Blade Runner is a gritty, noir-ish, rain-soaked vision of a dystopian future Los Angeles in which government sanctioned bounty-hunters (Blade Runners) are used to track down and “retire” human-looking robots known as replicants. Loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, director Ridley Scott’s film is a complex, thought-provoking meditation on what it means to be human. With its striking visual imagery, moody soundtrack and advanced special-effects, Blade Runner is that rare Science Fiction movie that spends as much time setting a mood as it does discussing its big ideas. And while it may not be as exciting or revolutionary as more action-oriented movies like Star Wars or The Matrix, its cerebral nature and thematic ambiguity is what has made it a cult classic and landed it atop many critics lists of the top Science Fiction movies of all time.
Blade Runner Summary: Los Angeles in the year 2019 is a bleak and dreary place. Seen almost exclusively at night (and with a constant light rain dampening everything), the city is a mass of brightly lit skyscrapers, flame spewing industrial refineries and a constant barrage of corporate marketing. The place is so harsh and inhospitable that we hear multiple references to messages advertising “a better life in the off-world colonies.” And while the technology required to build life-like humanoid robots has been developed by the Tyrell Corporation, their use on Earth has been banned (for obvious reasons). In the midst of this dystopian bleakness we meet a man named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner for the Los Angeles police department who is coerced into taking on one last assignment – to track down and kill a group of renegade replicants who’ve escaped from one of the off-world colonies.
Because the replicants are nearly indistinguishable from real humans, Deckard has to use a sophisticated empathy test (known as the “Voight-Kampff” test) in order to determine whether a subject is human or replicant. The test involves asking a series of questions (mostly relating to hurting animals) and then judging the subject’s empathic responses. In order to test the process, Deckard travels to the Tyrell corporation headquarters where he performs the test on a beautiful assistant named Rachael (Sean Young). Though she believes herself to be completely human, his test shows otherwise. Tyrell explains that she is an experimental replicant, implanted with false memories and designed to have no knowledge of the fact that she is a robot. When Rachael confronts Deckard later at his apartment about the results of her test, he ends up telling her the truth: that the memories she has are actually those of another person. Deckard comforts her in her anguish, and eventually becomes romantically attached to her.
While Deckard is hunting the rogue replicants, the replicants are actually searching for Tyrell, the man who designed and created them. Since the replicants were designed with a predetermined lifespan (sort of a planned obsolescence), the escaped robots (played by Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah and Joanna Cassidy) are trying to reach their creator in order to try to extend their life. But as Deckard begins to track down and “retire” the replicants one by one, their search for Tyrell becomes more desperate and diabolical. The eventual showdown between Deckard and the last remaining replicants (I won’t say who) in an abandoned apartment building is one of the most nerve-wracking climaxes in cinema history.
Blade Runner Review: Few films evoke a sense of claustrophobia and existential dread as well as Blade Runner does. From the opening shots of the city lit up by the flames of industry to the cold, harsh reality of humans living in the shadows of giant corporations and megalithic buildings, the film seems to depict a world that has somehow forgotten its humanity. With scientists bent on coming up with newer and better ways of acting like Gods and less interested in creating a world that is hospitable to the few remaining humans still living on this dying planet, it’s no surprise that Deckard himself starts to question his own conception of what it means to be human – and what that implies for the work that he is asked to perform. By leaving those implications open to interpretation, Ridley Scott has created a film whose themes and meaning will be debated for years to come.
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