Blade Runner is an award-winning 1982 science-fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, based on a 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The film, with its elements of film noir and cyberpunk, gained a loyal fan audience following a mixed reaction to its original release, though it did pick up several awards, including three BAFTAs in 1983, with the work of cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth and designer Lawrence G. Paull particularly recognised. Several versions of the film exist, with the biggest differences between the original U.S. theatrical release and Ridley Scott's preferred 'Final Cut' of his work, which appeared in 2007. The plot concerns the pursuit of several bioengineered 'replicants' by Deckard, a police officer assigned to eliminate them in the dystopian streets of Los Angeles, 2019; it deals with themes of slavery and what it means to be human.
See also Characters
Scott's vision of 2019 Los Angeles is of a city mired in squalor and pollution, with constant rain and decaying buildings abandoned by owners now seeking a new life in the off-world colonies. LA is a city of immigration, with a substantial population of East Asian people who have brought with them Japanese, Chinese and other languages. At the same time, LA is home to the Tyrell Corporation (motto: "more human than human"), that have made significant progress in creating artificial, bioengineered life in the form of human-looking 'replicants'. These individuals have become the slaves of humankind, performing dangerous jobs, military operations and various sleazy 'pleasure' functions. Replicants are banned on Earth outside the Tyrell Corporation, on pain of "retirement" (death), so when five escape to Earth and attempt to hide among the human population, former 'Blade Runner' cop [Rick] Deckard is ordered back into service to hunt them down.
Blade Runner is based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but differs substantially. The original script for the film, written by Hampton Fancher, was called Dangerous Days. Behind-the-scenes disagreements led to the involvement of David Peoples, who continued to work on the script, which was eventually named Blade Runner after Alan E. Nourse's 1974 novel The Bladerunner: the title is of no actual significance within the film. In the novel, Deckard is less of a tough cop, living in a world where animals are endangered and pets are more often robotic than real; the sheep in the title refers to Deckard's desire to own one.
Several versions of Blade Runner have appeared over the years. Excluding a 1982 'sneak preview' version which is the same as the U.S. cut but with three extra scenes, there are five main versions of the film: 'Theatrical', 'International', 'Director's Cut, 'Workprint' and 'Final Cut'.
Ridley Scott's early cut of Blade Runner was substantially modified for its eventual cinema release. Test audiences appeared to have difficulty following the story, so to address this a voiceover by Harrison Ford, in character as 'Blade Runner' cop Rick Deckard, was added to try to clarify what was happening on-screen. In addition to this, a more upbeat 'happy ending' made it into the released version, and a controversial scene involving Deckard dreaming of a unicorn was not included. The U.S. release was also substantially cut for violence, with those scenes surviving in the internationally-released version of the film.
In the years following the release, a 'workprint' version of the film emerged and circulated in unofficial forums. This version helped the film gain something of a cult following. It differed in many major and minor respects from the theatrical release and all subsequent editions of the film, having no voiceover other than at the end (with a different script used), placeholder music rather than the theatrical score by Vangelis, and scenes here and there that were modified or excised from other versions. A 'workprint' of the film was released in 2007 alongside Scott's preferred 'Final Cut'; this early version of Blade Runner has an audio commentary by writer Paul M. Sammon, who exhaustively documents over 70 changes from later versions of the film.
In 1992, a new version of the film known as the 'Director's Cut' was produced that was intended to resemble Scott's original vision, approved by him, though he was not involved with the project. The 'happy ending' of the theatrical version was cut, the unicorn scene appeared again as a way of implying a controversial point about the true nature of Rick Deckard, and the voiceover was completely removed. In 2007, Scott completed his own version, known as the 'Final Cut', which was edited in a similar way: no voiceover, a cut to the ending that made the film's conclusion more down-beat, and the inclusion of a slightly different unicorn scene. The film was also extensively remastered, with state-of-the art computer graphics used to repair certain errors (such as the appearance of an incongruous thumb on Roy Batty's shoulder when the character is first introduced). Parts of some scenes were subtly reshot and mixed with original footage with the help of Benjamin Ford, son of Harrison, and Joanna Cassidy, who briefly reprised her role as Zhora to fix a scene where her stunt double was conspicuously identifiable.
Blade Runner won several awards soon after release. 1982 saw the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Cinematography go to Jordan Cronenweth, who also won a BAFTA the following year in the same category. Alongside Cronenweth, Charles Knode and Michael Kaplan won a BAFTA for Best Costume Design, and Lawrence G. Paull took another for Best Production Design/Art Direction. It also won a Hugo Award in 1983 for Best Dramatic Presentation. Blade Runner has also been nominated several times for other BAFTAs, Academy Awards and various others.
Since the original release of Blade Runner, the film has appeared several times in 'best film' rankings by various organisations. The American Film Institute placed it sixth in a list of ten best science-fiction films, and in 2005 it was recognised by Time magazine as one of the all-time best films. In 2008, it was voted "all-time favourite science fiction film" by the readers of the UK magazine New Scientist.
The 'true nature' of Deckard
Warning: some spoilers follow
Rick Deckard, Blade Runner's main character, has attracted controversy over the years regarding his 'true nature'. The original film, distinct from Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was intended to imply that Deckard himself is a replicant: this would have been conveyed through a planned dream sequence involving a unicorn, and Deckard's subsequent discovery of an origami one made by his associate Gaff. This suggests that Gaff knows about Deckard's unicorn dream, because replicants have artificially implanted memories. Deleted scenes and excised lines that appear in no version of the film would have further supported this 'Deck-a-rep' view had they been used: Gaff's famous line "You've done a man's job, sir" continued "...but are you sure you are a man?", and a line in the 'happy ending' has Deckard's replicant lover, Rachael, say "I think we were made for each other."
However, the theatrical versions of the film excised the unicorn and the above references, but even without them, other indications survive in all releases of Blade Runner. In one scene, Deckard's eyes glow unnaturally for a moment, as the eyes of the 'true' replicants do from time to time in the film. The replicant Leon collects photos, and Deckard appears to do the same: his apartment is full of them, yellowed with age. There is a possible indication that Rachael may know from the start that Deckard is a replicant, in her line referring to the Voight-Kampff test that Blade Runners use to identify replicants: "Did you ever take that test yourself?" Alternatively, this may concern Deckard's apparent coldness as a human being at this point in the film.
The re-released versions of 1992 and 2007 restore the unicorn, further implying that Deckard is a replicant. Ridley Scott subsequently stated that his intention was for Deckard to be a replicant, though this has encountered significant resistance from some quarters of fandom, and also from Harrison Ford. The unicorn, for example, is sometimes explained as Deckard thinking about one of Rachael's implanted memories. In an interview included with the 2007 DVD collection of five main versions of the film, Scott said that Deckard is a replicant, joking that "if you don't get it, you're a moron!"
- TIME: 'All-time 100 movies: Blade Runner'. 2005.
- New Scientist: 'Sci-fi special: your all-time favourite science fiction'. 12th November 2008.