“If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes…”
This might just be my favourite film of all time, a film of unparalleled depth and cinematic ingenuity, so it only makes sense for this to be the film I kick off the ‘Favourite Films’ posts with.
Released in 1982, Blade Runner is largely based of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s directed by Ridley Scott, the acclaimed director of iconic classics like Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and the more recent (and controversial) Prometheus. Blade Runner takes place in 2019, set in the dystopian city of Los Angeles which is dominated by ‘mega-corporations’ such as the Tyrell Corporation which is responsible for the creation of ‘replicants’. A replicant is identical in appearance to a human being, but are superior in terms of physical strength, agility, and intelligence. Used for dangerous work on Earth’s outer colonies in space, replicants are banned on Earth – though some find their way back and have to be hunted down by special police units known as ‘Blade Runners’.
Harrison Ford plays the role of the film’s protagonist, Rick Deckard, a ‘burnt-out’ Blade Runner who is contracted to do one last job – track down the illegal Nexus-6 replicants and “retire” (not ‘kill’, as replicants are not recognised as actual people) them. They only have a lifespan of 4 years and have come to Earth to find a way to lengthen the amount of time they have to live.
It’s difficult to talk about this film with any kind of brevity because there is just so much to it. I had the pleasure of studying the novel that this film is based on for my A-levels and, while there are a number of significant differences between them (including a whole religious/alternate reality subplot), both are outstanding works of literary fiction. The cyberpunk world combined with its film-noir atmosphere and characterisation, as well as the thematic exploration of the morals surrounding scientific advancement through creating life which is achieved through the narrative structuring of ancient Greek dramas, all combines to create a world and a story that is so layered that by peeling away one part of the narrative you discover that it branches out a dozen times over into different themes and aspects of symbolism.
One of my favourite parts of the film is when a game of chess is played between Sebastian and Tyrell.
This scene echoes a historical 19th Century chess match known as the ‘Immortal Game’ due to how boldly one player sacrificed his pieces – the rooks, bishop and queen – and won the game by checkmating his opponent with pawns. This can be interpreted on multiple levels in the film, as the pawns appear to represent the replicants in their bitter struggle against humanity. The pawns are made to be picked off one-by-one with their sole aspiration being to get to the other side of the board and become a queen, the same way that Roy Batty, the central antagonist, has come to Earth to seek a way to prolong his lifespan. I wish I could say more about what follows this scene and how uncomfortable it is to watch, it makes modern horror films look like an episode of The Tweenies in comparison… You’ll just have to watch it for yourself, and if you don’t then you’re missing out on one of the greatest, most iconic films that defined a genre.
In fact, Blade Runner‘s artistic style and influence carries on to this day. In 2011, Eidos Montreal’s game Deus Ex: Human Revolution was released as a prequel to their original game released 11 years prior. The themes of transhumanism, blurring the lines between man and machine, mega-corporations controlling humanity’s future and so on form the basis of the game’s story and the art direction borrows heavily from Ridley Scott’s classic.
And you just can’t talk about Blade Runner without bringing up the music. Composed by Vangelis (or, if you want his real name, Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou), the music is a huge part of what made Blade Runner so different from just about any other film in its time and is still weirdly unique today. It’s an odd hybrid of both classical composition and synthesizers which creates this almost indescribable sound, but it’s… good. It manages to construct such an amazing atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re in the future, there are some very sort of jazzy overtones which is where the film-noir element comes into play. It gives life to every moment it’s in, it’s highly demonstrative of how you don’t need to have mountains of expository dialogue in order to tell the story, but instead conveys everything to you through what you see and the music you hear.
Not really sure what else I can say without majorly spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen the film. It’s really just not worth spoiling because it’s the kind of film you have to actually sit down and think about from start to finish. You have to see how Deckard is gradually dehumanised as he picks off the replicants while the replicants themselves become perceived as more and more human, you have to see how Deckard comes to question the difference between “us and them” and is made to ask “who am I if there is no difference?” Philip K. Dick evidently had a thoroughly thought out idea here when he put pen to paper and that depth of meaning translates beautifully into Blade Runner. You may well end up asking yourself whether Deckard himself is a replicant, and there’s plenty of substantial hints to let you argue both ways – but that’s perhaps another post for another time.
In short, watch this film. It’s amazing and, as humans, we generally like amazing things. Get the Final Cut, it’s only a fiver on Amazon, sit down at night with a warm beverage and enjoy [what I personally view to be] Ridley Scott’s magnum opus.