With a sequel in the works for 2018 with Ridley Scott producing, Denis Villeneuve tapped to direct and featuring Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, and the return of Harrison Ford as Deckard, we thought we’d kick off our new Innocence and Experience column with a look back at the original Blade Runner. Sort of… Paul Brian McCoy: In 1982, Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner was released in the US but it wasn’t necessarily a masterpiece from the get-go. In fact, the theatrical release left quite a bit to be desired. Even at the tender age of 14 I was put off by the tedious drone of Harrison Ford’s voiceover narration and wasn’t satisfied with the happy ending as Deckard and Rachel drove off into the sunset (literally). There was an International Cut (that wasn’t available until much later) that included more graphic violence, but it still wasn’t all that — and nobody in the US got to see that until years later, except as HBO broadcasts. Then in 1992, with the home video market booming, a Director’s Cut – approved by Ridley Scott – was released on VHS and Laser Disc that made significant changes to what audiences had been exposed to over the prior decade. Scott provided notes and consulted with Warner Bros. during this process and fans were gifted with an alternate version of the film that not only removed the voiceover and the happy ending, but added another layer of complexity to the central preoccupations of the film: What is it to be human? How does empathy influence our understanding of the human condition/experience? And, oh yeah; Was Deckard a Replicant??? [For completion’s sake, there was also a 2007 “Final Cut” overseen in its entirety by Scott that cleans up a handful of technical errors, removes a key moment or two, and includes some extra footage that doesn’t really add anything overall. This is Scott’s preferred version, but despite the technical clean-up, doesn’t really stand up to the emotional and philosophical impact of the Director’s Cut. In addition to this there’s also a Workprint Version with everything thrown in, the U.S. broadcast version and the International Theatrical Release. Sheesh!] I talked my parents into letting me see Blade Runner when it was initially released, since Harrison Ford was in it and anything Harrison Ford was in had to be good, right? Seriously, after Star Wars and Indiana Jones, there really wasn’t any way they were going to keep me from seeing a Harrison Ford film. I was that nerd. I can’t remember if I’d read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? before seeing the film, but I sure as shit read it afterward, and it was one of those transformative moments in a sci-fi geek’s life. The Marvel Comics movie adaptation was also an important possession in Young Paul’s creative development – the Al Williamson art was simply breathtaking. But it really wasn’t until ‘92 and the release of the Director’s Cut that the film really took hold of me. In the years since, I’ve probably watched Blade Runner at least a dozen times, read the source novel even more than that (it was a yearly ritual for a decade or two), and would claim that this film is one of the pinnacles of science fiction cinema. That’s ever. So I can talk about this film for hours, but that’s a given. As a first-time viewer, what were your initial reactions, Alex? What were you expecting? Alex Wolfe: Admittedly, reaction and expectation were very different in this case. In a sense, it reminded me of Event Horizon — not in context, just in the way that I reacted to it. It was an interesting and well-made movie that had been copied, played with, expanded upon, and reimagined so many times that, to me, it felt less like a finished product and more like a… what’s the word…. Prototype. It felt like a blueprint, a foundation for a genre that I have become familiar with over time. The concept of cyberpunk as a genre has grown and created a very distinct voice, and likewise, I’ve been exposed many, many times to the concepts of artificial intelligence, complete with the question of how determining it should be gone about. I went into Blade Runner expecting an intelligent, story-driven, cybernoir masterpiece and, actually, I got exactly what I expected — but what I expected wasn’t what I had expected it to be. Does that make sense? Paul: Sort of? I think? Okay, you lost me. What do you mean? Alex: The “masterpiece” part of it was the fact that it was a foundation. While it didn’t really dazzle me that much visually or intellectually (again, because I’ve been exposed to its derivatives so many times already), I could look inside of it and see the seed of origin, that flicker of intelligent life that grew to become what it was, and understand why it became such a significant piece of fiction and culture in general. I guess what I’m saying is that I have a lot of respect for how primordial it was, and acknowledge that it had a lot of influence on the way the genre advanced over the next thirty or so years. Specifically the debate over AI and whether or not Deckard was a Replicant. Paul: Ah, that makes perfect sense. In going back to watch it again for about the millionth time, I found myself drawn back into the world Scott built and amazed that even after all this time, it’s still the best cybernoir film that anyone’s been able to make. It really does an amazing job establishing the world with very little dialogue or exposition and right from the beginning we get amazing visuals that help to establish the themes of the film. The opening exterior shots of the cars flying through the city sky creates a nice contrast between the chaos of the city streets and the quiet beauty up in the air. And the eye serves as a recurring motif that we’ll see all through the film with a variety of different uses and interpretations. I suppose the “Is Deckard a Replicant” question is one we should address at some point, so why not jump right into it? In this version of the film, I don’t think there’s any question that he is. Harrison Ford might claim differently (with the