Summer of '82: Blade Runner -

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  • Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmett Walsh, Edward James Olmos, William Sanderson and Joanna Cassidy
  • Written by: Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples
  • Directed by: Ridley Scott
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 117 minutes
  • Series:

Summer of '82: Blade Runner

"I'm not in the business. I am the business."

By Rob Vaux     June 25, 2012

 Watching the current kerfuffle around Prometheus reminds me of a very similar reaction to another Ridley Scott joint. Blade Runner appeared in the summer of '82 to reactions of bafflement and disbelief. Some critics adored it. Others thought it was a jumbled mess. The public ignored it and even its stunning effects took a back seat to E.T. that year at the Oscars. Like a number of films from that era, its true worth only emerged over time. Today it stands as one of the most celebrated – and studied – science fiction movies of all time:  a motion picture masterpiece on the short list of Reasons Why This Medium is Worthwhile. The journey there is almost as fascinating as the film itself.

The fact that Blade Runner holds up to such scrutiny over and over again speaks to the sheer richness of its text. Scott, an obsessive detail freak, packed his retro-future with every conceivable tidbit for us to pore over. What do noodles look like in 2019? How do flying cars navigate around the earthbound models? Is that Devo wandering around in the background!? He anchors the chaos with equally potent themes, from the grand question of what it means to be human to subtler use of Oedipal imagery and the omnipresent texture of noir.

Noir, of course, informs most of Blade Runner providing an alternate but no less potent version of dystopian future to stand alongside The Road Warrior released several weeks earlier. While that film saw us collapse with a bang, here it becomes a whimper: a long slow ramble into corruption and irrelevance until only the detritus remains. Earth of 2019 resembles a functioning discard pile; humanity has largely fled for the stars, leaving the bungled and the botched behind. Every human being in Blade Runner suffers from some form of malady:  Gaff's (Edward James Olmos) limp, Tyrell's (Joe Turkel) glasses, the wasting disease slowly claiming J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson). Contrast that with the renegade androids who move among them: beautiful, powerful, stalking the city like gods among the ruins and all but unstoppable in their glory. Their only flaw is their temporary nature, something they desperately hope to change. The Powers That Be can't allow that to happen.

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the "blade runner" assigned to track them down, evinces the typical qualities of a noir detective. But he also follows the same pattern as many of Scott's male heroes: a good man working for a corrupt system that doesn't deserve his loyalty.  Small wonder, then, that he questions his appointed role as executioner… and eventually his very humanity. Like Prometheus, Blade Runner encompasses a search for wisdom, with Deckard seeking justification for his deeds as much as a viable target. And like Prometheus, such wisdom brings little benefit to those who finally find it.

Musings like that begin anew each time we watch the movie. Each screening produces a slightly different reaction; each time we see something we hadn't discovered before. Such efforts require care and attention to fully understand, an impossibility in the first-weekend-uber-alles environment in which most blockbusters must operate. The original theatrical version suffered from excessive studio interference, notably with the hideous voice-over and tacked-on "happy ending" that basically undid the remainder of the film. Burdened by these handicaps and swimming resolutely against the prevailing zeitgeist, it's small wonder that it struggled for relevance at first.

But time heals all wounds as they say, and the film found its true status even before the release of the director's cut in 1992. Like The Road Warrior, its influence is self-evident; William Gibson wrote concurrently with its development and it can be counted (along with Gibson's novel Neuromancer) as one of the progenitors of cyberpunk. The analysis and criticism associated with it easily dwarf the film itself, and polls often cite it as second only to Citizen Kane in formal academic studies. All this from a movie that basically plugs a hard-boiled detective into a high-tech future. Its brilliance sneaks up on you, and takes multiple screenings to spot. Scott has that figured out from the start; it took the rest of us years to come to the same conclusion. 


