January 14, 2006
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Philip K. Dick (Novel), Hampton Fancher & David Peoples
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very High
Key Cast Members:
Overview: If you read a lot of the reviews from others about movies on this site, you’ll find that over half of them reference Blade Runner in some way, other in the visuals or issues discussed. Along with Gibson’s Neuromancer, Blade Runner did more to establish cyberpunk as a genre. The fact that Blade Runner came two years prior to Neuromancer is rather interesting. Truly, this film set the standard for the near-future film noirs sub-genre we call cyberpunk.
Not too dissimilar to the wrath that greeted Metropolis’ release, Blade Runner was not an instant hit. Instead it grew from being critically panned to a cult classic, to now, where its well on its way to being considered a timeless classic.
The Visuals: The visuals in Blade Runner are simply stunning. We see corporate pharaohs ruling a society containing manufactured slaves from their Egyptian style pyramids, while we see rot and decay on the streets below. Noir-style beige and blacks dominate the screen, but are often supplanted by shocking neons. In Blade Runner, we see and Earth in ruin - a place that people are eager to leave. Only the poor and problematic are left on this rain-soaked dystopian planet that has been raped of any semblance of natural existence. The Earth is now almost completely devoid of trees and animals, which are now replaced with artificial ones for the pleasure of mankind.
The Story: Technology and corporate power are clearly the cause for this downfall. Genetic engineering has run rampant, and is combined with advanced organic computing technologies. It is in this world that we find a cast of flawed characters. Nobody is pure, nobody pristine. They are all a product of the environment they live in.
To augment humanity’s needs and desires, replicants, or genetically engineered humans imbued with artificial intelligence have been developed. They serve many important roles including protection, pleasure slaves, and hard labor for the most dangerous environments. While replicants start out as rather straightforward and useful machines, over time, they start to develop awareness - their own personality, and eventually, free will and a desire for self-preservation. Because they are defined as property, Replicants are given a 4-year lifespan, which is enforced upon inception, and is irreversible.
It is in this world that we encounter Deckard (Harrison Ford), a Blade Runner. Blade Runners are cops who hunt down Replicants. At the beginning of the movie, we find that Deckard has supposedly retired from the business.I say supposedly here, because if he is a replicant, then really, he has been imbued with false memories as well, and in fact has never been a blade runner prior to this. Really, he is just filling in as a laborer fulfilling another job that is too dangerous for humans.
Deckard is brought back in to "retire" 4 runaway "skin jobs" (replicants) who have murdered humans off-world and have escaped to Earth. Apparently, they seem to be interested in coming back to their creators - the Tyrell corporation. The story expands from there, and truly touches on some wonderful questions concerning ethical dilemmas that most certainly will arise in the future.
I’m not in the business. I AM the business…
Deckard encounters Rachael (played wonderfully by Sean Young), a replicant who during the movie discovers her true nature. Blade Runner does a masterful job of exploring the questions and emotions surrounding this. We see Rachael’s theme echoed in Natural City, Armitage, Thirteenth Floor, Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, Malice@Doll, the Animatrix, I, Robot, and others. This question about what degree artificial life forms are human is a central theme of the cyberpunk genre.
What is Human? While other movies have been terrific in exploring this, Blade Runner still sits at the top of the list, both for Racheal, and for Roy Batty, the leader of the renegade replicants. Roy’s monologue near the end (see the quote at the top), which was supposedly adlibbed by Rutger Hauer, captures in a single moment the ethical dilemma with creating sentient life. If they have freewill, can they really be considered property? And if they aren’t property, what are they, exactly?
Blade Runner uses mannequins and toys as its set piece for representing this dilemma. In Blade Runner, corporations create these glorified toys - moving mannequins if you will, to meet the needs of society, yet while the toys themselves are clearly a product of the society just like all the other noir characters, are they truly nothing more? And if we do consider them to be on par with humans, what obligations do they have to their creators, who invested time and money in their creation?
The Bottom Line: On top of all this philosophical questioning, we get some great noir-detective-like action and suspense. Roy Batty is truly a badass. Deckard’s pursuit of him is a very fun engagement, as is the climax. Its flat out terrific. The pacing is wonderful, the visuals are astounding, and the story is enthralling. By now I’m guessing most have seen this cinematic masterpiece, but if not, you are truly in for feast!
Tags: cyberpunk movie review