Still One of the Best of All Time
35 years have passed since Blade Runner was first released in theaters, and while it was never met with much box office success, it has since been re-released as the first-ever “director’s cut” and again in the form of a digitally remastered “final cut.” With the alterations that director Ridley Scott was able to make to the film, it quickly grew to cult classic status and was eventually considered a modern-day masterpiece that has heavily influenced science fiction ever since. Based on a dark, stunning vision of the future, Blade Runner exhibits an intense melding of genres while presenting a number of philosophical quandaries alongside social commentary about the potential future society might face.
While there have been a number of movies that have successfully blended different schools of film to create vivid new cinematic concepts, Blade Runner stands as a shining example of this concept. It fluidly mixes the two visually unique genres of film noir and science fiction, creating an amalgam that captures the audience’s imagination without overpowering the thematic elements of the story. If anything, they only intensify it. Ridley Scott injects the film with dark, smoke-filled rooms pierced by slivers of light from Venetian blinds that seem to line every window.
While he’s always been a director that has paid special attention to the concept of chiaroscuro in his shots, this movie feels like it’s more about the shadows than the lighting. Blade Runner seems to take place in a world of perpetual night, routinely afflicted by heavy rains that fill the streets with a constant sea of umbrellas. Then there’s the hero, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who, in true noir fashion, finds himself decked out in an overcoat reluctantly accepting a job that will prove to be more than he ever expected. Along his journey, he falls for a neo-femme fatale, played by Sean Young, who instead of distancing herself through seductive manipulation simply embodies a taboo that Deckard at first can’t bring himself to break.
By the end of the film, Deckard finds himself where all great noir heroes usually do: with nothing to show for his efforts. However, Scott didn’t want him to get away completely unscathed. Instead, he gives Deckard a revelation about the beings he has spent his career hunting down and “retiring,” placing a heavy weight of uncertainty on the character’s shoulders. At the conclusion, it can be argued that he either loses himself or gains enlightenment, neither of which is an easy concept to accept.
Scott uses Blade Runner as a canvas on which to paint his cyberpunk vision of the future, which offers an incredible look at the direction society was heading at the time. The world is filled with buildings that all seem to block out the sun, covered with giant screens telling people to “Enjoy Coca-Cola.” At the top of these monolithic skyscrapers live the likes of Eldon Tyrell, figurative gods among men who have literally become the makers of new life in the form of the Replicants.
Down on the streets in the guts of society is a melting pot of languages and cultures. Perhaps the most vivid example can be seen in the character Gaff (Edward James Olmos), a man who speaks a combination of languages throughout the film, with hints of Korean, German, French, English and a number of other dialects popping up in every sentence.
Mostly, though, it is the dark vision of the future that Scott paints stands out, a world where night and day blend together with only a haze to suggest that there even is a sun. In the entire film, a blue sky can only be seen for a minute peaking through the storm clouds. It is this darkness that reflects the philosophical uncertainty that Blade Runner stirs up in audiences as it asks, what exactly makes a human a human?
With a screenplay loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick, the film takes a look at the advancement of artificial intelligence and questions what qualifies someone as being alive or even human, asking just because someone or something wasn’t born human, is it incapable of achieving humanity? It also ties together strong existential themes regarding the acceptance of death and living in fear. The Replicants Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Leon Kowalski Brion James) both accuse Deckard of living in fear, a concept that was explored in depth by Nietzsche. Another theme in the film revolves around the concept of memories, as Roy Batty focuses on the fact that all the things he’s seen in his short life will be lost forever once he’s gone, leaving no proof of his existence.
Blade Runner not only offers a stimulating storyline but it also successfully raises so many questions for the audience without distracting from the plot or talking down to the audience. This is the reason that it slowly managed to win over so many viewers. It focuses on universal themes that speak to the human condition and touches on doubts everyone can identify with. This is why Blade Runner so accessible yet so unique that it has rightfully earned the respect that comes with being a modern day masterpiece.