A Look Back at Blade Runner and the Future in Noir

For years, I’ve heard how amazing Blade Runner is, but I never sat down and watched the darn film until recently. I did make an attempt to read the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired it, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but found the book dry and listless for my tastes. So I’ve been looking forward to this chance to watch and review this movie just to see how that story could be done right.

In 2019, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a detective in Los Angeles who’s received his latest assignment from the police: to track down and “retire” four rogue androids posing as humans, known as Nexus 6 replicants. Complicating his job is Rachel, a replicant with artificial memories of life as a human who comes to Deckard for help and a little romance. Meanwhile, the replicants’ ringleader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) orchestrates his own plot from the shadows, killing anyone who stands in the way of extending his 4-year lifespan and achieving true greatness in a bleak world.

Copyright © 1982 by Warner Bros.
Copyright © 1982 by Warner Bros.

I always knew this movie was good, but it wasn’t until I watched the whole thing that I realized just how good it is. Here are some of the cool things I picked up along the way.

A new breed of film noir

Blade runners like Deckard are a blend of film noir detectives and contemporary psychiatrists. While most of the story involves Deckard chasing down leads in the streets and back alleys like your classic hardboiled hero, he’s also trained to run Voight-Kampff tests on his target’s level of empathy. Even when he talks to Rachel about childhood, it’s a fine line between hearing a bitter man of the law and a professional trained in psychology.

Visually, we don’t see the movie in classic black-and-white, but in a new contrast altogether. With glaring lights filtered through deep shadows, the film gives off the same atmosphere of moral ambiguity and mystery, but with lighting that’s better suited to the neon advertising signs of Deckard’s LA than the smoky streets of Sam Spade’s San Francisco.

Cyberpunk style for the silver screen

Since William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer helped lay the foundation for the cyberpunk genre, it was easy for me to spot all the cues that this movie takes from cyberpunk. LA in 2019 is a classic version of “The Sprawl” from Gibson’s books, complete with assimilated Asian culture, heavy signs of urban decay, and a sense of dominance by companies like the Tyrell Corporation. There’s even the common sci-fi theme of advanced AI viewed with suspicion, given the backstory about dangerous replicants and how quickly the police will take them out. It doesn’t matter if that AI is designated Wintermute or Roy Batty.

A solid performance by Harrison Ford and others

Maybe I’m jaded because of the similar roles he took when he was older, but I’d forgotten how good an actor Harrison Ford is. He shows some fine vocal range, much like his work in Indiana Jones. He goes from noir-style detective to playing a geeky health inspector with remarkable ease. Not to mention he shows real fear and passion throughout the tense third act.

I also liked Sean Young’s quiet but meaningful performance as the movie’s femme fatale, with a style that reminds me of Brigid O’Shaughnessy from The Maltese Falcon. And no Blade Runner review would be complete without acknowledging Rutger Hauer and his psychotic villain. Long before I saw the movie, I knew the famous “Tears in the rain” monologue, but it was only here that I got a sense of the actual depth behind those words.

And since we’re talking about actors, I suppose I’ll weigh in on the famous question that has boggled this film’s audience for years: “Is Deckard a replicant himself?” As a critic, I’d say it doesn’t matter because that ambiguity works to the film’s advantage, much like trying to figure out if Rachel’s feelings for Deckard are genuine or not. Personally, I don’t see too much evidence to support the theory that he is a replicant and I don’t think him being a human diminishes his value to the plot any less.

Even while CGI has advanced leaps and bounds today, Blade Runner still packs a punch for its visual storytelling and its tight script. From the dingy corners of Deckard’s apartment to the steamy Mandarin-infused streets of futuristic Los Angeles, the film is a good example of how to do science fiction with a strong story and engaging characters.

Blade Runner is available through Warner Bros. Pictures.

Bibliography: Blade Runner. Directed by Ridley Scott. Produced by Michael Deeley. Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos. The Ladd Company; Shaw Brothers; Blade Runner Partnership. Warner Bros. Original release date: June 25, 1982.

2 thoughts on “A Look Back at Blade Runner and the Future in Noir

  1. Classic film. Can’t go wrong with a good slice of Bladerunner every once in a while. I presume this review concerns Ridley Scotts ‘director’s cut’ (without the voiceovers) and not the ‘other’ version? Oh dear; that makes me sound like a right movie-geek. I assure you I am not.

    Liked by 1 person

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