have any self-preservation. This is but one of the many contrasts you see throughout the film.
We also see this contrast in the musical score created by Vangelis, a Greek composer that specialises in synth music. The 1980s were the heydeys for the synth musical soundtrack for movies and on the whole, they are all generally average at best, and most have not aged well at all, if they were any good, to begin with. So when Blade Runner started up and the synth started something in my automatically cringed out of habit, but boy even after all these years it still is amazing. Part of this is because the synth is used not as a crutch or a way of cutting the music budget, but as a way of helping build the world. This gives the world a texture and grittiness that you could not achieve from visuals alone, and only slips into creepy synth saxophone for a little portion of the runtime. This creates the contrast, the music is futuristic but also gives the hint of a fallen world. This contrast is also clearly seen in the beautiful lighting from Jordan Cronenweth. The interplay of light and dark is exquisite, as the smoke whips through the shafts of light, as people stay clutched to the shadows. It shows you the power of framing, and how that framing does not just have to be the camera lens.
We also see this in the set design, and all the little details they use to build the world of Blade Runner. One of the parts of the adaptation of the novel that Blade Runner really gets right is describing the dual nature of the world. It is both incredibly futuristic, yet also rundown and decrepit. It is the physical manifestation of a people that see no future in the place that they live, so why bother to keep it clear, when you are all biding your time until you can get off-world. It is this neo-noir aesthetic that might be Blade Runners biggest legacy, and you can see it everywhere, from episodes of Farscape to Ghost in the Shell to Dredd and much, much, more. It immediately immerses you in the world, excites you, but then makes you kind of never want to visit there, though if there is something that didn’t age well it was the idea that newspapers would still be everywhere. However, besides this, like 2001: A Space Odyssey the special effects actually age really quite well. Sure there are some film techniques like the slow down death scene that really dates it, and some of the flying cars look oddly quaint, but the focus on practical effect where possible really helps its longevity.
Now of all the things that maybe have not aged as well as the rest of the film is some elements of the story. One of the changes from the novel to the movie is changing Zhora Salome (Joanna Cassidy) from an opera singer to a striper. From the framing of the scenes, to Deckard’s weird creeping, to her outfit, it is all there to sexualise the scene. As well as this, for a replicant that was designed to be tactfully intelligent, it feels really odd that she would keep on her same outfit that is so different from everyone around her, allowing Deckard to clearly follow her. We also see that in the quite creepy relationship between Deckard and Rachael (Sean Young), which culminates in Deckard declaring “I want you” … yer …
That being said, bar the start of the film that jumps around, Ridley Scott shows a depth hand at managing tension. We see the Voight-Kampff machine being set, we focus in on the pupil of the eye, and then the questions start. All throughout the sequence, we know something is wrong, but what, however even with all this build up the gun being pulled out happens so quick that if you happened to blink at the wrong moment, you’d have missed it. It is also a film that understands the power of symbolism from the unicorn, to the environment, even religious symbolism peppered throughout.
Overall, I found Blade Runner fascinating, it is a touchstone for so much of the iconography we see in films today. As well as this, if you haven’t seen it, it might be a good idea to give it a watch before you see Blade Runner 2049 to give you a bit more context to the world and the themes. Either way, Blade Runner earns its moniker as one of the pillars of modern science fiction and you should watch it just for that.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Blade Runner
Directed by – Ridley Scott
Screenplay by – Hampton Fancher & David Peoples
Based on – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Cinematography by – Jordan Cronenweth
Edited by – Ray Lovejoy
Music By – Vangelis
Starring – 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
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; NZ: M; UK: 15; USA: R