theatrical version as well as Scott’s own Final Cut also leaning that way), but Scott was pretty clear at the time that he felt Deckard was a Replicant tricked into believing he was a human robot hunter. The introduction of the Replicants on earth, as Deckard is being briefed features a classic storytelling glitch that was corrected in the Final Cut, but in this version is telling: Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) tells Deckard that six Replicants jumped ship and returned to earth. One was fried trying to get into the Tyrell Corporation headquarters, but the others are at large. He then goes on to name and describe four Replicants — one is unaccounted for, opening up the possibility for the Deckard/Replicant interpretation. Regardless of how it is retroactively tweaked, do you think that making Deckard an artificial being hunting other artificial beings undermines the central idea that empathy is what makes us human regardless of whether we were born or grown in a lab? Alex: There’s only one reason I can see for Deckard not being a Replicant, which might have been addressed in a detail I missed (considering that I’ve only seen the film once): The Replicant girl Deckard ends up with was supposed to be a prototype version, wasn’t she? Rutger Hauer and all the others were much more sentient and aware, but appeared to very much know that they were artificial from the get-go. Deckard himself, if we was a Replicant, must have been implanted with memories to make him think that he wasn’t — despite that he was brought in to test the “original” model of that type, and even she wasn’t convinced for long that she wasn’t real. So, unless there’s something I missed, how could Deckard still be fooled into being a Replicant despite: Being specifically trained to detect them, and Having to have been the proto-proto model that had never been tested by anyone? Paul: Fan theory is that he’s the missing fifth Replicant, brought in and given memories (represented physically by the obsession with family pictures in his home) in order to hunt the other more efficiently. In that theory, Gaff (Edward James Olmos) is the actual Blade Runner, following Deckard and showing up at every crime scene moments after the fact to clean things up. He may even be allowed to escape by Gaff after witnessing his empathic development. They’re only going to live for a short while, anyway, so why not give them that as a reward? What really makes it resonate is how it is situated with the theatrical release’s ending, where Deckard is human, Rachel (Sean Young) is artificial, but they still run off together. Only this time, the voiceover narrative by Ford explains that Rachel doesn’t have a cut-off date. She’ll live until she’s killed or wears out (whatever that might mean). That’s followed by a shot of their car driving off into the north happily ever after. The Director’s Cut really offers an interesting interpretation, but it does mean allowing for a LOT of stuff going on that we never really see happen. We have to make inferences based on Scott’s use of symbolism, so I doubt we could ever really establish it as canon, but it opens up some interesting interpretive dilemmas. It also kind of allows for some leeway in the creepy relationship Deckard and Rachel develop. If Deckard is human, then the “romantic” scene between he and Rachel takes on a seriously disturbing “I’m gonna rape the toaster” quality. Alex: Speaking of rape, I found their sex scene very uncomfortable regardless of whether they were human or not. I like to stick to the age-old proverb of “if she’s crying, it’s probably rape,” and whether or not Deckard got the “yes,” he had to hear the “no” way too many times to not come off a little… um… ungentlemanly. Regarding the actual story, I just remembered another thing that, perhaps, suggests that Deckard was human — his physicality. The other Replicants were significantly, dramatically even, stronger, faster, and more durable than he was. You’d think that even if he truly believed he was human, he’d not be quite so starkly outshone by the other artificials. I’m back and forth on it, honestly. At the end of the day, the paper unicorn is a very strong suggestion that Deckard was a Replicant, one that was pretty hard to just shrug off. It was not only a very pointed and deliberate couple of scenes, but the culmination of a character trait (Gaff’s paper dollies) that had absolutely no point otherwise. Oh, and speaking of Gaff, I totally didn’t realize that was Edward James Olmos until the ending credits. Never seen him so young! Paul: The cast in this thing is simply amazing. Ford, Sean Young, Olmos, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James, William Sanderson, Daryl Hannah, Walsh, and of course Rutger Hauer. Even fucking Lo Pan himself, James Hong in there as the eye-maker, Hannibal Chew is inspired casting. This is another one of the things that makes this film resonate as well as it does. The casting shows an eye to talent and experience that almost ensured that it would either become a classic or would be a cult masterpiece. And then it turned out to be both. Okay, since it’s hard to find anything new to say about one of the most written and talked about films in science fiction history, is there anything you want to dive into in particular? Alex: Oooh, the effects! I noticed when I was watching it how impressive the effects, particularly the sets, looked, and found myself thinking “Wait, wasn’t this made in the 80’s? Didn’t they like, not really have CGI?” Considering that the sets seemed larger than life and out of this world, and were probably mostly miniature models, I was really stunned by the scope and quality of the city’s skyline. Also, noodles. Such a tiny, weirdly original thing as noodles painted cyberpunk forever. What’s with that, right? Paul: There was a time when I was young and stupid that I argued that the effects weren’t all that great in this film. A lot of rain and neon and plastic garbage bags, etc. etc. I was an idiot. (Consider this a formal apology Ben Goldman. You were