Ridley Scott, director of Legend, Thelma and Louise, Alien, Someone to watch over me and Black Rain, directed Blade Runner in 1982.
Blade Runner’s narrative begins before the film starts, with the aid of a written account of events which occurred during the year 2000 – 2017. White writing was used on a black background. It tells the viewer that in the 21st century robots have been made which are almost identical to humans but the are stronger and intelligent. They were used in off world colonies until they mutinied and had to be exterminated. Blade runner units had the job to get rid of them by what was known as retirement. This summary sets the scene for events which come later in the film.
Blade Runner has a very complex narrative and is best described as an combination of several themes. One of the most obvious narratives is of similar content to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr Frankenstein creating the monster in his own likeness, or usurping God’s role, only for his perfection to go into demise, ending in the creation killing his maker. In a similar way, Blade Runner involves a creator, Tyrell, creating replicants to be as perfect as himself. Even the name replicants is important as it suggests a copy. Supposedly the replicants are meant to be a copy of Tyrell, but better and much more beautiful. The replicants are as flawed in their structure as Frankenstein’s monster. Whereas the monster gradually decayed, the replicants had a finite life-span with no way to change it. For that reason the replicant Roy Batty, killed Tyrell. However the opening screen states that the replicants were better than humans but it seems only in strength and intelligence, not in emotions.
Involved in the film is a separate narrative, only implied, but which plays an important part in the feel of the film. Unlike a lot of futuristic films which portray the earth of the future as a clean place such as in Star Trek, 2001 a Space Odyssey and 2010, Blade Runner established a bleak vision of the future. It was not however a post holocaust world because the belief was that the world will turn bad even without a war. It tells the audience that if we carry on as we are especially with regards to the greenhouse effect, the world will go into decline. It was also a world where the West and the East had congregated making the futuristic Los Angeles one completely different culture. Most of the street sellers are Japanese and the advertising airship which hovers over the city displays a Japanese lady. The buildings are a mix of original stone in decay and much larger glass structures towering above them. In this respect, Blade Runner can be connected to Ridley Scott’s Black Rain which showed exactly what happens when the West and East collide in the way that the American police-man could not fit in with the Japanese Police Department.
The whole nature of the Blade Runner plot seems to illustrate a hunt, this is similar to Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ where the aliens were hunting the humans. There was a different type of hunt presenting itself throughout the film. To begin, there are the individual pursuits of the replicants by Deckard, the hunting down of Zhora, Leon, Pris and Roy Batty. There was also the hunting of Sebastian and Tyrell by Leon and Roy Batty and another through Deckard hunting Rachael because he wanted her. Ultimately Deckard being hunted by Roy Batty in the extensive fight scene between the two. There was however a twist in the plot when Deckard, who throughout the film was the hunter, ends being the hunted, not only when Roy Batty chases him in Sebastian’s apartment but also by Deckard and Rachael trying to escape at the very end. However, hints were made about the idea of Deckard himself being a replicant, such as the unicorn dream, the photographs on his piano being as important to him as they are to Rachael and Leon. This is important because the replicants did not have memories of their childhood, only photographs which showed that they did have one. Also a hint was made by Rachael saying to Deckard :-
“Have you ever tried it on yourself?”
A question which Deckard ignored. At this point, the audience’s idea of Deckard being the perfect hero are changed, making him seem a fatally, if slightly flawed victim of his own actions. In this respect it made Deckard out to be a film noir character, a cynical, lonely hero, very similar to the character Marlowe played by Dick Powell in ‘Farewell My Lovely ‘. This was shown through Deckard having no idea of what he was destroying or why, he was suspicious of the authority’s motives, but they are the best available. This noir aspect was most evident in the first version of Blade Runner with its typically Noirish voice over. It is definite that Ridley Scott wanted people to believe Deckard was a replicant because in ‘Starburst UK’ on ‘Blade Cuts’ No51 Nov 82 Ridley Scott said:-
“When you are doing a film noir, you may as well go right the way through with that theme, and the central character could in fact be what he is chasing”
Ridley Scott’s idea of making Deckard out to be a replicant was heavily criticised by actor Harrison Ford who thought that the audience needed someone to cheer for. Also there was a great deal of doubt whether the replicants are good or evil. They only wish to prolong their life-span, and Deckard was only doing what the Corporation wanted.
