Dreaming in Neo-Noir: Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER
Ridley Scott’s visionary science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) was based on the Phillip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” When the film was released into theaters, it didn’t do too well at the box office but over the years it has created a huge cult following and is now considered one of the finest works of cinema ever filmed. Blade Runner shows what cinema is capable of when direction/cinematography/music and ideas come together into one. Ridley Scott even managed to make the city of Los Angeles 2019 another character in the film. While many science fiction films are obviously fake and don’t create that organic suspense of disbelief, Blade Runner’s world is very easy to get pulled into, it envelops the viewer and begins to captivate as soon as the music by Vangelis plays the eerie but beautiful synth sounds over the opening scenes. The blasting waves of the score echo as we leave this world behind and enter into the future.
At the opening of the film we are given a short prologue of the story which informs us on the beings known as “Replicants”. These advanced androids are used for working in the Off World Colonies. When the scientists designed newer models called Nexus 6, they had built in four year life spans. On the Off World Colonies, some of the Nexus 6 Replicants were used for pleasure, some were used for pain, but over the course of their short lives, they developed their own emotional responses. This is where all troubles come into paradise. Ridley Scott’s brilliant visual ideas, the astounding cinematography, the set/costume designs and the special FX used in the film created a superb and beautiful neo-noir vision of a Los Angeles of the future.
In this future, we see that the city has changed into an industrialized hell. Flames belch up into the sky from large factories, flying cars whizz through the still polluted air. Note: You can see Blade Runner’s visual atmosphere influence films ranging from Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) to Alex Proyas’ The Crow (1993) to The Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix (1999) and even George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of The Sith (2005). The first building we see in detail, is the large abstractly shaped TYRELL CORPORATION. The building points at an angle and is placed perfectly in front of the blazing sun which brilliantly incorporates the sky itself into the architecture. As the camera zooms in close to the buildings outside wall, we can see the rotating fan of an inner office where Holden (Morgan Paull) is going to perform a “Void Comp” test on a man named Leon (Brion James). Holden tries to ask Leon questions, but we can see that Leon is highly anxious and doesn’t trust Holden. When Holden tries to calm Leon it does no good and with one last question about Leon’s mother he is met by a violent gunshot which blasts him through a wall. Leon is in fact a Nexus 6 replicant whose mother is a machine made of metal parts not flesh. (NOTE: Throughout the film, the replicants can be spotted because they have certain gleams in their eyes. If you look closely you can spot these gleams which sort of look like those red spots people get when someone takes a picture of them.)
Enter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) an ex Blade Runner/cop who’s now working on his own. The first scenes of Deckard hanging out in future Chinatown are filled with neon and fog. The grungy, wet bustling street is a parade of all kinds of strange cultures mixing into one. We see modern umbrellas equipped with neon handles. Deckard sits down to have some Chinese food, but suddenly he is surrounded by policemen. The main one speaks in “city-speak”, a mix of German, Japanese and Spanish. When Deckard asks the old Chinese food stand cook what the policeman is saying, he explains: “You are under arrest Mr Deckard”. The policeman’s name is Gaff (Edward James Olmos), with the next sentence Gaff utters a name Deckard knows: Captain Bryant. Bryant is an old friend of Deckards, its his ex-boss on the Blade Runner Unit. Deckard then reluctantly joins Gaff in his police vehicle which slowly takes off into the sky.
The miniature skyline is both false and intriguing to the eye. A magnificent trick of art. The music by Vangelis comes to the fore again and we are whisked away into the atmosphere audibly as well as visually. When Deckard arrives at Police Headquarters the police vehicle begins its spinning descent and parks on the roof of the building. Deckard meets Captain Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) who tells him they have a problem and he needs Deckard back, he tells him he needs his old “magic”. Deckard doesn’t want anything to do with it, but after Bryant tells him he has no choice, Deckard quickly agrees to do the dirty work of finding and destroying these advanced replicants on the loose. Bryant gives Deckard the low down on the new models of the replicants known as Nexus 6 and all about how they got back to Earth from the Off World Colony after hijacking a space transport. Deckard can’t believe what hes hearing as he views the suspected replicants files. The suspects include: The big brute Leon (Brion James), a trained assassin called Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), a pleasure model called Pris (Daryl Hannah) and the highly intelligent leader called Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). They have all come back from the Off World Colony and are loose in the city. They need to be “retired” immediately.