right. I was not only wrong, but full of shit.) The use of models is simply amazing in this film, as are the matte paintings and the practical sets. That this film didn’t connect with initial audiences I’m going to forever put down to the horrendous voiceover and the happy ending. Alex: Don’t forget the fact that mainstream audiences usually invest minimal thought into films. Paul: True enough. One thing I’d like to point out is Harrison Ford’s performance. He gets some flack for playing Deckard as wooden, but I have to disagree and would argue that Deckard is a fantastic example of the noir protagonist who is just on the border of collapsing in on himself psychologically. Let’s assume for a moment that he is human. He clearly left the job emphatically. He has to be threatened with arrest to even make him come in to see Bryant. He lives alone in a cluttered apartment filled with garbage and family photos going back decades. He obsessively watches the video of the best Blade Runner in the business getting gunned down by one of the Replicants he is tasked to hunt. When confronted with targets that are ready to fight back, his responses are desperate and flailing at best. He shoots Zhora in the back as she flees. Rachel kills Leon, saving his life. He barely kills Pris (in one of the most horrifying death scenes in memory), and Roy toys with him, brutalizes him, and ultimately saves his life so Deckard can watch him die naturally and beautifully. There’s a reason that he is so totally freaked out when Rachel surprises him in the elevator to his apartment. He’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown, playing it cool with his superiors, but really lost and scrambling for any clues. The sheer amount of nervous energy Ford puts into that scene after the elevator, combined with the casual cruelty he exhibits when he bursts Rachel’s bubble about her own fucking humanity is amazing. I think this is one of Ford’s best performances, period. Alex: Damn, when you put it like that I feel like there’s a lot about this movie that I didn’t absorb to its fullest. It all fits in retrospect, I guess I just didn’t really get hit with it at the time I saw it. I really should watch it again. Then again, it’s hard to really grasp something as intimately as someone who’s seen it for, quote, the “millionth” time, but a lot of the muted delivery did fly a little under my radar as someone who’s naturally inclined towards flashy, stylized, and overacted pieces (I’m just gonna go ahead and own that, it’s the truth). Paul: There’s nothing wrong with that Usually these days that’s my preference too, when it comes to sci-fi. It’s difficult to really craft a solid piece of serious science fiction, even with the advances in effects and access these days. Blade Runner is one of the most serious attempts to address real psychological and philosophical issues in a format where a broken down detective is out hunting robots. It would have been amazingly easy for this to veer off into absurdity and self-importance. It’s entirely on the technical skills of Ridley Scott that this film works at all. I mean this was only his third feature film, following on the heels of another classic, Alien. Alex: And the fact that we caught him on a good day, since he also made Prometheus. Oh wait, you liked that, didn’t you? Paul: Hey now. Despite some script issues, Prometheus is a beautifully imagined and realized film. Alex: Of course. Silly me. Paul: Any final thoughts about Blade Runner? Alex: I think I’ve said everything I had to say and then some, to be honest. It was good, without a doubt, and I can really see why people enjoyed it. Sadly, I’m not sure I was born to the right generation to get the most enjoyment out of it. Not that it stopped me from trying and, for the most part, succeeding. It was a bit slow-moving and, as I said before, muted — but still a very thoughtful and refreshingly introspective piece that set the precedent for its genre, a blueprint that has continued to shape and impress upon the cyberpunk and cybernoir genres for the next three decades. Mad props, yo. Paul: I’ll agree with that. Mad props, Blade Runner. See larger image Blade Runner (30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition) [Blu-ray] In a cyberpunk vision of the future, man has developed the technology to create replicants, human clones used to serve in the colonies outside Earth but with fixed lifespans. In Los Angeles, 2019, Deckard is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants. Originally in retirement, he is forced to re-enter the force when four replicants escape from an off-world colony to Earth. The #1 sci-fi film of all time is captured in this 3-disc Blu-ray/DVD and 30th Anniversary commemorative gift set. The set includes: the final cut on Blu-ray and DVD.The 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition box set features an all-new concept spinner car, action Lenticular and a 72-page art production book with never-before-seen Ridley sketches, poster art and photos from the set. New From: $159.95 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related John E. Meredith This is one of my all-time favorite films, and I’ve always wondered why. True, it’s everything you’ve said here, a foundational sci-fi masterpiece. But, no matter which version you see, it’s kinda slow. And there’s that tone, kinda monochromatic grey in all respects. At first I figured it was the presence of Han Solo/Indiana Jones (even though there’s nothing of those guys’ charisma here). However, after a few more viewings (numbering probably about 25 in total), I realized that it was Roy Batty, as played by Rutger Hauer. Maybe it just fits in with my sense of mortality since I was very young (good friend dead from a brain tumor at sixteen, mother with leukemia), but Batty is a superior but very mortal creature. He’s a goner and he knows it. My favorite moment is when he goes to his creator and says “I want more life, fucker”, followed by his dying speech when he releases the dove. Beautiful, tragic, and even transforming.