Words by Matt Poe
“Blade Runner:” A Slashing Tale
A blade runner scours the streets of dystopian Los Angeles in 2019 with one final mission to terminate four obsolete androids
Category: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated R for violence
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples/ Directed by Ridley Scott
Welcome back to another edition of Poe’s Picks. I hope to continue running editions here and there during the summer months, so after a long day out in the sun and when the last bonfire coals simmer down, you’ll still be able to unwind with a generous helping of Poe’s Picks. It’ll do you right, trust me.
This edition is the latest installment in the series of Poe’s favorites—the movies that, if the world ends tomorrow (via nuclear war, climate change or Trump), you need to make sure you see before you perish. If you have to choose between saving your cat Mr. Sprinkles and reading this blog, pick the blog. Blogs don’t walk on your table when you’re trying to eat dinner. But enough chatter; let’s have at it.
This film, ladies and gentlemen, is on the short list of my all-time favorite films and is a sci-fi classic, right up there with “Alien,” “Star Wars” (not those damn prequels) and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Give it a chance and you’ll realize how great this movie is. There’s a lot of set up here, so stay with me.
“Blade Runner” takes place in a futuristic and dystopian Los Angeles, circa 2019. People navigate the city through flying cars, the sun rarely shines through all the industrial smog and rain, and complex aliens and robots inhabit the city. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a blade runner, part detective and part hired gun. He roams the desolate streets in pursuit of a group of replicants, which are androids that look identical to humans but are stronger, usually smarter and made to work in slave-like conditions in colonies on far off planets.
This particular group of replicants—led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer)—rebelled against its colony and killed several people before escaping back to earth (Los Angeles to be exact) to find the replicant producer and tycoon Dr. Eldon Tyrell. If meeting one’s maker ever fit so accordingly, it applies to this group of dangerous criminals whose lifespan has run out. They want Tyrell to prolong their existence and will stop at nothing to do so. It’s Deckard who’s assigned one final job to find the four replicants and terminate them before they can continue to kill.
The opening scene of the movie explains much of this, so I hope my jumbled explanation hasn’t strayed you away from wanting to see it. The plot is somewhat of a classical cop-on-the-hunt film, but it’s the visuals and the execution that make this movie so damn good. Ridley Scott, who has given us such classics like the aforementioned “Alien,” “Gladiator” and, recently, “The Martian,” knows how to carve out entire worlds in his films, and he does that better than ever in “Blade Runner.” A lot of you whippersnappers may find some of the visual effects a little dated, but for a film made almost 35 years ago, it’s nothing short of remarkable. So much so, that my description doesn’t do it justice.
The casting is outstanding: Sean Young’s Rachael is played with great vulnerability and sensitivity. When we find out that she doesn’t know she’s a replicant (not spoiling too much here), we’re just as broken up about it as she is. And Hauer’s Roy Batty is one of the most underrated villains in movie history, and I say that with all seriousness. Batty is one of the most complex bad guys you’ll find in a movie, spouting Shakespearean-like passages one moment and then violently murdering someone seconds later. Plus, his baby-blues can kill on their own.
But as you suspected, this is Ford’s movie. Ford is one of cinema’s icons and his movies have garnered more money than anyone in U.S. box office history. From the late ’70s to early ’90s, no one was a bigger star than he was. What makes Ford so great, and what makes some people withdraw from his allure, is that almost all his characters seem to be a variation of each other: cocky, smart-mouthed, charming. And it doesn’t matter if he’s playing a smuggler, president, globe-trotting archeologist or detective. His role as Deckard, however, is much more subtle, and he withstands from his usual character tendencies. He commands the film but doesn’t overpower it, like he does elsewhere.
For all its visual mastery and technological beauty, what makes “Blade Runner” one of my favorite films is what it says. There’s a slight poignancy to the film that speaks about things we all can relate to, android or human: running out of time, death, meeting our maker and what our existential purpose is. When the movie came out in 1982, it wasn’t universally acclaimed. Most people expected more action from Ford and the movie itself, and were sorely disappointed when Scott opted for a slower pace. But since then, it has become an iconic movie that has spawned much discussion and influence among fans and movie geeks.
Scott has made four or five versions of the film, the best being the final cut. While it is the best version of the film, I encourage you to see the theatrical version first. Regardless, every version of the movie is thought-provoking and suspenseful. I think what this film is really about is our longing to hold onto memories. I could write 10 more pages about this movie, but I won’t. I just hope you decide to see it because it asks so many great questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? What becomes of us when our memories begin to fade?
Until next time.
In Good Movies We Trust,
Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe