Playing With Knives
Tripwire’s contributing writer ED HIPKISS takes a look at Ridley Scott’s seminal sci fi classic, Blade Runner, 35 years after it was first released, in the year that we shall see a sequel to it…
It’s 35 years ago that Blade Runner first hit cinema screens, and its impact and influence continues to play out on them today. Only a moderate success on first release, no fewer than seven different versions have been produced and today it is regarded as a cult classic. Things now turn full circle as the long awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049 fast approaches its release this October.
Briefly, the plot concerns genetically engineered “Replicants”, indistinguishable from ordinary humans, who are manufactured for working off-world. Those who return to Earth and hunted down and “retired” (killed) by special police officers called Blade Runners. Rick Deckard is persuaded to take one last job and hunt down a group of four Replicants lead by Roy Batty. But in the course of doing so he meets Rachael, also a Replicant, who forces him to question the nature of humanity.
The film had a troubled birth from script to screen. Adapted from Philip K Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” it was offered to Ridley Scott, then most famous for the science fiction / horror film “Alien” (1979), but he declined. After working on the film adaptation of “Dune” for a year, he left the project due to the slow pace of production and decided to accept the Blade Runner assignment. Casting also proved problematic; the key role of Deckard was originally visualised as being played by Robert Mitchum (screenwriter Hampton Fancher writing the dialogue with him in mind), and Scott spent months negotiating with Dustin Hoffman who eventually turned the role down due to differences in artistic vision. Other actors who appear to have been seriously considered according to contemporary production documents include Gene Hackman, Tommy Lee Jones, Sean Connery and Al Pacino amongst many others. Harrison Ford was eventually cast due to his desire for a film with a bit more depth than the parts he was currently playing (Han Solo in Star Wars and the lead character in the Indiana Jones films), and a strong recommendation to Scott from Steven Spielberg, who was directing Ford on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at the time. Considerably easier to cast was the part of Roy Batty, the leader of the Replicants which was offered to Rutger Hauer without Scott even meeting him, based purely on his performance in various movies directed by Paul Verhoeven. Other parts were played by up then up and coming, or unknown, actors, including Daryl Hannah as the Replicant Pris, and Edward James Olmos as Detective Gaff. Sean Young portrayed Rachael, the Replicant that Deckard becomes involved with.
Blade Runner has proved to be extremely influential in film and television, and beyond. It’s dark and futuristic designs influencing the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (2003 to 2009) and the Ghost In The Shell series of films. It has also heavily influenced the cyberpunk movement. Its special effects are generally regarded as being amongst the all-time best. In addition to matte paintings and models, multi-pass exposures were used. In certain scenes, the set would be lit, shot, the film rewound and then re-recorded over with a completely different lighting set up. In certain cases, this was done up to 16 times in all. Cameras were frequently motion controlled using computers; revolutionary at the time.
Equally iconic as the cityscapes is Vangelis’s soundtrack, which has been used and sampled countless times over the years. Of particular note, it plays a large part in Paul Oakenfold’s legendary “Goa Mix”, originally recorded as part of BBC Radio One’s Essential Mix show and first broadcast in December 1994. Repeated many times since and heavily bootlegged over the years (ironic considering the Blade Runner soundtrack itself was heavily bootlegged over the years due to a lack of an official release for over a decade) , it finally got a commercial release in a reworked form in 2011. Predating it by a year, the Future Sound of London also sampled the film and it’s soundtrack as part of their Essential Mix, the sixth entry in a show that still runs today having notched up well over 1200 individual episodes. They also used it on their single “My Kingdom” (1996). Taken from their “Dead Cities” album, it reached number 13 on the UK Top 40; and included samples taken from the track “Rachael’s Theme”.
So with the passage of time and the long rumoured sequel finally a reality how has the original aged? The obvious answer is, of course, very well. After all, it received mixed reviews (one reviewer unkindly dubbing it “Blade Crawler” due to its perceived slow pace) and underperformed commercially, particularly in the United States, on first release in 1982 but is now considered a classic of both science fiction and neo-noir. It’s a rare “best of” list that omits the film, having appeared on lists ranging from “Top 100 Cult Movies” (Entertainment Weekly – 2003, ranked 9th), to “All Time Favourite Science Fiction Film” (New Scientist – 2008, ranked 1st) and even the all encompassing “All-Time 100 Best Movies” (Time Magazine -2005, no ranking system). In 1993 it was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry.
One question that continues to come up – is Deckard actually a Replicant himself? Even as recently as this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Harrison Ford was asked the question and once more gave his thoughts on the subject. The film is deliberately ambiguous and can be viewed either way. Ford himself has indicated that he believes Deckard is a human, but Scott has confirmed that he intended for the opposite to be the case. With both Harrison Ford and original screenwriter Hampton Fancher returning for Blade Runner 2049, and Scott attached to the project in an Executive Producer capacity, perhaps we will finally get an answer. It will be disappointing if it does not provide us with more questions and motivations to interpret instead.