Ridley Scott’s timeless science-fiction masterpiece Blade Runner is amongst the greatest films of all time – a timeless Science-Fiction landmark, continuing to inspire legions of filmmakers, writers and Video Game designers alike, a full 36 years later.
Aided by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples’ eclectic screenplay, Greek composer Vangelis’ chill-inducing soundtrack, and Jordan Cronenweth’s inspired cinematography, Blade Runner challenges viewers to reflect on the pertinent, philosophical and societal questions that it puts forward, well beyond the final frame.
The Making of Blade Runner
In 1968, a full 12 years before Ridley Scott would begin production on his own, definitive take on the source material, acclaimed director Martin Scorsese was initially interested in adapting Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into film before abandoning plans to do so, leaving the film in development limbo for over a decade.
Eventually, on February the 21st, 1980, Scott joined the project, the second time in which he’d been approached with the idea. Coming onboard to direct what would become David Lynch’s Dune in early 1979, Scott declined offers to develop screenwriter Hampton Fancher’s 1977 draft of the Blade Runner script. Months later, Dune’s troubled production, along with the recent passing of his older brother Frank, had driven him to quit, reconsidering earlier plans to tackle the adaption.
Screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who had reportedly written the script with Robert Mitchum in mind for the character of Rick Deckard, also considered actors Dustin Hoffman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and Clint Eastwood, according to production documents.
While finding the right actor to portray the role of grizzled protagonist Rick was reportedly an arduous process, finding the right man to play the film’s main antagonist – Roy Batty – was very much the opposite.
Ridley Scott had envisioned the late Rutger Hauer as Batty from the outset, impressed with his performances in films such as Katie Tippel, Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange. As a result, he was cast without even first meeting Scott, a risk that paid off in dividends, not least considering that Philip K. Dick himself thought of Hauer’s “cold, Aryan” depiction as “flawless”.
Blade Runner received mixed reviews upon release, with much of the criticism aimed at the film’s slower pace, with one review from Sheila Benson, then working at the Los Angeles Times, unflatteringly dubbing the film “Blade Crawler”. Some also critiqued the film for not quite being as advertised, a fast paced action-adventure film. Legendary critic Roger Ebert praised the film’s visuals, but believed that the film was lacking in other departments.
Despite the mixed critical reception on release, Blade Runner would prove to stand the test of time. More than 10 years after release, critics Janet Maslin and Chris Rodley argued that Blade Runner had had a direct impact on both Cinema and culture at large.
Rick Deckard: Replicant In Disguise?
As any dedicated fan of Blade Runner knows well, one of the more talked-about aspects of the film is the question of whether or not protagonist Deckard is actually a replicant himself.
When Deckard appears to sport glowing and reflective eyes in one very specific scene, we are teased with the possibility that he may actually be what he is hunting, which if true, is a situation similar to that of Agent K (played by Ryan Gosling) in Blade Runner 2049.
The strongest suggestion however, that he is a replicant, comes from the enigmatic origami seen toward the end of the later-released Final Cut, where Deckard dreams of a unicorn running through a forest. A unicorn, a mythical creature most often used in fantasy narratives, is the allegory for Deckard’s past, a fictional narrative, implanted in his design to deceive him.
While the above theories may be accurate, others – including myself – are of the opinion that the question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant remains more pertinent than its answer. The narrative of Blade Runner works far better if Rick truly is human for a number of reasons, for one being that the narrative asks far more philosophical and thought-provoking questions if he is.
For example, when Deckard first undermines his predisposed hatred towards replicants and accepts his adoration for Rachael, he breaks free from his barriers, similar how Roy and Rachael also defy their pre-determined roles as replicants. Perhaps the best way to answer the question of whether Deckard truly is a replicant is by using the answer given by him in Blade Runner 2049, when Agent K (Ryan Gosling) asks him if his dog is real or synthetic: “I don’t know, ask him”. It is impossible to truly know (aside from a cursory Google search) whether Deckard actually is a replicant, nor does it actually matter, for by the end of the film there seems to be no clear difference between human and replicant, only what both are made from.
Like Tears In The Rain
One of film’s most prevalent themes is the preservation and destruction of one’s identity. Released in 1982, Blade Runner couldn’t have come at a more bitingly relevant time. The 1980’s saw the the birth of what we now know as the ‘Information Age’, a time in which regular brick-and-mortar industry was slowly being made irrelevant, threatened by the rise of sleeker, cheaper robotic machinery.
Rationally, those in the working-class had begun to fear for their livelihoods, faced with the threat of unemployment or worse – a total loss of identity. These worries are mirrored in Blade Runner, with several characters having their pre-determined identities taken from them.
Firstly, Deckard’s role as a Blade Runner is confused on the count of becoming enamoured with Rachael, a replicant – while Rachael’s identity is destroyed entirely on the discovery of that revelation. Finally, Roy’s identity is thrown into chaos after saving Deckard during the climax, where he demonstrates the very human quality of mercy, leaving nothing to distinguish him from being human.
As of this past Friday, we have finally caught up to the futuristic, dystopian nightmare of Blade Runner‘s 2019. Despite the world today being a far less desolate place than which was predicted, the lessons that it teaches us – including the dangers of all-consuming corporate greed, global warming, and misinformation – become ever the more prescient as time goes on.