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Blade Runner

Directed by Ridley Scott with Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, William Sanderson, Joe Turkel, 115 minutes, 1982

Label of DVD of Blade Runner

DVD label for Blade Runner

By Carter B. Horsley

This science fiction movie succeeds brilliantly not only because of its remarkably imaginative art direction and superb acting, but also because of its brilliant plot and sensational score by Vangelis, one of the world's few great virtuosi of electronic music.

It is a dark, Gothic tale based on Philip K. Dick's fine novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."

Whereas "The Seventh Seal" (ranked second in Carter B. Horsley’s Top 500 Sound Films) and "2001" (ranked third) achieved their greatness by examining fundamental metaphysical questions of great import with stunning artistry, "Blade Runner" presents a rather dreary future world in which metaphysical questions are secondary to emotions that are stronger in some robots than humans, an intriguing and powerful twist.

Dystopias envision supposedly utopian worlds that are perfect in many regards but suffer from a loss of emotion or individuality and "Blade Runner," to a certain extent, takes this approach as would Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."

"Blade Runner" spurns the pyrotechnical promise of all-powerful aliens to narrow in on the psychological problems of man's inventions. It is a thriller, not a horror movie, about the urge to live of some "replicants'' programmed to live for only four years yet imbued with memories of their non-existent childhood, youth and much of their adulthood.

The movie opens with an incredible set of a vertiginous Los Angeles drenched with rain and multi-story advertising billboards. The mood is dreary and very film-noirish and we soon met the lead character, Deckard, played with laconic weariness by Harrison Ford, whose specialty is "blade running" - hunting down stray and dangerous replicants, who were created to be slaves in extra-terrestial, or "off-world," mines and who have commandeered a spaceship and returned to earth. The replicants are created with great skill to look very much like humans by the Tyrell Corporation, whose head, Tyrell, is played by Joe Turkel with quite sinister jocularity.

Ford is brought to his former boss's office by Gaff, a fellow bladerunner, but one with even less of a sense of humor than Ford's. Deckard is given a briefing and his assignment is to ferret out the remaining returned replicants at large.

Deckard visits the Tyrell headquarters and is introduced to Rachel, Tyrell's assistant, an ravishingly beautiful woman, played by Sean Young. One of the four remaining escaped replicants had been captured, but escaped. Tyrell explains that the replicants came from the latest and most advanced "batch" of replicants, and also surprises Ford by revealing that his assistant is actually an even later model replicant but that she doesn't know it yet. Ford sets out to find the escaped replicants but also has been mesmerized by Rachel, who does not know she is a replicant until later when Deckard confronts her with evidence.

Deckard manages to track down one of the replicants, Zhora, played with great sensusality by Joanna Cassidy as a snake charmer, and after a wild chase shots and kills her only to be attacked by the replicant who had escaped capture earlier. The replicant is about to shoot Deckard when he is shot from behind by Rachel, who wants to know more about herself from Deckard.

Meanwhile the other two replicants, Pris, played by Darryl Hannah, and Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, are tracking down Sebastian, played with great sensitivity by William Sanderson, one of the scientists who helped to make them. Pris is one of the most remarkable characters in film history, a great beauty in wild costume and make-up capable of great coyness and violence and acrobatics. Hauer gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the leader of this group of renegade replicants, a determined individual of immense resolve and strength - his will to live is perhaps the greatest ever shown on film, uplifting and very tragic - and he is a truly worth antagonist and villain for Ford and Tyrell.

One of the highlights of the film is the encounter by Pris and Roy in Sebastian's studio in the great Bradley Building, one of the nation's first major atrium buildings, which actually still exists in Los Angeles. His studio is filled with his inventions and toys, which predate and out-charm the animated toys of much later films like "Toy Story."

Pris and Roy know that their limited lives are drawing to a close quickly and they enlist Sebatian's support to get Roy to meet Tyrell, who likes to play chess with Sebastian. When they meet, Tyrell informs Roy that there is nothing that can be done to save them and he is brutally killed by Roy.

Deckard tracks Pris down in Sebastian’s Studio and manages to kill her but only after narrowly escaping death in a terrific fight scene with her. Roy returns to the studio while Deckard is still there and they have an incredible fight and Deckard tries to flee and is eventually saved by Roy, whose time has run out. Deckard watches him die in front of him in a wonderful scene, not without sympathy and respect and a resolve to not let the same fate befall Rachel.

Roy's death is violent but also very poetic and very moving.

The movie ends with Deckard and Rachel fleeing to an unknown fate.

A "director's cut" version was released in 1992 and it substituted some new scenes for the beginning of the film in which, in the original, Deckard provides a narration, and it also gives some hints that Deckard himself may be a replicant. Devotees of the film are divided on which is the better version.

The plot, then, is fairly simply, but the intensity of the direction and the acting coupled with the truly marvelous score by Vangelis and the very creative and atmospheric art direction of Douglas Trumbull, transport the viewer so convincingly into the story and the disenchanted future world of Los Angeles that the movie transcends its genre and style to become an epic, emotional drama of lasting and great impact.

While Ford's performance fortunately has lost the youthful exuberance of naiveté of Star Wars, it does manage to foreshadow some of the gentleness he would show in his best film, "Witness," and avoid the bravura non-sense of the Spielberg "Indiana Jones" series and his more mature performances as John Ryan in movies based on Tom Clancy's books.

Ford's performance here tries hard to adhere to the stoniness of hard-boiled film noir detectives, and is not bad, but pales in comparison with the stellar and startling performances of the rest of the cast that raise this film up tremendously.

"Blade Runner" is a very haunting experience and its soundtrack stands near the very top in its beauty and atmospheric setting. The movie compells the viewer to challenge his sense of history, perception, and human capabilities and does so without superhuman heroics.

Ridley Scott had made "Alien" the year before "Blade Runner" establishing his reputation as a great director, especially of scary science fiction movies. For afficionados of blood and gore, "Blade Runner," then was something of a let-down from the terrifying thrills of "Alien," but it is a much slower-paced work. Still, "Blade Runner" is much more profoundly moving because of its more interesting characters and because its focus is cerebral and emotional and not merely visceral.

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This film ranks 17th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films.

This film ranked 74th in the Top 250 films at the Internet Movie Data Base as of December 27, 9, 2000

Click here to order a DVD version of the director's cut of "Blade Runner" for 30 percent off its $24.98 list price from Amazon.Com

 

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