This scene was one of many which discussed the differences between humans and replicants and tries to find the underlying problems of replicants existing. In one scene Deckard returns to his apartment to find Rachael waiting for him, something made him suspicious that someone was there and so he pulled out his gun ready for a fight. This was quite suggestive in that the
gun was meant to be a phallic symbol. When Rachael saw the gun pointing at her you see that she was frightened as she stepped back in fear. This reaction is as if she is frightened by his masculinity and therefore was afraid of him. Deckard took no notice of this fact and simply put the gun away and opened his flat. By doing this Deckard was showing his soft inner self by realising that Rachael was afraid of him. He seemed to struggle with the door key and Rachael offered to help him. Deckard being quite disgruntled said
“What do I need help for”.
By saying this he was making a statement about himself. He was a tough cop, he worked alone, it seemed as if he had never had help before and therefore could not understand why someone would want to help him. Also to accept help from a woman was even more undermining. However we could tell by his reactions that he was really a hard cop on the outside but soft on the inside. She said to him that she didn’t know why he (Tyrell) told Deckard what he did. This harkens back to an earlier scene where Deckard found out that Rachael was a replicant and Tyrell agreed. As soon as she said this Deckard told Rachael to ask him and slammed the door in her face. She shouted that he would not see her.
At this point it becomes clear that Rachael had some idea that she was a replicant and that she had gone to Deckard to confirm this. Deckard let her in and offered her a drink. She declined and said
“You think I’m a replicant don’t you?”
to which Deckard disagreed with a short sharp “No”. This made distinct the fact that she doubted herself being a human, and also showed Deckard to have an ounce of feeling by saying ‘no’ so that he did not hurt her feelings. Then Deckard took some examples from a Voight Kampff test and tried them on her. The reason for this is that Deckard was a bad liar and when Rachael realized that he was lying he decided there was no point in proving otherwise.
It is interesting that the second test had an ulterior meaning, in that the question was about a spider building a web, one day there was a big egg it , the egg hatched and baby spiders came out and ate the mother. This can be related to the scene of Roy Batty killing his maker Tyrell. When Rachael finished off the question and answered it, Deckard, looking very stupefied, put it down to brain implants of the memories of Tyrell’s niece. It seemed strange to Deckard that telling Rachael that she was a replicant would hurt her feelings, after all she was a replicant and surely replicants could not be distressed by this fact, but it did. After seeing a close-up of Rachael standing there, eyes welling up with tears and bottom lip quivering and you hear Deckard saying
“Bad joke, I made a bad joke, your not a replicant. Go home”
you realise that at this point she knew that she was a replicant because her one and only piece of evidence to prove otherwise had gone.
Although contrasting, the very end, during the chasing of Deckard by Roy Batty is a very important and effective scene. The scene involved Deckard on the roof of a building after being chased by Roy and in fear he tried to jump from the roof to the next building. He missed and is left dangling from a metal strut. This was now showing the fear and weakness of Deckard whereas in the scene with Deckard and Rachael a completely different character of Deckard was shown. What the audience was seeing at this point was the true side of him. The way he acted in the Rachael scene was just a front. This was also shown in the way that after the fight with Leon, Deckard went to his flat and washed his mouth out with water and one could see the blood pouring from his mouth, also when he was drinking the whisky and blood trickled into the glass.As Deckard was hanging, Roy was seen holding a white dove. You see him go to Deckard and say
“Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it ?, that’s what it is to be a slave”.
This remark was to show how replicants live constantly in fear and was aimed to give Deckard a taste of Roys life. Roy helped Deckard up using the hand with a nail through it and placed him on the ground, Deckard tried to back away in fear. This is interesting in that even though Roy was on the verge of death, he still had the ability to define right from wrong. This is one way in which the film questions humanity and makes the audience think whether the replicants were worse than humans. In actual fact the action of Roy makes it seem as if the replicants had more moral standing than humans. When Deckard was on the roof and Roy was standing over him, you recognise the music being slow and eerie, not dominating the action in any way but noticeable to be the same music played during the Deckard – Rachael scene. Next Roy crouched down with dove in hand and crossed his arms, this being a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion. Then he said
“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”
This last speech by Roy brought in the importance once more of eyes. All through the film eyes were important. The Voight Kampff test was based on eye movements and pupil dilation. When Roy killed Tyrell he pressed on his eyes and the first person Roy and Leon went to see was the genetic eye maker. In this speech Roy was making clear the fact that even though his eyes were synthetic they were still as important as humans and that they had seen more than any humans could.
