Stars: **** out of Four
Summary: Brooding, foreboding, brutal, and brilliant. A culturally significant picture not quite like any other.
Review: Similar to my review of ‘Citizen Kane’, I ask this question: How can I begin to review one of the most influential films of all time? Many science fiction films, some worth their own salt, have directly taken inspiration from ‘Blade Runner’. This is, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, Ridley Scott’s magnum opus. The film’s own inspiration comes from film noir, and of course the dark, hard science fiction of novelist Phillip K. Dick. It was Dick’s popular work of sci-fi philosophy, ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’, that formed the basis of the screenplay. Humanity, in the future, creates extremely close replicas (or, “replicants”, as they are dubbed) of themselves, putting them to work. Suddenly, slavery is again acceptable, because these androids aren’t really human. Right?
I mean, right?
If the influential philosopher Descartes is to be believed, if we think, that is how we know we are a thing. “I think, therefore I am”, it is commonly translated, though that popular phrase is slightly off, but that’s beside the point. The point is, how does this apply when so-called strong AI becomes frighteningly human-like? Do we grant our machines equal rights with us, as a kind of offspring of the human race? We have not yet devised a machine that blurs the lines between us, so all arguments over this question have remained theoretical. Currently, we still put artificial intelligence against something called the Turing test, which so far has concluded that true strong AI is years, maybe centuries away, if at all possible. But in the future that Phillip K. Dick and Ridley Scott transport us to, the Turing test has been passed by the replicants. The Tyrell corporation, responsible for their creation and management, now has a “Voight-Kampff test”, which initially seems effective at identifying them. But science marches on.
The film opens with two men in a darkened room. One, a Blade Runner; that is, a policeman tasked with hunting down rogue androids. The other, we don’t know. The Blade Runner is giving him the Voight-Kampff test, but before a solid conclusion can be made, the replicant — ’cause that’s what he is — shoots him dead and flees. A short time later, a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), is called by his old boss and set on the case. There are four possibly dangerous rogue replicants on the loose, and it’s up to Deckard to hunt them down. Teamed with Gaff (Edward James Olmos), he travels to meet Tyrell himself, hoping to find that the Voight-Kampff test still works on this latest batch of replicants, of which the rogues are members. While at the Tyrell corporation, Deckard is surprised to find that they have just perfected — but not released — a type of android that can pass the test. The first of her kind, Rachael (Sean Young) and Deckard form an uneasy attraction to one another, but Tyrell tells him to avoid revealing her identity as a replicant to anyone — especially her.
Without spoiling the rest of the plot, here’s my summary of the action. Things are bleak throughout. Many of the replicants act more human, more alive, than Deckard ever does. The whole city seems dead, machinist, a necropolis of impostors. The only people who care to challenge the status quo are — you guessed it — the escaped replicants. Though their actions are indubitably brutal and hateful against the rest of humanity, it’s because they are escaped slaves without a guide. Their “father”, Tyrell, is quite wicked. They find no solace in him.
Now onto the question of Deckard. If you’ve looked into this film, you’ve probably heard of the common theory that he is himself a replicant. This is never stated, not even in the Final Cut version that was released on DVD/Bluray. But it is a quite reasonable assumption. Gaff, who basically disappears about halfway into the film, would seem to be the actual Blade Runner, the guy in charge of watching over him. He seems like a guardian angel figure, and doesn’t really take sides. He seems strangely aware of Deckard’s activities and location at all times, even of his secret romance with Rachael.
The violence of the film is very shocking, especially in the Final Cut. A man’s skull is crushed with the bare hands of a replicant. People are shot, stabbed, and otherwise bloodied. Yet, despite the title and the R-rating for violence, this is not an action movie. It’s a mystery thriller, a very slow burning, intentionally depressing contemplation.
The cinematography is amazing, and with it, the special effects. They work in nearly perfect union to create a completely believable, nightmarish, and sometimes beautiful world. The futuristic technology, remaining without enhancement even in the latest home video release, is seamless. You will believe a flying car can in fact fly.
Philosophical and unquestionably adult, ‘Blade Runner’ has proven to be an elegant masterpiece. It’s too bad that most science fiction pictures won’t approach its excellence… but then again, who does?