Blade Runner – The Final Cut
US (1982) Dir. Ridley Scott
Los Angeles 2019 and four Nexus-6 model bioengineered beings called Replicants – Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Leon (Brion James) – have returned to earth to seek out their creator Tyrell (Joe Turkel) to extend their lifespans beyond their default four years. Retired police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is coerced by his former boss Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) to resume his role as a Blade Runner, to hunt down and “retire” the rogue Replicants.
Fresh off the success of his sci-fi horror mega hit Alien, British director Ridley Scott stays with that genre for this adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – although the story is more of a philosophical existentialist psychodrama with sci-fi elements. While it failed to match the box office success of its predecessor Blade Runner has since become a cult hit and an early example of neo noir.
Many versions of the film have been released over the years to coincide with the various changes in cinema and home viewing technology, with this digitally restored “Final Cut” released in 2007 being the only one Scott personally oversaw the handling of, which he maintains is the definitive version of his film.
With his box office status on a high following the first two Star Wars films and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Harrison Ford was chosen to play Deckard over a number of legendary names including Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood and Al Pacino after Steven Spielberg praised Ford’s work on Raiders. Unfortunately Ford and Scott butted heads quite regularly during filming resulting in this being one of Ford’s least favourite films.
Presumably Ford would also be a guaranteed draw for Han Solo/Indian Jones fans but the darker and philosophically deeper content may have put those arguably younger viewers off what was already a more adult film. Plus opening alongside ET didn’t help either.
While the story concerns Deckard’s search for the interloping Replicants, the secondary plot explores the ideal of what it means to being human when Deckard meets Tyrell’s assistant Rachael (Sean Young), an experimental Replicant who insists she is human. Deckard learns that Rachael’s memories are false implants from someone else and is ordered to retire her. Instead he falls in love with her.
Elsewhere the renegade Replicants – who have been sent “off world” to work as slaves – aren’t happy with this arrangement and believe they have the same rights to a long life as humans and seek an extension from their creator, Tyrell, who is less than welcoming to the idea and his creations. This is demonstrated early on when he rejects Rachael once she learns the truth about her memories.
It should be noted that Replicants aren’t robots – they bleed, cry and feel pain just humans do. They have their own personalities and individual physical appearances; Batty is the blonde haired blue eyed tough guy; Pris and Zhora are “Pleasure workers”, the former sporting a punk look, while Leon looks just like a typical blue collar slob.
Fitting in with the neo noir aesthetic, Rachael is the femme fatale with the big shoulder pads, neatly styled hair and aloof personality. One pervasive question that remains unanswered is whether Deckard himself is a Replicant. There are a number of clues dotted throughout to tease the more fertile imaginations, such as the unicorn dream sequence, but Scott ensures the ambiguity keeps the answers firmly at bay.
Where the film failed to score with critics is with its pacing and brooding mood, usually reserved for arthouse films, and the odd excursion into the sci-fi genre such as Tarkovsky’s Solaris, with the action being kept to a minimum. Fans of the genre are used to wall to wall action but this is a film that doesn’t deliver that.
The eventual showdown between Deckard and Batty is quite a tense and well paced ride, taking a different approach to the “big fight” with some ingenious twists that nicely play into the Replicant versus human dichotomy. Star Wars aficionados are unlikely to enjoy this if they expect to see Harrison Ford playing something akin to Han Solo while Rutger Hauer steals the show as the chilling psycho Replicant Roy Batty, setting the bar for many an ice cold antagonist to come.
Visually the film is superb and the digital remastering has helped bring out these fantastic images and exploit them to their full effect. One noticeable cavil is with the numerous product placements which feature many names of the time – such as Atari and Pan Am – that no longer have any meaning now in 2013 let alone 2019 when this was set, badly dating the film.
Creating a futuristic setting is always hard and while modern technology makes this an easier task, the 1980’s version of 21st century life is wildly exposed here along with the inclusion of the noticeable retro features which don’t seem as ironic as they should.
It’s fairly easy to see why Blade Runner was both a mainstream miss and a cult hit. It has a lot of ideas and takes an approach to an already complex tale that is ahead of its time which occasionally works against it; had it been made today it no doubt would have a made a bigger splash at the box office.