The release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus this week got me thinking about my favourite of all his films, Blade Runner.
Ridley Scott has made some of the most ground-breaking, genre-defining films of the last 40 years. He also made Kingdom of Heaven. But for me Blade Runner is his greatest. This won’t therefore be a review so much as a why-I-feckin-love-this-film gushfest.
For those Philistines who have never seen it and want some background. It’s Los Angeles 2019. Mankind have created artificial humanoids called Replicants to work in Off-World Colonies. After a bloody rebellion they’re declared illegal and are to be killed on sight. Blade Runner units are the specialist police forces that kill them. Deckard (Ford) is a retired Blade Runner called back to duty to retire a group of Replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who have escaped to the Los Angeles underground (hang on, that sounds familiar…)
I don’t remember exactly when I first saw it but I was fairly young and in the midst of my monster crush on Harrison Ford. It wasn’t the sci-fi film I was expecting, it wasn’t Star Wars. It was much darker, much more violent and made a huge impression on me.
I was fascinated and unsettled in equal measure. The endless rain, the scenes shot in such gloom it’s hard to tell what’s going on, the pervasive Japanese culture, the music, the ambiguity of almost every character. It felt hostile and yet not without beauty or redemption. It felt like a plausible vision of the future.
I’ve watched it many times since and each time I love it more. It’s simply a masterpiece.
The opening scene is extraordinary. A cityscape at night is revealed, gas explosions from refinery towers, a flying craft zooms past as the enormous Tyrell Corporation building comes into view, and soaring over it all is Vangelis’ incredible score.
The story itself may be simple, predictable even, but the whole film is soaked in such style and atmosphere that it elevates it to a whole different level. And the violence, while by today’s standards is fairly tame, is shocking when it occurs.
There are so many elements of this film that I love: the deco style of Deckard’s whiskey glass, the satisfying sound of the machine Deckard uses to view a close up of a photograph, the eerie woman’s voice on the advertising billboard that hangs over JF Sebastian’s house, the sound of the Don’t Walk signs, the creepy little toys JF Sebastian makes to keep himself company, the silver origami unicorn and the line “Too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?”
All of these things have stayed with me like a beautifully surreal and vivid dream.
But the greatest moment of the film is the final scene between Deckard and Roy Batty and Batty’s last speech. It’s given after Batty has saved Deckard and is dying and Deckard just listens. Its poetry – beautiful, moving.
“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… Time to die.”
Apparently Hauer made that last line up. If it had been “tears in the rain” it wouldn’t have been as powerful. Incredible.
This film works as a sci-fi action thriller but also raises more profound questions about what it means to be human. At the risk of sounding unbelievably pretentious, it manages to be art as well as entertainment. With Blade Runner Ridley Scott set the benchmark for every science fiction film that followed. It is so much of its time and yet still feels fresh.
This film has rewarded me time and time again and I adore it. I’d never seen anything like it before and I’ve not seen its equal since.
Originally posted 30 May 2012