Combustible Celluloid
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With: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick
Directed by: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 117
Date: 06/24/1982

Blade Runner (1982)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tricks of the 'Blade'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Ridley Scott's director's cut of Blade Runner was released for its tenth anniversary in 1992 it was a revelation. The new print included a single shot of a unicorn, took away Harrison Ford's pedestrian voice-over narration, and deleted the fake happy ending. The movie now suggests a darker history for Ford's character, Deckard, who is hired to "retire" five "replicants," or artificial human beings. But he betrays his mission when he inadvertently falls in love with one of them (Sean Young).

The screenplay by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher, based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is full of little puzzles, such as the little Origami creatures left lying around by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and the fact that Deckard only manages to kill women replicants. Blade Runner is an extraordinary work; beautifully designed on a relatively low budget, ambiguous, and darkly poetic. It's more slowly paced than we would ever allow a movie to be today, but its pace is essential for sustaining the unique mood. Blade Runner also stars M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, and Brion James.

Notes on The Final Cut, released in 2007:

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner was released in 1982 in a compromised version -- with narration and a happy ending -- to mixed reviews and poor box office. It became a cult sensation on video. In 1991, an early work print was discovered and shown in a few big city theaters (I saw it at San Francisco's Castro Theater). That gave Warner Bros. the impetus to finance a "director's cut" in 1992, which was released much wider, this time to both critical and commercial success. But the story does not end there; Scott was working on Thelma and Louise at the time and essentially did not actually approve the "director's cut." Moreover, some fans began to grow nostalgic over the 1982 version, the one they had originally fallen in love with, which was no longer available -- supplanted by the "director's cut."

Now we have "The Final Cut," which appears, at last, to be the real thing. The changes are minor, but the overall effect is a much cleaner, more logical, and more organically flowing movie. Moreover, Warner Home Video will be releasing several new DVDs, including one deluxe five-discset containing all the previous versions of the film as well as the new one.

Blade Runner is still one of my all-time favorite movies, though it seems to get bleaker with each new reading. Far from a hard-boiled detective, Deckard (Harrison Ford) is rather a weak, ineffective washout. His former boss Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) charges him with the killing (or "retirement") of four renegade replicants, or robots, and later a fifth, Rachael (Sean Young). Of these, Deckard only succeeds in killing two, both women, and both by firing his gun across a distance (one is a back shot). He attempts a few witty cracks here and there, but mostly he whimpers, cowers, moans or drinks. The point is that he's far less "human" than the replicants. Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) works as a snake dancer in a sleazy bar, showcasing her sexuality. Leon Kowalski (Brion James) keeps a collection of sentimental photographs, which mean enough to him for him to risk capture by trying to retrieve them. Pris (Daryl Hannah), the "pleasure model," is generally full of life, acting out her most careless whims. The leader, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer -- in a wonderful, Brando-esque performance) is a genius, a poet and a master chess player. One of his final lines -- "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain" -- spoken as an incredulous Deckard watches, never fails to move me.

Rachael is a different case. She's so well designed that she doesn't even know she's a replicant. When she begins to suspect, she goes -- ironically -- to the very man in charge of dispatching her, for comfort. He succumbs to her and allows her to live. When she kills Leon and saves Deckard's life, she has chosen her side.

Of course, there's also the suggestion that Deckard is a replicant. Scott and co-writers Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples drop in a few clues, notably through the little paper and matchstick figures made by cop Gaff (Edward James Olmos). The first one, as Deckard refuses the job, is a chicken. The second one is a man with an erection, suggesting Deckard's relationship with Rachael. The third one is a unicorn. Earlier we see Deckard dreaming, or thinking, of a unicorn. Since no one could know about such a thing, it suggests that Deckard's thought was artificially planted and that Gaff knew about it. (It's also telling that it's a fictitious animal.) The good news is that there's no conclusive evidence that Deckard is a replicant. The point is that, knowing of his mortality and limitations, he may choose to make the best of what's left.

The movie emphasizes this with its crossing of landscapes, murky and depressing at ground level, and astonishingly beautiful in the air. (The film's incredible art direction hasn't aged a bit.) A floating advertisement promises even greater beauties and riches "off-world." Deckard actually spends a good deal of time in the air, and in another moving scene, he wraps himself in a blanket and takes his drink out on the balcony of his 97th floor apartment, above it all, just gazing at the awesome nightscape.

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