The rain poured down on Roy, he bowed his head and went still. The dove from his hand became free and flew up toward a blue patch of sky. This is significant in two ways, firstly because the dove itself is a symbol of peace, important at this part of the film because when Roy batty died he was at peace with Deckard, secondly because the release of the dove could have been a symbol of his soul flying up to heaven, the whiteness of the bird meaning purity, also connected with Rutger Hauer’s white hair. If the dove was a symbol of purity then it was probably to make the replicants look purer than humans. This creature could also represent the dove which was sent to find dry land in the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, seeing as the bird flew through the rain towards a small amount of blue sky.
The main similarity between this scene and the scene between Rachael and Deckard is that both raise questions about humanity and morality. In the scene with Rachael the question arose who is human and who is not. With the Roy Batty scene it was more a question of who is better, humans or replicants. Both scenes involve two people, although with Roy Batty it was not a conversation, rather more a lecture.
The real emphasis of attack seems to be against the Corporation and Tyrell, the inhuman who looks down on everyone from the top floor of the Corporation building. Possibly a symbol of God looking down on the world from heaven, also backed up by the replicants being created by Tyrell and the fact that he owns everything, including a free spirit such as a bird of prey. Blade Runner can be associated with Robocop by the way the evil in the film is part of the Corporation.
Also coming into play are images of religion and mythology, all of which are used ambiguously at some time or another. These are particularly demonstrated in the way Tyrell is portrayed as being a God like creature, the Tyrell Corporation building representing the heavens and Los Angeles being all that he surveys. The dove was a symbol of purity and the mythological unicorn played an important part in Blade Runner, as it did in Ridley Scott’s ‘Legend’. In Blade Runner it appeared twice, once in a dream Deckard had and again when Gaff, the Blade Runner inspector made a miniature origami unicorn out of silver paper. There are several reasons for the use of the unicorn. It is supposed to have a temperament which is similar to the actions of the replicants in that when it is backed into a corner it becomes violent. This can be identified when Leon was being put through a Voight Kampff test, when the Blade Runner asks about his mother, Leon shot him, also when Deckard started asking Zhora questions and she tried to strangle him and run away, and the same happened when Deckard cornered Pris in Sebastian’s flat and she attacked him. The whiteness of the unicorn is a symbol of virginity, purity and innocence which is emblematic of the replicants who were in many ways innocent. Especially because it represents Rachael’s status. Unicorns have often been a symbol of Christ crucified which is represented in Roy Batty dying in order to save Deckard. Unicorns in the film have supposedly become extinct and by Gaff making an origami unicorn it was a way of saying the same about Rachael, due to her limited life-span.
Tennessee Williams wrote about a unicorn in “The Glass Menagerie” where the horse was different and would always remain different because it had a horn and therefore Rachael is different by being a replicant. In the ‘Glass Menagerie’ the Unicorn falls over and the horn is broken off making it a normal horse. In a similar way Rachael knocks the origami horse over, making a statement that she is escaping from Tyrell.
Serpents were shown in the film when Zhora danced with a snake and had a tattoo of a serpent on her neck. This was a representation of evil in the Garden of Eden and also of knowledge which returns to Tyrell who had knowledge. The chess game was also important in that it was representative of the two people playing it, Tyrell’s chess pieces were of men because that is what he made and Sebastians chess pieces were of birds because he made animals. The chess game itself is significant as it is named the “Immortal Game” and was played by Anderssen and Kieseritzky in London in 1851. It holds the concept of immortality obviously associated with the ensuin confrontation between Tyrell and Batty. With any director the style of a film differs. This is especially true with Ridley Scott. Blade Runner is described as having:-
“Some of the most beautiful miniature sequences ever filmed, depicting a heavily polluted Los Angeles of the future. A masterpiece in visual art” David Hutchinson – Film Magic – Schuster 1987.
Working in 65mm on miniature sets makes scenes look life size. Doug Trumble (Photographic effects supervisor) is a pioneer in scaled atmospheric effects. By fogging an entire miniature set, the effect would be sixteen times dirtier. This technique sets Blade Runner out from all other films because it gives it a gritty texture. It was a technique along with the use of a blue filter, which Ridley Scott went on to use in ‘Alien’. The use of a unicorn is unique to Scott, something which was used a few years earlier in making ‘Legend’. It could be said to be a part of his style. Blade Runner is quite a different film to Scott’s “Thelma and Louise” in the treatment of women.