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Wiseguy 6/25/2012 8:15:25 AM

Even as a kid its brilliance did not escape me. Maybe I focused on the vanities of the film at the time but I like to think that I did get some of its more deeper meanings, hell I know I did. I have loved this film since day 1 and every variation as well. It's one of the few films that fuels me with enthusiasm when it comes up as a topic

Anyway this is my #1 argument when folk cite critical response as their gauge on wether or not to see a film

redhairs99 6/25/2012 8:37:33 AM

 Personally, I prefer the International Cut of all the different versions of the film.  I know most disagree, but I actually like Ford's narration on the film.  It adds to that "noir" feeling.  And I think this cut is much more ambigeous as to the question of is Deckard a replicant or isn't he.  The Director's Cut all but screams at the audience that he is.

flyinroo 6/25/2012 8:46:51 AM

I totally agree with Wiseguy on this. When I was a kid, I was mesmerized by ever detail this movie hit me with. It was a true spectacle. I didn't get the deeper meanings at all at the time, but when I saw again sometime later, I was amazed at all I had missed. I still feel that same wonderment I felt as a child and again as a young adult when I watch it now. Hands down the best sci-fi movie ever. Inside I am all tingly about thoughts of a new movie, but rationally I am extremely worried. I really dont want any answers to the questions left by this movie.

MrEt 6/25/2012 8:49:39 AM

Like prometheus many ideas and differnt takes on the film, for me it goes back to decker and his interigation og the female replicant.

"Suspect? How can it not know what it is? "

monkeyfoot 6/25/2012 8:55:27 AM

Yeah, I actually like the narrated version, too. Even when I watch the director's cut my mind automatically fills Ford's voice back in.

Wiseguy 6/25/2012 9:03:59 AM

Include me as one that likes the narration as well. Like redhairs said it really added to that "noir" feel, almost like an old novel coming to life

Agree flyinroo, so much that went over our heads at the time. I think the one aspect that grabbed me from the 1st viewing though was the desire to live but just that. As I got older I empathyzed more with the replicants

cinemaman72 6/25/2012 9:16:15 AM

I have to say that one of the things that often annoys me is the belief that the "Un-narrated" version of 'Blade Runner' is somehow a masterpiece compared to the "Voice-Over" version. I'm a big fan of the movie and I've seen all 5 cuts of the film and I have to say the Theatrical Version is always the one that makes the most sense especially if you are approaching this for the first time. Case in point I have watch different versions of the film with people watching the film for the first time, and it never fails that when they see an unnarrated version of the fim, they don't understand it and end up losing interest.  Like Monkeyfoot says, watching that narrated version allows you to fill in the gaps during the unvoiced versions of the film.

jppintar326 6/25/2012 1:02:51 PM

Incredibly overrated film.  I still think it looks great but in the end there was nothing that excited me the way it excited others.  I think it is because none of the characters are interesting or sympathetic.  Rutger Hauer's character, for example, I think is simply a psychopath.  His search for extended life has made him kill everybody in his path.  Am I supposed  to feel anything for him at the end.  Sorry but I can't.  I also found Sean Young, an actress I never cared for, simply robotic literally and figuratively in her performance.  I also never cared if Deciker was a replicant or not.  I have this movie over and over again and still come up with the same result.  Great visual effects but empty and hollow in its storytelling.

Munkey421e 6/25/2012 3:18:10 PM

I felt the movie was the best adaption we could have gotten from the source material. better than Total Recall(We Can Remember it for You for WholeSale), Minority Report or even Paycheck (all of which were written by Phillip K Dick) I havent seen the new Recall yet but I hope its closer than the one with the Govenator. There is a story called Electric Ant that is along the same lines as Blade Runner, perhaps Scott will adapt the story into the Sequel that has been speculated.

SinisterPryde 6/25/2012 3:49:05 PM

Add me to the list also of people who prefer the narration.  The happy ending I can take or leave, it never impacted me that much nor did it detract from all that had come before.  I remember watching this as a kid and falling in love with the world.  It also got me to read the original novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) which I thought was a completely different beast.

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