BLADE RUNNER is based on science fiction author Philip K. Dick's novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN, GLADIATOR), BLADE RUNNER was a groundbreaking vision of the future set in Los Angeles in 2019. A mixture of science fiction and film noir, Scott created a crowded, gritty world of perennial rain, mist, and smoke where most of humanity has fled to Off World colonies. What's left on earth are the poor, the sick, and a hodgepodge of different ethnicities and cultures all crammed together. Replicants, the next evolution of robots, virtually identical to humans, have been created as slave labor to explore hazardous new planets or serve as sex workers on Off World military bases.
With a screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and directed by Ridley Scott (only his third feature film), the original BLADE RUNNER is takes place in Los Angeles in 2019. Corporations are huge monolithic structures, almost like pyramids. Gigantic floating billboards advertise Off World colonies as well as Coca Cola, TDK, and PanAm airlines. Four Nexus 6 replicants (also known as skin jobs) have revolted from an Off World colony, stolen a spaceship, killed the crew and returned to Los Angeles seeking to find their creator and advance their four year life span. It is illegal for replicants to inhabit Earth. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired LAPD cop is pulled back into his Blade Runner Unit by his former boss Captain Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) when Deckard's predecessor Holden (Morgan Paull) is wounded by Leon Kowalski (Brion James), one of the fugitive replicants.
Deckard is assigned to retire (euphemism for execute) the four AWOL replicants, aided by the origami making Gaff (Edward James Olmos). Deckard is sent to the Tyrell Corporation to run an empathy test on Rachael (Sean Young), a Nexus 6 replicant. She's the latest model created by Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the CEO of Tyrell Corporation. Rachael doesn't know she's not human. Following a lead from Holden's interview with Leon, Deckard visits Leon's apartment looking for clues, finding strange scales in the bathtub. Meanwhile, the leader of the renegade replicants Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) sends his replicant lover Pris (Daryl Hannah) to the apartment of J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic designer who works for the Tyrell Corporation. Their plan is to coax Sebastian to help them infiltrate Tyrell Corp and meet with their maker Dr. Tyrell.
Deckard follows the scale lead to a burlesque show where Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), another of the replicants, works as a snake dancer. Deckard retires Zhora but then almost dies at the hands of Leon until Rachael appears and saves Deckard's life, killing Leon with Deckard's gun. Roy shows up at the toy filled home of J.F. Sebastian. Sebastian agrees to take Roy to the Tyrell Corporation to meet Dr. Tyrell. Tyrell's been expecting them but he tells Roy there's no way to prolong their lives. In a fit of rage, Batty kills Tyrell and Sebastian.
Deckard goes to Sebastian's apartment. He battles Pris and kills the acrobatic android. Batty returns to the apartment to find Pris dead. Batty chases Deckard around the empty building, culminating in a final showdown on the roof. Instead of killing Deckard, Batty shows the blade runner compassion and lets him live as Batty's lifespan comes to an end. BLADE RUNNER is unique in that there are actually a couple versions of how the film ends. In the original theatrical release (which I saw in 1982), Deckard and Rachael are seen fleeing in his flying police car, headed north over a snowy landscape. In the DIRECTOR'S CUT (which was discovered and released in 1992), Deckard and Rachael leave his apartment but notice a unicorn origami left by Gaff on the ground, hinting that they may not get away (more about that unicorn symbolism in a moment). The DIRECTOR'S CUT ends there.
BLADE RUNNER was a perfect summer movie in 1982, full of special effects and a visual design like none we had ever seen inspiring future films like Luc Besson's THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) and even George Lucas in STAR WARS:ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002). But BLADE RUNNER was more thoughtful, exploring deeper themes than a typical summer blockbuster. As these replicants are made to be more human like, they begin to want to be human. Genetic designers give them memory implants but they want real memories, real feelings. As Blade Runner cop Deckard becomes more and more dehumanized hunting and "retiring" these replicants, the replicants become more human. Batty feels pain and loss when Zhora and Leon are killed. Batty has feelings for Pris, they snuggle and kiss like young lovers. The replicants are fallen angels of their God, Dr. Tyrell. Some critics see Roy Batty as Lucifer, the lead fallen angel. And in the end, it's Batty the replicant, the skin job who shows compassion and mercy, letting Deckard live (granted after breaking several of Deckard's fingers). It's deep, heavy stuff for the summer popcorn crowd.