“Ridley Scott’s ‘Thelma and Louise’ was described as a ‘feminist road movie’. Scott’s own Blade Runner was certainly not noted for its pro-feminist stance – in fact the representation of the female replicants caused not simply unease but also protest among feminist critics.” – Stuart Price – Media Studies – Pitman 1993
This is shown in the portrayal of Rachael. The first time the audience saw Rachael was when she tottered into Tyrell’s room with her hand on her hip, almost as if she had been trained to walk like that and more like a toy doll than a person, as well as being so weak and feeble during the lead up to the love scene with Deckard. Also Pris was a replicant whose purpose was to please the humans on the off world colonies or so we were led to believe. In this way Blade Runner is very different to “Thelma and Louise” and also “Alien”, where the women are in control and are the leading ladies. The scenery for the film was organised to how Ridley Scott wanted it -
“Ridley Scott gave us his imaginative vision of Los Angeles in 2019 in Blade Runner” – Kate Haycock – Science Fiction Films – Wayland – 1991
This tells us that it was Ridley Scott’s ideas and beliefs of the future which are enveloped in the film. He demanded that the sets were to be “Authentic and not just speculative”. This is proved by his hand in making the sets; when they were making columns for the Tyrell Corporation building he ordered for them to be turned upside down. This is a way in which one can see his own personal style. His specifications for the set were to be “Hong Kong on a bad day”. Something which the art directors had to accomplish.
After the release of the film in 1982, Blade Runner went through a series of make overs. Firstly it was test screened to get people’s reactions. It failed to be a hit. At the time this was a major failure having $15 million spent on the making of it. The idea of test screening films is one universally despised. Even if the film is good, just the mention of a new ending and bits added to the final film give it a bad review. This happened in the case of Blade Runner. The studio prescribed the film to have a happy ending, something that Ridley Scott was against. This however was done and was part of the reason why the film failed to be popular. After only making enough money to cover the costs, the film was consigned to the vaults. In October of 1989, the head of film restoration came across a 70 mm print of Blade Runner. A few months later he was asked for it in order for it to be shown at a film festival. As soon as it was shown, everyone realised that it was the Directors cut, the film which Ridley Scott had intended to be shown rather than the rejigged, tacked on happy ending film which had been shown eight years earlier. It turned out that it was not a Final cut of the film, only a rough- cut, work-in-progress. Nevertheless, the studio now wanted the film to be shown in 15 cinemas as the directors cut, heralding it as “The original director’s version of the movie that was light years ahead of its time!”.
After Scott complained that it was not his cut, the studio compromised by releasing it to two cinemas. One cinema set the house record in its first week and the other made $94,000-plus in a seven day take. For some reason the film had suddenly become a huge success. This could be put down to the eight years it spent in the vaults, allowing for the bad reviews of the film to die down, and giving people who did not see the film in its first showing a chance to now. Another reason why it may have suddenly become so popular when the first version failed to do so, is because it was the wrong audience. The audiences were probably not prepared for what they saw. They were probably used to more predictable fare. During the eight year gap, people may have come to understand that the sociological side of the film could be quite real. For example, the fact that the world seems to be affected by the greenhouse effect. Or that the World is becoming overpopulated. It may have seemed way ahead of its time in 1982 but eight years later it is given the credit it should have had earlier. Another reason for its bad reviews the first time round is because it was released in the same month as E.T and had to take a back seat. In 1982-83 an official Blade Runner computer game came out for use on Commodore 64′s. This shows that even though it failed to be a hit in 1982 it was believed to be worth making a computer game for it. However, the idea of making a computer game might have been a way of making more money from the failed movie.
Blade Runner is recognised as being a cult movie because when it was first released it seemed to have a few followers. Therefore the film found a minority niche in the market. However the fact that after eight years of it being released, VCRs became more widespread making it easier for those people who had seen the version eight years earlier could now buy the video in order to play it at home on their VCRs. This made the re-evaluation of the film a lot easier. After the film had been revived, it would have been difficult to get financial backing for the re-run if video recorder were not an option. The film would have needed to be shown either in a minority slot on television or at small independent cinemas. However the cheaper alternative was to make the film available on video so that people could get it if they wanted it. Also with new films being produced it would have been difficult for Blade Runner to get a good following in order to keep up with the competition. With this new way of discovering the films popularity it was easier to show the re edited re cut version and made up on the sales it had lost. Blade Runner is a good example of how a film can become a cult favourite. It now has a large number of people who enjoy the film and have on video. Even though it has tough competition from the latest movies, it is still one of the most enjoyed films of the Eighties.
Copyright Wez Mills, 2001.