Spoilers await you in the Off-world colonies.
I’ve always been a little bit scared of reviewing this one. I know how much of a cult following it has and I count myself as a fan. Let’s set some ground rules. This is the Final Cut version from 2007, approved and edited by Ridley Scott. No voice-over narration, no forced happy-ending. That being said, I want to review this as it were the initial film all along and the only one you’d be watching. I reviewed its sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), some years back.
Blade Runner – The Final Cut (1982) was directed by Ridley Scott, who re-edited it into The Final Cut in 2007, a digital remastered version on its 25th anniversary. Its screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s original 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
We’re in Los Angeles in a dystopian, now alternate, world of 2019. The city is crowded, wet, dirty. Lovely to watch from above where only the rich and the badge-carrying police can fly, but overpopulated and slimy to traverse on the ground. A retired cop named Deckard (Harrison Ford), once part of the Blade Runner unit that hunt down bio-engineered human facsimiles known as Replicants, is called back to active duty. An advanced series of Replicants known as Nexus 6 has gone rogue, killed humans and made its way back to Earth.
After Gaff (Edward James Olmos) brings Deckard in for a reunion with his old boss Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh), Deckard reluctantly accepts this new mission. For that he must first talk to the genius techno-guru behind the Replicant creation, Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) who wants a demonstration on how Deckard can tell them apart from humans. This is the introduction to Rachel (Sean Young) and another demonstration of the Voight-Kampff detector/interrogation device that the police use to determine humanity/sentience based on emotional responses. Let’s stop here, chances are you know how the story goes. If you don’t, I envy you for having the ability to fully experience it for the first time.
The film is the template for what a future dystopia will become in the movies after it. And it’s still so claustrophobic to watch streets crowded with people, cars, bicycles. The ground is such a symbol of decay with everyday people trying to earn a living doing anything and everything. Buildings at this level are decrepit, falling apart. Even Deckard’s loft is stuffy. It is functional but small and smoky. JF Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic engineer, lives in a semi-abandoned building. More space, but hardly luxurious. His friends are toys made of other broken toys that have been discarded. It’s like he’s a discarded toy himself.
And then we have Eldon Tyrell, living at the top of a golden pyramid. He’s made his fortune on the backs of slaves made to resemble humankind. It’s very hard to empathize with him when the leader of the rogue Nexus 6, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) manages to con Sebastian into infiltrating him in. It’s a meeting between the creation and its creator, and there’s no surprise in how it turns out. Actually, the story in itself is rather linear with few surprises.
Some characters are so enthralling to be iconic. Rutger Hauer is always the one that stands out every time I rewatch this film. His depiction of Roy Batty is idealistic, charismatic and finding a flaw in his logic is almost impossible. After all, Roy was created to be enslaved for the comfort of another race. His maker has build an empire of wealth on his kin. On the other hand, Harrison Ford playing a burnt-out cop that is mostly outmatched sounds like something Ford can do with his eyes closed but this is one of his firsts. Deckard is still a more flawed, imperfect and complex character than the other heroic roles Ford was known for at the time.
So listen, there’s that scene between Deckard and Rachael that is problematic, not to mention rather predatory. Now, I did hear Rachael whisper “I can’t trust-” which could be extrapolated into her thinking she doesn’t want to trust her emotions but it’s unnecessary mental gymnastics. As much as one can argue that the idea is to build an emotionally charged scene, this is the one flaw that Ridley Scott never corrected with a reshoot.
Cinematographically, it still remains a masterpiece all those years later. It doesn’t age as much as other films do because of the timelessness of its environment. The rich play above, the poor work below. The giant corporations get huge advertisements on billboards. Lighted-up zeppelins try to sale the idea of living outside this dystopia and find paradise somewhere else. The music complements the city noises and lights. The city is an endless urban nightmare, a dark vision of hell.
There’s one more thing I want to comment on here and it’s the perennial question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant. I’ve swung both sides of this pendulum and I’m aware that Ridley Scott has given his take, which I don’t necessarily take as gospel. With all due respect I believe the movie’s subtle message is one of an ambiguous draw. Human and replicant are very closely related. It’s too close to call. In a perfect world, both races would realize they have more things in common than differences setting them apart. This is not a perfect world and that is the saddest part of it all. In this future, humanity does not accept competition. There’s a subtle commentary on intolerance inserted here, whether intentionally or not.
Strongly recommended with reservations. It’s very slow-paced. It is not action driven, despite some sparse action scenes. It’s not a happy film, which is not a bad thing but rather dystopian science-fiction at its best – which means it’s also at its most depressing. That being said, and all things included it remains a movie to be discussed, debated and bring about a lot of conversation. As someone who watched it back in my younger years, it does benefit from a revisit, with flaws and all. The world it creates remains second to none. It’s sad and terrifying but it’s so beautifully done.
That will do for now.