Further adding to the mystique of BLADE RUNNER was the discovery of different versions of the film. The original theatrical release from 1982 had a happier ending and a voiceover by Deckard, a Philip Marlowe detective like narration to explain the story and give it that film noir feel. Harrison Ford hated it and tried to ruin it with his rendering of the narration. Then, in 1992, Ridley Scott's Director's Cut was discovered. The narration was gone. The ending was different, more ambiguous. There's an International release of BLADE RUNNER with a little more sex and violence for foreign audiences. And most recently, director Ridley Scott oversaw what's known as BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT which is really the Director's Cut but Scott really had final artistic approval on this version, fixing up sound and picture along with the few added scenes from the DIRECTOR'S CUT.
The biggest talking point for BLADE RUNNER has always been is Rick Deckard himself a replicant. In the original theatrical version, I don't think there was any question he's human. He's a burnt out policeman with a drinking problem who hates his superiors and his job. He begins to have empathy for the replicants as the film progresses, even falling in love with one - Rachael. When Rachael saves his life, he tells her he owes her one. He won't retire her. But in the DIRECTOR'S CUT, director Scott adds a few things that suggest Deckard might be a replicant. There's a brief scene where Deckard sits at a piano. The film cuts to a unicorn running in the forest - a Deckard memory? It makes no sense until the end when Gaff leaves the unicorn origami on Deckard's front door. How does Gaff know about Deckard's memory? Has he seen Deckard's file? Is the memory an implant? The replicants are often shown with a weird light in their eyes. In the DIRECTOR'S CUT, Deckard is shown with that glow in his eyes. I will always believe Deckard is human. A replicant hunting replicants doesn't have the emotional pull like a human hunting replicants (although the sequel flips that theory).
Ridley Scott's casting in BLADE RUNNER is so good. Just as BLADE RUNNER was only Scott's third film, his cast are all fairly newcomers who would go on to nice careers because of BLADE RUNNER. Harrison Ford who had toiled earlier in his career in small supporting roles like George Lucas's AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) and Francis Coppola's THE CONVERSATION (1974) was just becoming a breakout star from STAR WARS (1977) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Deckard is a futuristic gumshoe, a jaded knight wading through the rain and muck of 2019 Los
Angeles to terminate androids that have rebelled against their creator. It's a grimmer, more restrained character than Ford's more recent swashbuckling roles. Sean Young as Rachael had just done STRIPES (1981). BLADE RUNNER was her third film when she got this important role as Deckard's artificially intelligent love interest. Young would be one of the It girls of the 80s starring in hits like Roger Donaldson's NO WAY OUT (1987) and Oliver Stone's WALL STREET (1987).
Like Young, Daryl Hannah was another fresh face in the 80s that Scott picked to play the punk replicant Pris. BLADE RUNNER was only her fourth credit. Hannah's athletic and ballet abilities suit her perfectly for the role. Hannah would go on to success as a mermaid in Ron Howard's romantic comedy SPLASH (1984) and in Herbert Ross's STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989). Rounding out the main cast is Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the leader of the mutinous replicants. With Billy Idol like spiky white hair and a childish, inquisitive delivery, Batty is captivating, alternating between wide eyed wonder and brutal retribution if his demands aren't met. BLADE RUNNER was one of Hauer's first English speaking films after appearing in numerous Dutch films like SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1977). Hauer could play both heroes and villains as American audiences would come to discover in films like Richard Donner's LADYHAWKE (1985) and Robert Harmon's THE HITCHER (1986).
