I have always thought of myself as seriously lacking in classic movie intake, having never seen films like Raging Bull, Apocalypse Now or a slew of others…including Blade Runner. Oh sure, I’ve seen bits and pieces while flipping through TV channels, but I’ve always disliked commercials in my films, so I’ve always kept going.
Today, I decided to decrease that classic movie deficit by watching what most consider to be one of the penultimate sci-fi flicks. Ridley Scott’s dystopian future epic Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young. Weaned as I was on action flicks like Commando (1985) and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), would this sci-fi classic be a little slow for my tastes? Or would I be as enraptured by the film as so many others?
Harrison Ford never intended to be an actor. As most know, he was a carpenter when he got picked for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), and since that film’s success, he’s never looked back. In Blade Runner, his unusual comfortableness in front of the cameras is the same as ever. That’s true even so soon after his unprecedented success as Han Solo. There are a lot of great actors out there, but Ford is one of only a few that gives the viewer the impression that not only is he not aware if the cameras are rolling, he couldn’t care less either way. His whole devotion is to his character, and all he wants to do is perform that to the best of his ability – whether anyone is watching or not.
With Blade Runner, he takes on a darker role, portraying a character as worn down as his dystopian surroundings. Pulled out of retirement against his will, he’s forced back into a duty he no longer has the heart for. He grudgingly accepts things for the greater good he no longer feels a part of. As the situation becomes more complicated, his struggle to belong is as much a part of the story as is the hunt he is on. The viewer will stay tuned to see how both turn out.
Sean Young, usually emotionally distant, finally finds a part that seems tailor-made for her in Blade Runner. Her uncertainty is palpable, but her teary breakdowns seem forced. Thankfully, they are meant to be, as she is supposed to be struggling with emotions completely foreign to her. When tears well up in her eyes, the viewer can easily imagine it’s the first time she’s ever shed a tear – and, coincidentally enough, it actually is. It’s hard to play an unemotional character verging on a self-induced nervous breakdown, but Sean Young does the job admirably.
Rutger Hauer plays the villain of the pic, the de facto escapee’s ringleader Roy, and does so with the same unfeeling villainy viewers have seen from him time and again. Since he’s basically a humanoid robot, however, that unfeeling coldness that seems to resonate from him actually works to his advantage for most of the film. Unfortunately, he tries to replace that chill with a sort of manic temperament later on in the film. Unfortunately, it’s in these pivotal moments that he has a hard time connecting with the audience. Director Ridley Scott tries to give him all sorts of various props to work with, But even as he caresses a white dove – a creature that evokes a sense of freedom, peace and goodness from most viewers – the viewer is a bit skeptical at his odd breakdown at first, just as much as Deckard is.
While the cast contains familiar faces galore, including Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson and Edward James Olmos. Their characters are merely a backdrop for Deckard’s quest to find both the replicant ringleader and his own place in the world.
The storyline starts off simplistic, but director Ridley Scott does a good job of turning that simplistic base storyline into a film that does a good job of both delivering a sci-fi drama and leaving it up to the viewer to answer a lot of the questions the film merely hints at. While this apparently meant that more versions of the film could be made (along with this theatrical cut, there is also a Director’s Cut and a Final Cut available), it also delivers a movie that viewers will want to keep thinking about afterward.
Ridley Scott turns this noir piece into so much more though, thanks to some fine-tuned visuals. Each and every scene showcases a bleak dystopian future that teems with people and shows evidence of some technological breakdown at some point in the past. This vision stays intact even 30 years after Blade Runner was made thanks to the obvious age of the equipment being used. Without using computers – and relying on relics of the long ago past including a bellow to power the equipment, Scott wisely created a vision that couldn’t be disturbed by age.
With the haunting refrains of Vangelis serving as a backdrop, Blade Runner, with a basic storyline that still gives the viewers something to think about, a few solid performances and a fully realized vision of a dystopian future, it’s no wonder it’s still considered the quintessential sci-fi flick. While viewers today may crave a bit more action at times, it has withstood the test of time and is still enjoyable.
The ending is a bit gimmicky in the theatrical version, but with both a Director’s Cut and a Final Cut out there (at least one of which has a different ending, or so I’ve been told), there’s still plenty of Blade Runner left to discover and enjoy.