Deckard sets out to “retire” the replicants but first he has to perform a Void Comp test on another Nexus 6 who works at the Tyrell Corporation. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkell) is waiting and we see an example of his cybernetic advances in a replicant owl which perches in the large office space. The large office we see has a neo-Egyptian motif (another example of the superb set design). The subject Deckard is to run the Void Comp test on is called Rachel (Sean Young) she is a beautiful woman who has a mesmerizing film noir femme fatale quality. Deckard proceeds to set up the void comp machine to tell if Rachel is a replicant or not. Over a period of what seems to be several hours Deckard asks her a series of questions that are meant to get a certain emotional response. In the end, Deckard finds out Rachel is a replicant and asks Tyrell how she doesn’t know what she really is. Tyrell explains that each replicant is given pre-determined memories. That is the secret. Rachel comes to see Deckard soon after, she startles him as hes riding up the elevator to his apartment. Deckard doesn’t seem to want to know Rachel. She is so beautiful, but he knows she isn’t a human. At the same time, the more he is around Rachel he begins to feel for her and he teaches her how to love. He forces himself on her, not in a cruel way, but an educational way. He teaches her to not be afraid of her new emotions. He kisses her and tells her to say “I Want You”. Meanwhile, Roy and Leon are searching for their own history because they know death is coming for them soon. They stop in to see a shopmaker who designs the eyes used for the replicants. His name is Hannibal Chew (James Hong). Chew is startled when Leon rudely pulls on the air regulator tubes attached to his heavy overcoat. To get Chews full attention Leon rips the coat open. The heat escapes from the coat and we see how cold the store is. Roy grills Chew on the history of the replicants. Chew is at once scared and intrigued by Roy. He shivers as he tells Roy about the man who designed the Nexus 6, J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson).
Deckard’s next goal is to find out where Leon is, he finds clues at Leon’s apartment (a bunch of photos and some kind of amphibian scale in the bathtub) he uses a special photo image enhancer to look for clues on where to look for him. He takes the scales in Leon’s bathtub to get them analyzed and finds out they are from a replicated snake. The buyer of the snake is a nightclub owner named Taffy Lewis. The actual owner of the snake is a stripper at a high priced club. When Deckard arrives at the club he realizes that the stripper is one of his Nexus 6 replicants: Zhora. Deckard manages to get backstage at one of Zhora’s shows where he tells her hes from a social organization that is trying to stop abuse in the workplace. While Zhora takes a shower, we see the snake scales on her body being washed off just like the ones in Leon’s bathtub. Deckard knows he’s got a match, but before he can do anything, Zhora attacks him, nearly strangling him. This babe ain’t stupid. Zhora belts for the door and Deckard chases her through the crowded city streets. After a tiring chase, Deckard spots Zhora running away and fires his gun at her. As she is hit from behind she crashes through a stores glass partitions in slow motion. While we know she is a replicant who was trained to be an assassin, we see Zhora’s death in a very painful and tragic way. Deckard doesn’t realize it, but Leon is watching the whole thing take place. Leon grabs Deckard and beats the hell out of him. He wants to know how long he has to live. Luckily Rachel has been following Deckard and kills Leon, saving Deckard’s life.