Supporting characters are vital to BLADE RUNNER'S success. Veteran character actor M. Emmett Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE) as Deckard's racist supervisor, Joe Turkel (THE SHINING) as the God-like Dr. Eldon Tyrell, William Sanderson (HBOs TRUE BLOOD) as the kindly genetic engineer J.F. Sebastian, and Edward James Olmos (STAND AND DELIVER) as the enigmatic, origami shaping cop Gaff all deliver memorable performances. Although BLADE RUNNER is great, it's not a perfect film. The finale is a bit dragged out with Batty chasing Deckard around the dilapidated Bradbury building. Scott seems more focused on style over content for the ending but oh what style he brings.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the creative production team that gave BLADE RUNNER it's memorable look and texture from special effects all the way to music. Special Photographic Effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull was responsible for the awe inspiring visuals for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). But his work on BLADE RUNNER is truly ground breaking. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (ALTERED STATES) shoots BLADE RUNNER as neo-noir with swaths of light and dark mixed in with rain, mist, neon, and smoke. Syd Mead gets the credit as the visual futurist who had to imagine what 2019 might look like. He came up with Los Angeles as a cross between Tokyo, Seattle, and Detroit. Production Designer Lawrence G. Paull turned the Warner Bros back lot into the futuristic downtown Los Angeles. And composer Vangelis (CHARIOTS OF FIRE) created a melancholy, haunting synthesizer score (haunting) that evokes awe and sadness. Each artist delivers under the guiding hand of director Ridley Scott.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 brings the BLADE RUNNER story full circle. Directed by up and comer Denis Villanueva (just as Ridley Scott was up and coming back in 1982), the new film has the benefit of original screenwriter Hampton Fancher co-writing the screenplay this time with Michael Green. While BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a totally new story, Villanueva shows a reverence for the original BLADE RUNNER even bringing back Edward James Olmos (Gaff) and Sean Young (with some digital help) as Rachael to reprise their characters in small but vital scenes. Villanueva keeps the overall visual look of the original but builds from it as the story has jumped thirty years into the future.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 opens as the original did with a scrawl explaining to us that a global blackout occurred in 2022 sending the world into darkness. The Tyrell Corporation had collapsed but rising from its ashes sprung the Wallace Corporation, founded by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Wallace now produces replicants which have been incorporated into society still as slave labor (in BLADE RUNNER, replicants were banned from earth). But a replicant freedom movement exists made up of older models. Blade Runner cop K (Ryan Gosling), himself a Nexus 9 replicant, hunts down these fugitive replicants and "retires" them.
K is sent outside of Los Angeles by his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to retire a rogue Nexus 8 replicant farmer named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). After eliminating Sapper, K's drone makes an interesting discovery. A box buried beneath a dead tree next to Morton's farm. Analysis of the box reveals the bones of a female replicant. Even more stunning, the female replicant had died while giving birth to a child. Replicants were never designed to conceive. A serial number is located on one of the bones. K is assigned by Joshi to find the child and destroy the evidence. The knowledge that replicants can procreate might plunge the world into chaos and lead to a war between humans and replicants.
K visits the Wallace Corporation where Wallace's emissary Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) escorts him to audio records from the Tyrell Corporation. K traces the serial number and DNA to Rachael, an advanced replicant from the Tyrell days, interviewed by former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for the past thirty years. K's investigation leads him to suspect that he may be the child born from the replicant mother Rachael. Wallace wants the child found to learn the secret to replicant reproduction. He orders Luv to steal the bones and keep track of K's movements. K revisits Morton's farm. He finds a date etched on the dead tree that matches Rachael's death. The date also brings to surface a memory K had when he was a child. A toy wooden horse he once owned with the same date carved on it. K seeks solace with his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), the perfect 3-dimensional Siri.
K's quest will takes him to devastated San Diego where he finds a warehouse full of orphaned children (did K grow up here?) ruled by Mister Cotton (Lennie James). K finds his toy wooden horse where he remembered hiding it as a child. K interviews Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a top designer in replicant memories who confirms K's memories are real. K has the wooden toy analyzed by Doc Badger (Barkhad Abdi) who finds traces of radiation in it. This clue sends K to the nuclear wasteland of Las Vegas where K finds the missing Rick Deckard. But Luv and her men follow K and kidnap Deckard. Luv brings Deckard back to Wallace who threatens to torture Deckard if he doesn't reveal who the replicant child is. Deckard refuses. As Luv prepares to take Deckard off-world to be tortured, K intercepts her transport and fights to destroy Luv and keep Deckard and Deckard's child's secret safe.
The hook that makes BLADE RUNNER 2049 so interesting is the discovery that replicants can reproduce. Like the artificially intelligent robots in the new HBO series WESTWORLD, BLADE RUNNER 2049 and the original have always been about the desire to be human. In Tyrell's mission to make replicants "more human than human" as he tells Deckard in BLADE RUNNER, the replicant Rachael has become virtually human with the discovery she gave birth to a child. Batty, Pris, or K, the replicants seek the same things humans do: love, memories, compassion, emotion. BLADE RUNNER 2049 gives us many more replicants. Even the Blade Runner unit that tracks and hunts down replicants uses replicants (like K) to do their work now. We even learn there's an underground replicant movement led by the mysterious Freysa (Hiam Abbass).
I still feel after watching BLADE RUNNER 2049 that Deckard is human. Yes, we learn that replicants can age and grow older but I don't believe Deckard was one of those models back in 2019. I think the unicorn imagery was just a red herring that Ridley Scott threw out to tease audiences. Deckard could have had a real memory about a unicorn and it came up on his empathy test when he joined the Blade Runner unit. That's how Gaff knew about it. It's also more powerful that it was a human like Deckard who made a child with a replicant woman.
