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BLADE RUNNER Ridley Scott scr: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples

BLADE RUNNER (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James

Screenplay: Hampton Fancher and David Peoples; from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner
Harrison Ford, Blade Runner

Blade Runner by Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott's dystopian 1982 sci-fi drama Blade Runner is one of those Hollywood productions whose initially mixed reviews were actually closer to the mark than the decades of hagiography that followed. That's not to say that Blade Runner is a bad film; it's only a much-ballyhooed mediocrity chiefly due to its sluggish screenplay.

Adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples from the equally so-so novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick — a writer whose ideas for stories always outstripped his ability to render them into good prose — Blade Runner pales in comparison to Paul Verhoeven's later Dick adaptation, Total Recall (1990), as well as to Scott's prior sci-fi classic Alien (1979).

Nearly twenty years ago, when I saw on VHS the Blade Runner cut as presented in its original theatrical release — the first of seven or so different versions — there was little that stuck with me about the film, save that it was at its worst a pretentious bore and at its best a moderately interesting effort. This review will chiefly discuss Scott's 2007 DVD edition, "The Final Cut," which follows along the same lines of the 1992 "Director's Cut" (ironically, not done by Scott) while altering quite a few elements found in the original.

I should add that after having watched the DVD version, I did go back to my old videotape and rewatched the original, which is two or three minutes shorter than the final version's 117 minutes. Therefore, I can state that while "The Final Cut" improves a few elements (similar to the way George Lucas tweaked THX 1138 and Francis Ford Coppola added things to Apocalypse Now) it takes away more from the original than it adds — again proving that directors can make mistakes.

In fact, the original Blade Runner was released not long after Michael Cimino's disastrous Heaven's Gate, as well as Coppola's monumentally expensive Apocalypse Now, a time when studios started reigning in the directorial excesses of the 1970s that had often led to self-indulgent films. In watching the better, sleeker (although still nowhere near great) original version and seeing Scott's later tweaks, there's little doubt that Scott's penchant for artistic self-indulgence (on screen and in the DVD's audio commentary) needed to be checked by the studio suits.

Blade Runner by Ridley Scott

The basic problem in all versions is that Scott does nothing to make the characters in Blade Runner seem either realistic or empathetic, for they are all emotionally castrated archetypes, lacking believable human interactions. Given the suffusion of technical detail on screen, ostensibly to add "realism" to the futuristic tale set in 2019, there can be no falling back upon the excuse that those are intentionally metaphoric characters whose portrayals was intentionally marionette-like, such as Michelangelo Antonioni's characters in L'Eclisse or Alain Resnais' in Last Year at Marienbad.

Here is the nub of the problem not only with Blade Runner, but with its currently positive critical assessments: like what's found in most modern MFA fiction writing, Scott believes that depth of story and characterization comes not from the "moments" on screen or by the way an actor makes a banal scene work, but by flooding the screen with excessive detail and description even if those are not particularly noteworthy. A well-written film like It's a Wonderful Life will reveal little details in the background or moments between characters in "minor scenes" that in rewatch illuminate something to come. There is nothing of the sort in Blade Runner. Instead, the film offers little trinkets tossed on screen that are simply meant to set technogeeks aflutter.

Having watched Blade Runner five times on a single day — "The Final Cut," alone and with its three commentaries, and the VHS original version — I reiterate: there are no such moments or scenes in Blade Runner. As mentioned, one might spot an interesting neon sign or a silly-looking character, but nothing that adds to the film's core. In fact, Scott's removal of the initial version's voice-over by Harrison Ford is a big blow to "The Final Cut" (which I'll delve into later) because its loss removes narrative elements, including the humanization and complexity of Ford's character, that simply do not exist elsewhere.

In fact, the voice-over helps to clarify and condense the often inexplicable things Ford's character does, as well as elements not readily known due to the dark murk that infests the film's major scenes. Additionally, in a playful manner the voice-over ties Blade Runner back to 1940s film noir, whereas the voice-overless final version makes it more grim, somber, and murky, while turning Ford's character into a far less appealing figure — especially considering that Ford doesn't act with his face or body.

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8 Comments to BLADE RUNNER Ridley Scott scr: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples

  1. GAFF

    Lets be honest here, anything any of us say isnt going to change this writers opinion – the very fact that the reasons he give why he doesnt like blade runner is the very things that everyone else gets. The richness of the charcterisation in this is so subtle that even the great film critic roger egbert didnt get it first time BUT now he does. Mainly because he took the blinkers off and let Blade Runner in. I get the feeling the author has a deeper chip on his shoulder and something bigger than Blade Runner is eating him – Blade Runner is a easy target because he knows he will get a reaction from us all and he will get his 15 minutes of fame. Maybe he needs a happy memory (and humour)implant – anyone know the number for the Tyrell Corporation?

  2. Callista Sky

    To think I wasted my time reading this 4-part blog…. The note at the end states "Also, please note that Alt Film Guide has no contact information for the talent The Author of the blog) mentioned in this blog…." I can see why.

