Blade Runner : Director’s Cut - A timeless depiction of life under a not-too distant future.
Image Courtesy of CinemaBlend
By William Perry
Imagine a society defined by mass pollution, rampant corporate greed, brutal inequality, rise of big tech and run-down cities. No, I am not talking about our society – I speak of the world the people of “Blade Runner” inhabit- where all the things I just mentioned exist but in an exaggerated form.
A world which is in possession of remarkable minds and has achieved extraordinary things, yet uses these great things in such a way that puts our civilization in reverse and not forward. Have you ever walked through an industrial estate? Everywhere you look: concrete, steel, tyres, carbon and a sensibility of being reversed into by an enormous truck. I can only imagine what it would be like to walk through 2019 Los Angeles in the film, but my guess is it would be like that.
“Blade Runner” is a science fiction film, now a cult-classic about a man named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) whose life and career revolve around killing artificial beings known as ‘replicants’, tasked with eliminating four who have escaped from a slave-labour camp. In short, this man goes on a journey which leaves him more human by the end of the story. At the time, many were expecting a formulaic, blockbuster action film from director Ridley Scott, but that is not what they got. They got a story about many issues we face in the real world, with the most important one being the disregard for life; human and non-human.
This film wields an incredible use of cinematography which allows you to utterly lose yourself in moments like the opening title sequence, where you see the gothic skyscrapers forming the city and breathing fire like an industrial plant. An ingenious score of electronic and even Jazz music, composed by Vangelis provides the movie with the futuristic, but gritty feel it aims to create.
Performances in this film are provided by some truly magnificent actors. We meet Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a well-built but regular looking man with an authoritative presence. He is a retired Blade Runner - a special police officer tasked with hunting down escaped replicants. The man wears pretty standard clothes, eats at noodle shops, has a slight drinking problem and is able to identify replicants through various sophisticated means and kills them. He also comes across as rather cold and indifferent, not really surprising for an assassin of the state.
Deckard’s skill is in detecting, investigating, pursuing and tracking down replicants to which he will then shoot them. His interest in replicants only stretches as far as learning about them in order to kill them. After a violent revolt on one of the off-world colonies, 4 replicants escape and Deckard is dragged out of retirement to track them down and “retire” them. He does not know and definitely does not care for them in any other capacity. Deckard is no hero; he’s actually the perfect example of bovine obedience when it comes to following orders without question, even if the orders are reprehensible. In previous releases of the film, it included a voice over of Deckard which Harrison Ford loathed having to do – this release took out the voiceover which gives power back to the movie-goer to think for themselves.
The way Ridley Scott covertly begins Deckard’s transformation throughout the film is the mark of excellent direction. Deckard’s attitude does not change after passing out, being engulfed in a white light only to awaken a changed man. No, it happens through a series of important events which gradually chip away at the status quo he follows.
The screenplay, by Hampton Fancher, based on the novel by Phillip K. Dick, did not focus on the issues of life and humanity as much as Ridley Scott wanted. With David peoples being brought on to re-write the script and including more of Scott’s ideas, we are able to understand better the unpleasant existence of the replicants and the anguish felt by all in the story. Fancher was not enthusiastic about these changes but the producers of the film were in favour of them; reasoning that it felt more like a movie.
Watching the film, we witness and feel the suffering felt by the replicants throughout the film. Ridley Scott gives us an experimental replicant named Rachel, played by the beautiful Sean Young. Working amongst the highest echelons of the Tyrell corporation for not much reward, she conducts basic secretarial work for the corporation. Rachel is a victim of cynical and profit driven, ultra-rich businessmen who have enslaved her from creation, and value her life in the same way a factory owner values the quality of its products. Her pain goes hand in hand with her humanity, and we can see this as brilliantly portrayed by the tears brimming in her man-made eyes (quite literally). Although she may not have entered the world the same way others do, every decision she makes, her heart is on board.
One big flaw this film has is one particular scene in which Deckard treats Rachel forcefully and violently. Unfortunately, this is a film which belongs to the era when often misogynistic violence against female characters in Hollywood was accepted. It undermines the superb and meaningful connection these two characters have.
From outside “Eye world”, we are introduced to the leader of the escaped replicants named Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). This replicant is a personification of desperate madness, like a man slowly being pulled over a cliff edge and so starts to scratch, bite, kick and punch with no avail. Batty is one of those helpless slaves condemned to a dark fate, that forces him to do unspeakably violent things; he has a lifespan of five years and only desires more life but when those he approaches are unable or not willing, he punishes them. He sees that everyone around him treats his life as unimportant, so he treats their lives as unimportant in return – minus his fellow replicants. Killing does not feel hideous to him as he lives a life so adapted to the very concept.
A lot of things you see in the film are shot, as is; not needing to rely on computer generated effects although that is present. "Blade Runner"
uses miniatures and actual models for scenes like the opening title sequence which remain timeless, and look genuine through a series of complicated lighting and photography work.
The buildings we see in the movie are relatable to what we see in our own cities, with intimidating, grimy and ultra-modern additions inspired by the work of architect, Antonio Sant’Elia. Scott was also influenced by Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks” and the comics magazine “Metal Hurlant”. The works of Sant’Elia are of regular buildings but built in a far more futuristic and modern fashion. As we see the formidable headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation, it is evident that Sant’Elia’s works influenced it. The imagery seen in Metal Hurlant clearly bares similarity to what is seen in the film with unrecognisable cars and radiant streets. It is also no surprise the painting “Nighthawks” inspired many other films like “The End of Violence” (1997).
Ridley Scott was not in complete control over this version of the film. As a result, there are a few cringeworthy errors like a specific scene which is supposed to be taking place at night-time but suddenly switches to daytime. There is also another scene when Deckard’s voice is out of sync with the audio. Nevertheless, it does not make a dent in the magic of the movie.
The set design and buildings were heavily influenced by visual futurist, Syd Mead, who perfectly captures the heavily industrial environment of the city resulting in an aesthetically monstrous but stunning spectacle. JF Sebastian’s (William Sanderson) home, “The Bradbury”, is full of staggering metal frameworks, with water leaking from the ceiling that grants the place an abandoned and forlorn mood. It was shot mostly at night accompanied by rain and smoke, entirely appropriate for a city fatigued by mass production of natural resources and producing giant wealth, only for its inhabitants to live impoverished lives. It is as if the very pavements of the street breathe monoxide. An atmosphere of hopelessness and death are integral for this film, as the overarching theme of life and death would lose its value – undoubtedly intended by Ridley Scott who was probably feeling this way himself after losing his brother to cancer.
What is astonishing about this film is how it feels brand new every time you watch it, a signature way of telling a regular film from a masterpiece and that is what this film is - a masterpiece. It is brilliantly acted, written, directed and crafted. Every seen is packed with detail, with every inch of street and every extra in the background having their own unique features. Ridley Scott never ceases to amaze not just with what we see on the screen, but the powerful messages behind it.
The whole lesson of the film is that when your mind is imprisoned, committing organized violence against sentient beings; synthetic or not, becomes a mundane activity when you realize you have been conditioned for the longest time that replicants are not real people, and therefore less deserving of life. One man realized that occupational killing had become an intrinsic part of his identity. Ironically, he comes to value all life more, the more time he spends with the artificial beings.
Ridley Scott creates a world where everywhere you look, there is a disregard for life and everything is slowly dying. I am in no doubts about the pain he was in at the time of shooting, and I am also in no doubts about the inevitable, self-inflicted developments that lie ahead, as long as the great minds continue to pave the way not to a better world but a dystopia. Perhaps a dystopia like the one we see in “Blade Runner”?