Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced Robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant.
The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them.
Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.
After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death.
Special police squads – BLADE RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant.
This was not called execution.
It was called retirement.
“Blade Runner” is a movie that announces its impending awesomeness with authority.
Beyond the opening scroll quoted above, the opening shot of the movie is of the lights of the future city of Los Angeles, with flying craft coming and going. This is followed by a shot of the city lights reflected in an eye. It’s artistic, it’s creative, it triggers the imagination. You instantly feel this is a Director who has his fastball working. It’s not just this eye lighting up, it’s ours.
After the flyby of the city at night – and in the world of “Blade Runner”, it’s always some shade of night – we’re shown an interview scene, where an employee, Leon, is being given a psychological test. The questioner smokes. The room is dark.
I’ve removed Leon’s interjections, and done a little editing so you can get the feel for the test…
“You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down and you see a tortoise, Leon. It’s crawling towards you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise on its back, Leon. The tortoise lays on it’s back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping.”
“What do you mean, I’m not helping?!”
Leon looks as if his head might explode as the question is read to him. His eyes are bugging out and his head is nervously twitching, as if you can see the shaking from the circuits frying-out within his skull.
Welcome to the world of “Blade Runner”. A neo-noir movie that’s part detective story, part love story, and pure science fiction. Flying craft take people through the dark, rainy city of Los Angeles, 2019. Pyramids and cylindrical skyscrapers are the architectural choice of this future metropolis. Flame spouting smokestacks line the cityscape. Plasma jumbotrons flash commercials like a citywide Times Square. The denizens of 2019 L.A. walk and bike the wet, neon lined streets of a futuristic Chinatown.
But they’re not all human.
Our friend Leon failed his test. It was a test designed to elicit an emotional response which Replicants are not programmed to provide. Leon managed to escape, however, by killing his interviewer. Now he’s on the run along with three other Replicants.
Rick Deckard, a Blade Runner, is called in to track them down.
Deckard, to me, is every bit as great a Harrison Ford character as Han Solo, or Indiana Jones. There’s a reason that Ford is one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history and it’s on display here, in spite of his legendary conflicts with Ridley Scott during filming. Deckard is tired. Reluctant. Lonely. He does his job begrudgingly at best. But he’s sharp, he’s clever. And above all, tenacious. He’s as distinctive and memorable to me as any of Ford’s other creations.
Deckard is sent to give the psych exam that Leon failed to a NEXUS 6 Replicant at the Tyrell Corporation headquarters. That way, he’ll know what to look for if he has to administer the test later.
“More human than human” is the Tyrell Corps’ motto, and indeed, the replicant Deckard is sent to test is so “human” it doesn’t even realize it’s a Replicant. She’s the lovely Rachael, played by Sean Young in her achingly beautiful prime.
Rachael has been given memories. Artificial memories. She believes herself to be human.
Her memories are not her own however. Deckard knows them. He callously throws them in her face, unconcerned as to how it might affect her. She’s a “skin job”. Deckard “retires” “skin jobs” for a living. Why should he care what she feels? Technically she’s not even feeling.
And yet, he does care. Soon after he heartlessly shatters her illusions, he begins to feel remorse. Or is it more than that?
He had better figure it out. Rachael has been added to his list of assignments.
Deckard has more to worry about than just Rachael, however. He still has to deal with Roy Batty, the alpha dog of the NEXUS 6 replicants he’s hunting.
Batty, shockingly to me, is not widely considered amongst the greatest villains of all time. Perhaps because Blade Runner is still somewhat of a cult film.
He first appears clenching his fist and ruminating about time. He quotes (or misquotes depending on your perspective) William Blake, and is fond of chess. Batty is Frankenstein’s monster, the prodigal son and Lucifer fell to earth all at once. He desires longevity and freedom, but at the same time, despises his creator. He is physically superior to humans, yet cursed with a four year lifespan.
Batty is both a dangerous maniac and a sympathetic victim simultaneously. It’s a contradiction that might seem impossible to achieve, but Rutger Hauer accomplishes it. He has a psychotic intensity in his performance, yet the character is given such STRONG motivations that it’s easy to question whether you should actually be rooting FOR him.
I mean, what lengths would you go to to stay alive? If you were hunted? If you had an expiration date? How far would YOU go?
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.
The dichotomy of Roy Batty is on full display in the film’s incredible finale. But “Blade Runner” isn’t finished… It still has one of the greatest denouements in film history up its sleeve.
With the simple placement of an origami unicorn, it poses the question, “Is Deckard himself a Replicant?”
Mind blowing. Mind blowing!
Although “Blade Runner” was a commercial flop when initially released, it gained an enormous cult following on home video. Over the years, several versions have been released, including the 2007 “Final Cut”, which is the only version to date over which Ridley Scott had complete control (and is THE version to watch) “Blade Runner” narrowly made AFI’s top 100, 10th anniversary edition (97th). It’s been preserved by the Library of Congress and The National Film Registry.
Scott has crafted a masterpiece here unlike any other. I don’t even care that it took him 25 years and 75 versions to do it.
Also of note in the movie is incredible, unique, evocative score by Vangelis. Ragtime era bluesy piano with Rachel and Deckard. Strange, long held, shifting synthesizer chords for the City. It’s every bit a boon to this movie as the Godfather’s score is to it, or the Star Wars score is to it.
In my opinion, “Blade Runner” is such a great film that it could potentially be considered the greatest film of all time in TWO different genres, Sci-Fi and Neo-Noir. It’s a fantastic movie WITHOUT any further analysis, but it’s one that’s practically impossible to watch without contemplating the themes presented. It practically begs interpretation. What DOES it mean to be human? What qualifies as life? What do creators owe their creations?
And above all, especially if you ascribe to Deckard as replicant, How can we be certain of our own reality?
Without a doubt, “Blade Runner” is a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.