  3. Greg Cameron

    I disagree strenuously. "Blade Runner" is a classic, I'm afraid – I've watched this film countless times and continue to find it fascinating and moving. Like most visions of the future, it is not accurate in its predictions of the future(as it currently appears to be unfolding) and it is reflective of the place and times that gave rise to it(at the time of filming, Americans were very concerned with Japan and West Germany overrunning their industrial base – globalization turned out to be a bit more complicated than that). However,"Blade Runner" shows its true modernity/post-modernity in its consideration of the question of identity. Arnold Schoenberg once told an L.A. music class, "I wonder sometimes who I am." That issue is central to this picture. Post-modernists often say that identity is a fictional construct. And psychologists argue that memories after only a short period of time are creative reconstructions of the events which supposedly gave rise to them(whatever they might have been, really). If you can't trust your memories, can you be sure who you really are? The female replicant in this picture has implanted memories – they are 'real' to her. Does this make her any less real than the fictions floating around in our own brains? I found the scene where Harrison Ford points out her memories were implanted and the female replicant breaks down in tears to be very moving. And, of course, is the Harrison Ford character himself 'real?' Like Star Trek – the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek Voyager, "Blade Runner" examines the issue of whether a synthetically created being (or the product of any other mechanical process) can be self-aware/sentient and hence 'alive.' It does so in a more provocative way than those series(which I am, incidentally, quite fond of) furthermore. When the Rutger Hauer replicant tells the Harrison Ford character of all the things he has seen, are his memories any less real than those of a human? The movie is also self-reflexive in a way that should appeal to post-modernists. The prematurely aging body mechanic/tinkerer has a living quarter full of synthetically created beings that inevitably recall "the Wizard of Oz." Such echoes are surely ironic in the dystopian context of the film. They may also provide an implicit critique of the techno-nightmare of the film. When the Rutger Hauer howls like a werewolf, he is engaging in irony – surely a very human activity. He is aware of himself being considered a 'monster' by the human world – he is, after all, being hunted down as though he were one. The film also makes an existential point. The Olmos character tells Harrison Ford that the female replicant is doomed to oblivion – but then again aren't we all? If we are all to be erased like a computer disc, all we have is to find meaning and make the existential gamble of love in the moments we have. At the end, Harrison Ford and the female replicant are on the run. In a very real sense, whether we know it or not, aren't we all on the run? Sorry, I find this film, in spite of its being 'dated', to be touching and even at times profound. My feelings are this film are real to me. Am I any less real than you? I suppose the matter is open to debate. At any rate, that is my take. Make of it what you will….Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada

  4. Victor

    Dan,

    What exactly do you know about directing, script writing, acting or film in general ? Stick to rating poetry. You obviously know little about film. Spielberg and his movies and the other acclaimed films you bash will ontinue to be considered great, nothing you can do about it.

  5. Lengthy Johnson

    Well, Blade Runner has several unique qualities. The first is the hypnotic cinematography and slow pace which creates a new space in the mind of the viewer.

    The second is the highly allegorical story, which deals with existential issues – fully on par with Bergman.

    Why are we here, who made us, why do we die and what happens then?

    Acting is also outstanding with best performances from most of the cast.

    As for your critique of Ridley Scott, I'd say it is misdirected. In fact any scene from any Scott movie is instantly recogniseable. His films are totally iconic. Except his latest three films.

    Next time, try a big shot of scotch before you watch Blade Runner. It might quieten your own thoughts and open your mind to the film.

  6. Dan Schneider

    Why waste so much time and space to criticise a movie you don't like?
    – Beacause it is Blade Runner and it will get people riled up.

    ***My liks or dislikes have little to do with criticism. I dislike most Bergman films but recognize his quality. As for riling up. I don't care, although it seems your Johnson got up; so are you saying you like being so easily manipulated?

    I speak to a lot of people who don't like Blade Runner. They are usually younger than 20 and almost never film critics.
    I first saw Blade Runner when I was about 15 and I didn't like it. To be more precise: I didn't get it.
    Now I get it and it's good. Very good.

    ***It's a dull and pretentious film. Lgan's Run, at least, did not take itself seriously.

    And the Final Cut is the best version and the Theatrical Version with the narrative by Ford is more or less a joke.

    ***And we also see that you are a joiner. Good luck with your enjoyment, sayeth your heart to your brain.

  7. Lengthy Johnson

    Dan, Dan, Dan.

    Why waste so much time and space to criticise a movie you don't like?

    – Beacause it is Blade Runner and it will get people riled up.

    I speak to a lot of people who don't like Blade Runner. They are usually younger than 20 and almost never film critics.

    I first saw Blade Runner when I was about 15 and I didn't like it. To be more precise: I didn't get it.

    Now I get it and it's good. Very good.

    And the Final Cut is the best version and the Theatrical Version with the narrative by Ford is more or less a joke.

  8. An interesting comment about the Esperanto language!

    It's unforunate that however that most people do not know that this new global language is also a living language.

    Esperanto is in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers,(people who have used the language from birth), include George Soros,World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to NATO and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet.

    Further information can be seen at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670 A glimpse of the language can be seen at http://www.lernu.net




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