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Blade Runner

Entry updated 21 February 2022. Tagged: Film.

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Film (1982). Blade Runner Partnership-Ladd Co.-Sir Run Run Shaw/Warner. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K Dick. Cast includes Harrison Ford, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, William Sanderson and Sean Young. 113-117 minutes, depending on version. Colour.

In a future Los Angeles (see California), Rick Deckard (Ford), whose job it is to destroy renegade "replicants" (Androids), has to hunt down a particularly dangerous group of advanced androids designed as slaves (see Slavery); their anger against humanity is all the greater because they have been given only a very limited lifespan.

The screenplay and the film itself went through a number of stages, with Peoples radically rewriting Fancher's original script only to see much of his filling-out material lost. Some important themes from Dick's book survive in a mystifying way: it is never explained in the film that most healthy humans have emigrated off a Pollution-ridden Earth – though the prematurely ageing Robotics expert, Sebastian (Sanderson), is meant to be one of the sick ones that stayed home; nor is the destruction of nearly all animal life explained – most surviving animals being artificial – though references to it are made throughout, notably in the android empathy test, where lack of sensitivity to animal life is a key clue to the androids' supposed lack of real feeling. The numerous cuts of the film are essentially minor variations on three main versions: (i) the workprint version, originally shown to preview audiences only, but given a limited theatrical release following its chance rediscovery in 1990; (ii) the studio version, with new voiceover and happy ending grudgingly added for release; (iii) the unicorn version, without voiceover or post-getaway scene, but including the bizarre unicorn reverie which seems to confirm that Deckard himself is a replicant. (Scott was firm on this notoriously contested point; Ford and producer Michael Deeley roundly rejected it; Fancher wanted it to be ambiguous; Peoples had Deckard understand himself as a merely metaphorical replicant, escaping into a belated true humanity.) The last is now the authorized version, first seen in a now-lost preview cut, but only released to audiences with the misleadingly branded Blade Runner: The Director's Cut of 1992 (actually an edit by other hands adding the unicorn sequence to a tidied-up recreation of the workprint version) and definitively realized in Scott's own digital Blade Runner: The Final Cut of 2006, which like its predecessor also restores some of the more brutal sequences seen originally only in the UK/Europe release.

A box-office and critical disappointment on its original release, Blade Runner has many narrative flaws, and its central performances have not aged as well as the supports, but it remains one of the most important sf movies made. The density of information given right across the screen in the future setting (production designer Lawrence Paull, visual consultant Syd Mead, special-photographic-effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, with Scott himself being primarily responsible for the look of the film) is extraordinary, showing almost for the first time – though fans had spent years hoping – how visually sophisticated sf in film form can be. Blade Runner's film-noir mise-en-scène, with its ubiquitous advertisements (see Advertising) and rain, its Los Angeles dominated by an oriental population, its punk female android (Hannah), its high-tech traffic alongside bicycles, its steam and smoke, its shabbiness and glitter cheek-by-jowl, is film's first (and still best) precursor of the movement shortly to be dubbed Cyberpunk. Though far less commercially successful than Scott's previous sf film, Alien, Blade Runner is much more ambitious and rewarding, particularly in the restored versions, and is especially interesting in its treatment of the central theme: whether "humanity" is something innate or whether it can be "programmed" in – or, indeed, out.

An epic documentary, Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner (2007), is included with later DVD releases and has also been shown in a much shortened television cut. The long-delayed sequel is Blade Runner 2049. [PN/NL]

see also: BSFA Award; Cinema; Hugo; Music; Post-Holocaust.

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