We catch up with Pris, who is wandering alone in the city and she finds a dark alleyway and covers herself up with trash. When a car pulls up and a man jumps out, Pris is startled. The man asks Pris he she wants to come inside, Pris is afraid, but she agrees. The man introduces himself, he is J.F. Sebastian. As Pris and J.F. walk up to his pad, we see the large advertising balloons float by, on the screen is a Japanese woman speaking, her voice seems to echo into space creating an eerie effect. J.F.’s friends are replicants, they are small toy-like dwarfs that welcome him home in a goofy manner. We find out that J.F. is actually one of the people who designed Pris and the other Nexus 6. As he explains “Theres some of me in you”. Roy arrives at J.F.s and explains to Pris they are the only ones left. Pris responds with a really interesting line of dialogue “Then we’re stupid and we’ll die”. Roy persuades J.F. to bring him to see Elden Tyrell. J.F. reluctantly agrees, and uses Tyrell’s ongoing chess game as a cover to get into his office. J.F. tells Elden he has a friend with him and Tyrell sees Roy for what he is, a replicant. Roy wants to know about himself. How long he has to live and why cant he live longer. When Tyrell tries to comfort Roy after explaining he won’t live much longer, he is attacked by Roy. The prodigal son kills his father.
The climax of the film takes place at J.F.’s apartment building. As Deckard enters J.F.s, he slowly looks around the room for any clues. We see all of J.F.s “friends” toy-people, one of them seems familiar. It’s Pris sitting like a mannequin. Deckard notices her and looks closely at her, then WHAM! Pris lets him have it. They have a fight and Pris jumps on Deckard’s shoulders and strangles him with her legs. Deckard finally gets free and shoots Pris. When Pris gets shot, she doesn’t just fall down. Her death is a robotic death spasm. Very torturous and sad. We can see that she does not want to die and her violent convulsions show this. Roy arrives and he and Deckard begin to have a game of cat and mouse. Roy shows Deckard how strong he is, by smashing his hand through a wall and knocking Deckard’s gun out of his hand. Roy then breaks a few of Deckard’s fingers. This sequence becomes almost comedic in its outrageousness. Roy Batty is one of Rutger Hauers’ best roles and all the emotions and subtle playfulness mixed with his violent actions can totally be understood and even justified. Deckard manages to get out onto the ledge of the building and he begins to climb to the rooftop. When he finally makes it to the top, he jumps to another building, but he doesn’t make it and has to grab onto the ledge. Roy then follows Deckard across and he watches Deckard struggle to hang on. Something in Roy has changed. He begins to lift Deckard up by the arm and he saves him. In this moment Roy seems to come to a decision that while he took lives, he wants to leave knowing he saved a life as well. His last bit of penance, his last human emotions. Roy tells Deckard that he has seen things in his life that were amazing and beautiful. As the rain falls on Roy, its a last human baptism, he is dead. Deckard realizes that Roy was just like everyone else, searching for who he was, where he came from and where he was going.
THE DIFFERENT ENDINGS
BLADE RUNNER DIRECTOR’S CUT ENDING: In the theatrical version of the film. Blade Runner ends with Deckard returning to his apartment after Roy dies and he gets Rachel and as they are leaving, Deckard spots one of Gaffs miniature origami figures. Its a unicorn. Then we hear Gaff’s voice-over from earlier in the film as he says “Too bad she wont live, then again, who does?” Deckard seems to understand and nods his head, he quickly turns and enters the elevator and the door closes. This ending seems ambiguous to the story. Does Deckard retire Rachel or does he escape and save her from being retired?
BLADE RUNNER SPECIAL EDITION ENDING: In the Special Edition cut with the included voice-over narration by Deckard (which is my personal favorite version because of the neo-film noir edge) the film ends with Deckard finding the unicorn and he hears Gaff’s voice-over, then as he leaves, the elevator door shuts. Cut to the next scene of a helicopter tracking shot of a car traveling through the countryside. Deckard and Rachel are on their way to some undisclosed place to hide out. The aerial footage may look familiar to fans of The Shining (1980). Director Ridley Scott called his friend, Stanley Kubrick and asked if he could use some outtake footage from the opening of The Shining. Kubrick agreed and that is what you see at the end of Blade Runner Special Edition.
BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT
Ridley Scott’s Final Cut (2007, 117 minutes) is the only version over which Ridley Scott had complete artistic control, as the Director’s Cut production did not place Scott directly in charge. The Final Cut contains the original full-length version of the unicorn dream, which had never been in any version, and has been restored. Additionally, all of the additional violence and alternate edits from the international cut have been inserted.