Blade runner (1982) : a complete analysis
November 2019. Los Angeles. In a post-apocalyptic future, the pyramids owned by the Tyrell corporation dominates the view of the metropolis city. Under an almost total obsurity, and a plethora of rain, an abundant crowd, wishes to leaves for the space colonies, a much better place than the desolate and decadent planet Earth. The planet itself has been under nuclear wars and rain constantly pours its surface: animals cease to exists, which makes them quite pricey and in demand. In fact, Earth and its populations have been damaged greatly by nuclear war during World War Terminus. Most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. To own an animal is a sign of status, but what is emphasized more here is the empathic emotions humans experience towards an animal.
This futuristic vision was first imagined by the late and famous author Philip K. Dick, a science-fiction author who was, in my opinion as much important as people like George Orwell, Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov.
In connection with Deckard’s mission, the novel explores the question : what it is to be human ? Unlike humans, the androids possess no empathic sense. In essence, Dick probes the existence of defining qualities that would separate humans from androids.
In the novel, the story is set in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the last places affected by the radioactive dust, especially on the peninsula to the south. Androids are used only in the off-world colonies – the only colonies mentioned in the book are on Mars, although humans attempted to colonize the star Proxima – yet many escape to Earth, fleeing the psychological isolation and chattel slavery. Although made of biological materials and physically all but indistinguishable from humans, they are considered to be pieces of machinery. Bounty hunters, such as Rick Deckard, hunt and “retire” (kill) fugitive androids passing for humans. Often, the police department will collect and analyze the corpses of suspected “andys” to confirm that they are, in fact, “artificial”.
Earlier androids were easier to detect because of their limited intelligence. As android technology improved, bounty hunters had to apply an empathy test — the Voigt-Kampff test — to distinguish humans from androids, by measuring empathetic responses, or lack thereof, from questions designed to evoke an emotional response, often including animal subjects and themes. Because androids are not empathetic, their responses are either absent or feigned, and measurably slower than humans.
Their use on Earth is banned and replicants are exclusively used for dangerous, menial or leisure work on off-world colonies. Replicants who defy the ban and return to Earth are hunted down and “retired” by police special operatives known as “Blade Runners”. The plot focuses on a brutal and cunning group of recently escaped replicants hiding in Los Angeles and the burnt out expert Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who reluctantly agrees to take on one more assignment to hunt them down.
B. Philip K. Dick to Ridley Scott : From a novel to a movie
While most sci-fi writer have ideas, Dick had on the other hand something quite different: visions. In fact, all of his visions may be said to be part of a single Uber-vision, a life-long attempt to construct a picture of the world and to ask meaningful questions about it. Most of his SF novels were different takes on these visions and explorations of those questions. To say, as so many people have done (including Dick himself), that his themes are “what is reality” and “what is human”, is to touch only on the surface of the problems he was grappling with. It is necessary to understand how thoroughly Dick lived with his vision of life to know what his explorations meant, especially if one wishes to grasp their emotional center.
These visions, first written in the book “Do androids dream of electric sheep”? were to be made on the big screen by director Ridley Scott. A highly dystopian movie, using film-noir aesthetics, it didn’t fare well in its inception and release back then, but now is revered as a cult classic by aficionados of the science-fiction genre.
The film ia a leading example of the neo or film noir genre. It also brought the work of Philip K. Dick to the attention of Hollywood and several later films were based on his work, most notably Minority report and Total recall. Ridley Scott regards Blade Runner as his most complete and personal film even more so than Alien. In 1993, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Initially, the role of Rick Deckard was not to be handed out to Harrison Ford. Instead, actors such as Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Pacino, and Burt Reynolds were considered. On the other hand, the role or Roy Batty, an eerie android with a stark demeanor was casted out to Rutger Hauer directly, and Dick has said about his play that it was : the perfect Batty—cold, Aryan, flawless”. The funny thing about this role is that Hauer has totally embraced the darkness of his character and its legacy (unlike Ford who dislikes the movie and his role) : he frequently uses Youtube to answer questions with fans of the movie and uses a personal channel devoted to Roy Batty, in order to directly address the obsessed geeks of BR. (Check out the channel FilmFactoryShorts on youtube for more videos) I have had the pleasure of chatting a few lines on Youtube (What a great guy he is btw…) with Mr Hauer [one of the most underrated actors of his generation IMO if you doubt this watch the movie The Hitcher – remade with Sean Bean a few years ago – in which he plays a psychotic sociopath who goes on a killing spree]. I asked Rutger how did he managed to pull so much intensity in his role, as robots seem to blossom with so many palettes of emotions as the movie progresses, unlike Deckard who seem completely indifferent yet cold towards the aim of his mission. Hauer response was [quote]:
“It’s one of the most quintessential questions that raise the movie. What if the replicants were more humans than the humans themselves? Could you tell the difference between the two of them? I guess not. This is what BR is about for me: Pris’s pictures, her souvenirs, are what are supposed to make her human. But the truth is that it ain’t so easy to tell because Tyrell’s motto said it so: more human than human.”