Sticking with the golden rule of sequels, if it's not broke don't change it, director Villanueva takes some of that adage to heart in BLADE RUNNER 2049. Ryan Gosling's K like Ford's Deckard takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Broken bones, knife cuts, or gunshot wounds, Blade Runner cops are like punching bags but they bounce back. Both films have strong lethal female replicants (Pris in the original; Luv in the remake) that can inflict serious pain. Ironically, Rutger Hauer who played Batty in the original and Sylvia Hoeks who plays Luv in the sequel are both Dutch. Both films have replicant creators although Dr. Tyrell comes off a little more corporate while Wallace is played more sinister, hinting he may want to take over the world with his replicant army. Although Villanueva (with the help of cinematographer Roger Deakins and Production Designer Dennis Gassner) create some amazing visual set pieces (a nuclear orange Las Vegas, giant holographic human advertisements), BLADE RUNNER 2049 never quite captures Scott's gritty street atmosphere in BLADE RUNNER.
Although we know Ryan Gosling is good at playing the strong, silent type (with that smoldering gaze) in films like DRIVE (2011) or GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), I think Brad Pitt (had he been younger) would have been perfect as K in BLADE RUNNER 2049. Gosling is fine as K, giving him a slightly naïve quality as he unravels the mystery. I like Gosling's chemistry with Harrison Ford as Deckard. But I think Pitt is better at playing morally haunted characters. The filmmakers play up the appearance of Harrison Ford as Deckard. Like Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in THE THIRD MAN (1948), we hear more about Deckard before finally setting eyes on our flawed hero from BLADE RUNNER in the last third of the film. Ford gives the sequel cache. He's at the core of the mystery and he doesn't disappoint.
Villanueva casts some fresh faces to go along with familiar actors in BLADE RUNNER 2049. Ana de Armas as K's 3-D girlfriend Joi, Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace's assistant and muscle Luv, and Mackenzie Davis (who reminds me of Daryl Hannah's Pris) as punk hooker Marietta are all compelling because we don't recognize these up and coming actresses. Villanueva mixes them in with more recognizable actors. Robin Wright as K's superior Joshi (or Madame as he calls her at times) continues her recent spate of roles as a tough chick (she recently played the Amazonian general Antiope in the 2017 version of WONDER WOMAN). It's hard to believe the sweet Wright we remember from THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987) as a cold, ruthless police lieutenant. Jared Leto as the creepy replicant creator Niander Wallace finally finds a good role after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) and following it up as the Joker in the dud SUICIDE SQUAD (2016). Even Dave Bautista who has exploded into stardom as Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY films has a small but crucial role as replicant farmer Sapper Morton. It is the discovery at Sapper's farm that propels BLADE RUNNER 2049 forward.
It's always interesting to see a film set in the future and then when we reach that year, see how accurate the filmmakers were with their vision. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel) thought man would be exploring Jupiter in 2001. That never happened but when 2001 came around we had been sending space probes to Mars and Venus that sent back photos (and Jupiter and Saturn since then). Kubrick's film did have space stations circling earth and that came true. BLADE RUNNER promised us flying cars and vacations to Off World colonies in 2019. We're only a couple of years away but so far, we don't have flying cars (although a news story this week says they're coming). We have seen the advent of driverless cars. Science is drawing closer to artificial intelligence although we don't have it in the guise of human replicants, androids, or robots. But like K's holographic girlfriend Joi, we do have Siri and Alexa to do our bidding via voice command. How accurate will BLADE RUNNER 2049 be? Let's hope we don't have any global blackouts or nuclear ravaged cities.
I was surprised when BLADE RUNNER 2049 bombed at the box office. It was critically well received and visually stunning to look at. It had an ambitious story that took the BLADE RUNNER saga in a fresh, daring direction. But the filmmakers, the studio, and even this fifty two year old CrazyFilmGuy overlooked that the sequel is thirty five years after the first BLADE RUNNER. So many young people probably had no idea what the new film was about let alone that it was a sequel. Maybe BLADE RUNNER 2049 needed to come out a few decades earlier when my generation remembered the original and hungered for more BLADE RUNNER. But time is a funny thing. Just as BLADE RUNNER became more and more beloved as the years went by, BLADE RUNNER 2049 might just need the same thing. Give it time.