blade runner

Blade Runner is arguably the most influential science fiction movie of the 1980’s. Unlike Star Wars, which was the most influential sci-fi movie of the 1970’s, Blade Runner was a thinking person’s version of sci-fi, a sort of 2001; A Space Odyssey for the 80’s.

Certain movies seem to push the envelop farther than it had ever been pushed before. These movies are revolutionary because they re-define the possible, stretching the expectations of moviegoers rather than limply satisfying them.

I can still remember my reaction to the movie, 2001; A Space Odyssey. I was 9 or 10 years old, and I was sitting in the balcony of the Ogden on Colfax in Denver, Colorado when it used to be a movie theater.

The Ogden was running a series of evening double features, including several of the Planet of the Apes films, Dr. Strangelove, and other less notables. Despite my youth, I was somehow able to remain upright and alert for the entire movie. This is not really meant as a criticism of the film, rather a statement about my own maturity.

I can remember the amazement that I felt watching the (virtually) seamless effects, stunning in their complexity and accuracy despite the fact that they were created before the lunar landings. In essence, my perception of what was possible in film was fundamentally changed on that day–my understanding and expectations shifted somehow.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of the term and its application and mis-application to almost every realm of human endeavor (including business, which appropriates every cool expression as its own), I had undergone a fundamental paradigm shift in my thinking.

Blade Runner is the quintessential paradigm-shifting film. Like 2001, it does so by a combination of effects, a depth and intelligence in both its writing and direction, and by presenting a story unlike any seen before.

Those readers who grew up in the 1990’s following Blade Runner’s debut may be unaware of the influence that the movie had and has on modern culture, and may be skeptical of this claim. However, to make my point, let me provide a few examples.

First, the movie helped to bring a hitherto unknown science fiction author, Phillip K. Dick, to light. PKD has provided the foundation for a string of popular science fiction movies, including (in no particular order); Minority Report, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Imposter, Screamers, Total Recall, Next, and several others. Although Blade Runner was bastardized (some, including me, would say markedly improved) from the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the movie helped to solidify PKD’s pre-eminent status as the most influential science fiction writer of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Second, the movie introduced a key concept that would become increasingly important in movies, that of the intelligent android that was virtually indistinguishable from the humans who created it. The newest version of the series, Battlestar Galactica (reviewed elsewhere in this blog) has one of the main plot elements of the story the fact that 13 of the cylon models are almost indistinguishable from the humans that they seek to destroy.

This plot device is also at the root of one of the most controversial questions that has had Blade Runner “scholars” arguing for several years; the question of whether Deckard is or is not actually a replicant himself. Purists, such as myself, say no. Revisionists point to the newer releases of the film, such as the first “Directors Cut” which appears to show a tapeto-retinal sheen (the medical term for the yellow reflection seen in the back of the eyes of cats and some birds) in Deckard’s eyes near the end of the film.

Thirdly, Blade Runner introduced a different sort of atmosphere to the science fiction film. Instead of the clean, white and gray sets of the Star Wars universe, the world of Blade Runner was foreign, dirty, hazy and filled with darkly clouded skies and constant rain. In short, the earth of the future was not a very hospitable place, and this atmosphere provided much of the tension, confusion and fear contained within the film. In short, Blade Runner was one of the first science fiction films to present a future world that was a dystopia, rather than a utopia.

Blade Runner was also, if interviews with Harrision Ford and Ridley Scott are to be believed, a VERY difficulty movie to make. Difficult, perhaps, because nothing like it had ever been done before. As such, there was no way to say to the cast, “I want this scene to look like Casablanca, only better,” or “you know, like the chariot race in Ben-Hur. . . .”

The newest version of the film, titled “The Directors Cut” is actually supposed to be a Director’s Cut of the film. This is in contrast to the previous “Director’s Cut” which was simply the version of the film that was screen tested to audiences prior to the inclusion of Harrison Ford’s distracted voice-over and the elimination of the infamous “unicorn scene.” I am looking forward to viewing this new release. Although I am not certain that the original can be substantively improved upon, I look forward to it anyway.

Original Blade Runner, ***1/2 Jessicas out of four. Directors Cut (first) ***1/2 Jessicas out of four.

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