Despite his well known skepticism of Hollywood in principle, Dick enthused to Ridley Scott that the world created for the film looked exactly as he had imagined in his head. He said, “I saw a segment of Douglas Trumbull‘s special effects for Blade Runner on the KNBC-TV news. I recognized it immediately. It was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly.” He also approved of the film’s script, saying, “After I finished reading the screenplay, I got the novel out and looked through it. The two reinforce each other, so that someone who started with the novel would enjoy the movie and someone who started with the movie would enjoy the novel.” The motion picture was dedicated to Dick. Sadly, he died a few weeks before the movie was released in 1982.
C. INTERPRETATIONS, AMBIENCE AND THEMES
People often ask me : « Why is Blade runner your favorite movie of all time » ? There are many reasons why BR is above all my favorite flick. I think above Vangelis music, the main raison is the atmosphere which the film embodies & conveys. Rarely have I seen a movie where the atmosphere plays not only a role, but a whole caracther in itself. It has a dark and shadowy cinematography and Blade Runner depicts a future whose fictional distance from present reality has grown sharply smaller as 2020 approaches. The film delves into future implications of technology on the environment and society by reaching into the past using literature, religious symbolism, classical dramatic themes and film noir. This tension between past, present and future is apparent in the retrofitted future of Blade Runner, which is high-tech and gleaming in places but elsewhere decayed and old.
A high level of paranoia is present throughout the film with the visual manifestation of corporate power, omnipresent police, probing lights; and in the power over the individual represented particularly by genetic programming of the replicants. Control over the environment is seen on a large scale but also with how animals are created as mere commodities. This oppressive backdrop clarifies why many people are going to the off-world colonies, which clearly parallels the migration to the Americas. The popular 1980s prediction of the United States being economically surpassed by Japan is reflected in the domination of Japanese culture and corporations in the advertising of LA 2019. The film also makes extensive use of eyes and manipulated images to call into question reality and our ability to perceive it.
This provides an atmosphere of uncertainty for Blade Runner’s central theme of examining humanity. In order to discover replicants an empathy test is used with a number of questions focused on empathy; making it the essential indicator of someone’s “humanity”. The replicants are juxtaposed with human characters who are unempathetic, and while the replicants show passion and concern for one another, the mass of humanity on the streets is cold and impersonal. The film goes so far as to put in doubt the nature of Deckard and forces the audience to reevaluate what it means to be human…
The purpose of the story as I saw it was that in his job of hunting and killing these replicants, Deckard becomes progressively dehumanized. At the same time, the replicants are being perceived as becoming more human. Finally, Deckard must question what he is doing, and really what is the essential difference between him and them? And, to take it one step further, who is he if there is no real difference?
E. CULTURAL INFLUENCE
While not initially a success with North American audiences, the film was popular internationally and became a cult film. The film’s dark style and futuristic designs have served as a benchmark and its influence can be seen in many subsequent science fiction films, anime, video games, and television programs. For example, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, the producers of the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, have both cited Blade Runner as one of the major influences for the show. Blade Runner continues to reflect modern trends and concerns, and an increasing number consider it one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. It was voted the best science fiction film ever made in a poll of 60 eminent world scientists conducted in 2004. Blade Runner is also cited as an important influence to both the style and story of the Ghost in the Shell film series, which itself has been highly influential to the future-noir genre.
The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1993 and is frequently used in university courses. In 2007 it was named the 2nd most visually influential film of all time by the Visual Effects Society.
According the British paper The Guardian, in survey among Scientifics, Blade runner is the best science-fiction movie of all time aheah of 2001 and Alien, also by Ridley Scott.
The movie displays, some for the first time a lot of product placement: corporation such as Atari, Polaroid Corporation, Marlboro, Bell Telephone Company, Budweiser, Hilton, Citizen, Trans World Airlines Coca-cola were present in the movie. A lot of the companies later folded (Atari) or struggled which led some to believe that there was a Blade runner curse!
