One of the most celebrated years of film releases in the history of cinema, 1982 has probably the best spread of science fiction and genre releases ever. We had Mad Max: The Road Warrior, Conan: The Barbarian, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, E.T., The Thing, Megaforce, Tron, The Secret of NIHM, The Beast Master, Pink Floyd: The Wall, The Last Unicorn, The Dark Crystal, and the most enduring of them all, Blade Runner.
Officially opening on June 25th 1982, Blade Runner shares it’s birthday with John Carpenter’s The Thing as well as Megaforce (which often pops up on the worst of the 80s lists). Both Blade Runner and The Thing are influencing filmmakers today, iconic establishing shots and tonal choices you can find in almost any genre movie hitting modern theaters or streaming on Netflix.
Based on Philip K. Dick‘s seminal work “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”, Blade Runner tackled the existential question of the human soul, and what it means to truly be alive. Can an AI (artificial intelligence) being have a soul? What is the real difference between a Replicant (pretty much the most realistic cyborg/robot you’ve ever seen in film) and the humans who created them? How does one get ‘more time’ to live?
Rutger Hauer‘s character Roy Batty struggles with these questions as well as the quest for more time, turning his robotic rage upon his maker, Joe Turkel‘s Dr. Eldon Tyrell. Other replicants have been on the hunt for answers too, like Biron James‘s Leon, the first Tyrell skinjob we meet undergoing the Voight Kampf test (administered to distinguish between humans and replicants) at the beginning of the film. We also meet Darryl Hannah‘s acrobatic anything but basic pleasure model Pris, the deadly childlike quality about her disarming chief Tyrell designer J. F. Sebastian, played by William Sanderson. Joanna Cassidy‘s Zhora is at the other end of the pleasure model spectrum, dancing in a special club with her synthetic snake.
The main gist of the story centers around a Los Angeles police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who hunts down Replicants (who aren’t actually allowed on Earth) and kills the problematic ones. These specialty cops are called ‘Blade Runners’, and Deckard is one of the best. He is called in to tackle the case of Roy and his crew, but in the process Rick meets Rachel (Sean Young), Tyrell’s supreme top of the line model replicant based on Dr. Tyrell’s niece. The two click, and Deckard tests Rachel to see how she rates on the human-replicant spectrum.
Don’t forget the importance and impact of Edward James Olmos‘s Eduardo Gaff, the man of knowledge who acts as an avatar of the humanity quest for Deckard. Gaff talks in Cityspeak, a mishmash of Hungarian that Olmos mostly came up with himself. His words of wisdom and small gifts to Deckard are some of the most enduring points from the film. The origami Unicorn for instance; is it a metaphor for Rachel being the link between humans and replicants? Or is it just a gum foil figure that looks nice on the desk.
There is an ongoing debate, still, about the humanity (or not) of Deckard, and whether or not it matters. Both Ford and Scott have said in countless interviews and documentaries (if you haven’t seen Dangerous Days, you really really should) what their official answers are regarding the character, but it never seems to be enough for fans on either side of the debate.
Whether it’s the incredible production value of the film, which still looks like it was made yesterday, the crisp practical effects and lush visual rendering, or the performances, Blade Runner remains a touchstone for what a science fiction movie can be. It transcends the genre, jumping seamlessly from fantasy into film noir; a dark and mysterious dame at the center of a dangerous plot who falls in love with the slick detective who isn’t what he seems on the outside.
Later this year, we’ll get the long awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Oscar nominated director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) is in the hot seat for the film, and many a hope and dream of an offworld success ride on his capable shoulders. The cast is good, the trailers have been promising, only time will tell if the reward is worth the wait. After all, “commerce is our goal, here. More human than human”.
Happy birthday, Blade Runner.