Reviewed after viewing of “Blade Runner: The Final Cut.”
Ridley Scott crafted the world of “Blade Runner“ just over thirty-five years ago. Its drenched, dystopian forecast of Los Angeles displayed Coca Cola advertisements the size of skyscrapers, and hosted aerial highways for box-shaped cars. There was beauty in the air, but a jungle on the ground. What is droll – or better yet, disturbing – about these disorderly predictions is that the “later” audiences were experiencing back in 1982 is “now” – the film is set in 2019, not too far away. And what makes this unceasingly shrinking timeline so vexing is the supposed end of one indispensable key to civilization: humanity.
The cause of this extinction can be traced back to the invention of “replicants,” the Tyrell Corporation’s successful endeavor in artificial intelligence. Driven to be “more human than human,” these machines are nearly identical to their creators intellectually, and are even superior in strength. Mutinies have been known to occur, so Tyrell’s manufacturers have implemented a safeguard into the replicant’s software to uphold their place at the top of this gear chain: a four-year lifespan.
Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a sly cop who sweeps through the city’s mean streets with ease. His job is to track down and eliminate – or “retire” – four replicants believed to be hiding in Los Angeles. In retreat of death, and led by the daunting yet profound Roy (Rutger Hauer), these advanced models – called Nexus-6 – actually understand the value of life and recognize their shortage of it. “What seems to be the problem?” asks Tyrell. “Death,” Roy responds.
Replicants can be put into two general categories: the aware and the ignorant. Though the film only sees five replicants in total, there are thousands more forced into slave labor out in the “off-world.” Both groupings draw sympathy. Roy and his band of rebels (including Brion James, Joanna Cassidy, and Daryl Hannah) represent the aware, the probable minority. Their violent and malicious actions draw questions of ethics and symbolize our own bout for immortality. “Quite an experience to live in fear,” Roy will later tell Deckard, “that’s what it is to be a slave.” Such memorable engagements between Hauer’s low-key performance and the screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples force audiences to contemplate the morality of the renegades’ pursuit. Beneath all the violence is a genuine plea for life, fostered by a superimposed fear of death, and is that really wrong?
The ignorant are embodied by Rachel (Sean Young), an experimental replicant who acts as Tyrell’s secretary and gets herself caught up in a romance with Deckard. She has memories, the catch being they aren’t hers; they were implanted by Tyrell as an emotional buffer, a cushion so to speak. The Blade Runner Deckard has reason to suspect that she is a replicant but falls for her anyway, further exhibiting his reluctance towards the assignment at hand.
In some way or another, reluctance plagues all of this Los Angeles. No one seems to serve a focal purpose – at least no human does. The rainy alleyways are sullied by absolute confusion, and the unnaturally diverse community makes interaction nearly impossible. Ironically, many of the humans are emotionally unresponsive; it seems everyone has reached a level of symmetry in their sorrow. A great moment of irony takes place in the film’s first five minutes: while another Blade Runner interviews a replicant named Leon (James) for traces of humanity, he shows no feeling, whereas the machine does.
This level of inexpression is consistent with the majority of the people here. The only exception is a mister J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic engineer for the Tyrell Corporation. Playing a much less quintessential role here than he does in the writers’ source material – Phillip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” – Sebastian is sought out by Roy and his girlfriend, Pris (Hannah), as a direct link to their maker.
Known for his attention to detail, Scott has amended his film several times over the last thirty-five years. His last revision took place in 2007 with “Blade Runner: The Final Cut,” which, to fans’ pleasure, saw little change to the artistry formed by “2001: A Space Odyssey” veteran Douglas Trumbull. This is and always has been a great looking film. Trumbull’s masterful visual effects painted the landscape for a hi-tech vision which required the audiences’ imaginations to complete. An interactive painting if there ever was one.
However, Trumbull’s contributions are only one part of the machine that makes “Blade Runner” one of science fiction’s greatest efforts: there’s Fancher and Peoples’ poignant screenplay, Scott’s precise direction, the beautifully crafted, futuristic sets, and the touching performances, most notably from Hauer; his soft soliloquy at the end of the film has become a highlight of modern cinema.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” he says, recalling the cosmic sensations he has witnessed in his brief lifetime. Cradling a dove in his hands, he comments longingly, “all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
With “Blade Runner” obtaining a cult following, and a sequel set to be released later this year, it’s safe to assume that the rain will pass, and these moments will never be lost.
– by Luke Parker