F. MUSIC AND SOUNDTRACK
Vangelis OST is mostly a dark, melodic combination of classical composition and synthesizers which mirrors the futuristic film noir envisioned by Scott. Since the première of the film, two official albums have been released containing music omitted from the film and also new composition. This soundtrack is as bleak and electronically chilling as the film itself. By subtly interspersing clips of dialogue and sounds from the film, Vangelis creates haunting soundscapes with whispered subtexts and sweeping revelations, drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern textures and evoking neo-classical structures. Often cold and forlorn, the listener can almost hear the indifferent winds blowing through the neon and metal cityscapes of Los Angeles in 2019. The sultry, saxophone-driven “Love Theme” has since gone on as one of the composer’s most recognized pieces and stands alone as one of the few warm refuges on an otherwise darkly cold (but beautiful) score.
The sultry, saxophone-driven “Love Theme” has since gone on as one of the composer’s most recognized pieces and stands alone as one of the few warm refuges on an otherwise darkly cold (but beautiful) score.
G. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE
- In the book, humans and androids are barely different which makes them harder to track down.
- There are 3 major differences between these Androids and humans
- Replicants aren’t sensitive to human life ;
- Replicants do not not have empathy : Voight-Kampf measures that ;
- Replicants have different bone narrow
- In the book Rachel (Sean Young) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are idenditical
- The movie is set in 2019 : The book, in 1992
- The movie is in LA : The book in San Francisco.
- In the movie Deckard is divorced, in the book he has a wife, Iran
- The book has a mood organ which the humans can use to pick their humor
H. INFLUENCES OF RIDLEY SCOTT : FILM NOIR AND METROPOLIS (1927)
The Film noir is a cinematic term used to describe Hollywood crime dramas. Inspired by German expressionism, movies starring Humphrey Bogart as The Maltese Falcon in 1941 and Casablanca in 1942 are good examples. Blade Runner is a film noir in both in its style and in its themes. Film noir atmosphere usually contains dark and gloomy sights. Blade Runner is a film that evolves in perpetual rainy nights in a city devoid of clarity.
Light plays an important role and the effect of light cut through a series of horizontal blinds in BR is just a standard film noir. Several scenes in the film take place at Deckard’s place and light shows the characteristics of the genre. Also, many light beams into the streets and homes of the world of Ridley Scott creates a heavy atmosphere.
The main character of the film noir, a detective or a police officer is deeply disillusioned and addicted to alcohol or cigarettes. Deckard does not smoke but drinks a lot of alcohol in the film and initially refuses his mission. In addition, it seems very sorry to have killed his first victim, Zora (in the original version of the film, he mentions it in its narration). The detective usually encounters a femme fatale who, in the film, turns out to be different than initially presented. Rachel is in every way a femme fatale, beautiful, very cold and uncertain of her identity. The costumes of the two main characters also refer to the 40s such as Deckard coat.
Blade Runner shares a theme present in Metropolis by Fritz Lang. Indeed, both films raise the question: what characterizes a human being?
In addition, an artificial woman is the heart of the conflict between the two films. In the work of Lange, Futura is a creature diabolical and violent in the other, Rachel is a sad and lonely soul. Joh Frederson, the master of Metropolis, is the ancestor of Dr. Tyrell, who rules his empire cybernetic at the top of its tower. But Tyrell is the genius responsible for the creation of replicants making it as the equivalent of Rotwang, the mad scientist in Metropolis.
In addition, the social division as a vertical hierarchy is common to both films (the rich live high and the poor in the slums) and the use of light and spectacular scenery echoes an expressionist approach both technically and visually. All these elements can lead to a connexion affirming that Blade Runner is loosely inspired by Metropolis
Hailed as the greatest science-fiction movie of all time, Blade runner has a reputation beyond cult status and has become an iconic movie and work of art despite an awful reception in 1982. Its essence and idiosyncracy resides in its fundamental yet underlying theme that is existence in itself. What makes a human being a human being ? What if the blurred line between artificial intelligence and humans was to be so thin that one could not tell the difference anymore ? Those themes were to be used later in the Matrix and A.I. but without the depth nor the finesse of Ridley Scott’s masterful direction. To quote movie critic Roger Ebert : ”And yet the world of “Blade Runner” has undeniably become one of the visual touchstones of modern movies. The movie’s Los Angeles, with its permanent dark cloud of smog, its billboards hundreds of feet high, its street poverty living side by side with incredible wealth, may or may not come true — but there aren’t many 30-year-old movies that look more prophetic now than they did at the time..”
Blade runner is a movie that makes the audience wonders, questions, and ultimately, think. More than 30 years after its release, it’s still being cited by ambient producers, techno geeks and sci-fi afficionados. Was Deckard a replicant ? How come replicants started enjoying life more than humans ? Did Batty let Deckard lived out of compassion or because he just couldn’t destroy what he was yearning for : life ? All questions still to be answered. And part of the myth around the movie. Thanks for us, all those moments
will not be lost in time – like tears in rain…