Hey Fellow Sci-Fi Nerds,
So for the past few weeks, I’ve been asking for your input as I build a world for a sci-fi novel that’s locked up in my brain. Naturally, I thought, why not help the process along by checking out a cult classic of Sci-Fi cinema, namely the 1982 Ridley Scott Directed film, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford.
(Forever Cinema Trailers)
Ford stars as Richard Deckard, a Blade Runner, a special type of police officer assigned to hunt down and execute replicants on site.
Replicants are bioengineered humans. They’re built by the Tyrell Corporation to be stronger, faster, smarter, or as Tyrell puts it, “More Human than the Human.” (In case you were wondering where that White Zombie song came from).
Foreseeing the problem that replicants could use their superior abilities to take over, the government outlaws them on Earth, and only allows them to be used as slave labor on off world colonies. Further, Tyrell has put in a failsafe – replicants only live for four years, so none of them really have time to learn how to get too big for their britches.
In the 1980’s, Japanese tech companies were booming, so naturally the creators of the film anticipated an Asianization of American culture. Although it takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles, open area Asian bazaar style shops and sidewalk noodle joints riddle the landscape. An enormous building size image of a geisha is prominently displayed.
Even though its in the future, everything looks old and worn out, suggesting that America may one day fight itself in abject poverty, everyone living in cramped, dirty spaces, tripping over one another just to get some room. (Sometimes when you look at today’s economy reports, it feels like we’re there).
Oddly, even though it’s LA and the depletion of the ozone layer is only going to make it hotter, everyone in this film is bundled up like its Christmastime in Minnesota. This is where some science nerd will now explain to me that global warming can actually lead to global cooling. And you’re probably right, science nerd.
It takes place in 2019, so about four years from now, we’ll be subject to a number of “Where are the replicants?” stories like we did this year now that we’ve reached the age of Back to the Future II.
Much of the tech in the film, at least by today’s standards, looks like it was raided from the basement storage room of a high school AV Club. There’s a lot of tube based monitors and equipment that looks like it could display microfiche in your local library. But hey, it all probably seemed like top of the line stuff in 1982.
There are flying cars, but there are also regular land cars. Deckard has a land car. He does get a ride in Edward James Olmos’ flying car. And I was glad to see this flying car did have several instruments, computer monitors, controls, and Olmos even puts on a special flying hat. In other words, the people behind this film anticipated, like I do, that flying a frigging car will be serious business and not something you can allow just an y old jerk to do.
There are video pay phones. Video phones are here, but you know my feeling on the subject. Pay phones of any kind are long gone and I doubt they’ll make a comeback.
Also, nothing to do with tech, but people smoke like chimneys throughout the film. People don’t smoke as much today and when they do, rarely in public lest they be accused of a hate crime. Enter any dive bar and you’ll find people engaged in Russian roulette competitions, chainsaw juggling, wild and crazy orgies, but anyone who lights up a stogie will be asked to leave.
LEGACY OF THE FILM
It’s fun to make fun of, but in a time where Star Wars had put Hollywood on a “space opera” kick, the people behind this film did try to make something serious. It poses a lot of questions about bioengineering, and JF Sebastian’s creepy “toy shop” certainly leaves us wondering whether maybe we should let nature run its course with the human anatomy, rather than do our own tinkering.
There’s certainly a lot to discuss about life when it comes to film – the quality of life, how little time we have, how none of us want to die, even replicants.
Olmos’ character, Gaff, speaks in a foreign language of some kind through most of the film, only to clearly annunciate at the end, regarding Deckard’s replicant love interest Rachel:
“It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”
In other words, Gaff uses his few precious words in the film to tell us that we all tend to walk around aimlessly, trying to get something out of life, but few of us ever get where we want or are satisfied if we ever do.
IS DECKARD A REPLICANT?
If I shake my magic 8 ball, it will read, “All signs point to yes.”
Deckard dreams of a unicorn. I don’t know if that’s really a sign, because frankly, I dream about unicorns all the time. I might be a replicant then. Replicants have implanted memories and since unicorns aren’t real, and yet Deckard has a vivid memory of seeing one, the suggestion is he was built in a lab where a scientist added a false memory of a unicorn. Replicants receive false memories, supposedly in an effort to make them happier and/or more human.
Also, Deckard has kind of an odd relationship with his boss, Bryant. At the start of the film, he tells Bryant that he’s out of the Blade Runner business and won’t help him. Bryant tells Deckard he doesn’t have a choice and so Deckard just complies and goes on a replicant hunt. Does that mean Deckard is a slave of some kind, beholden to Bryant’s will? Or is Deckard just like any other human who doesn’t want to piss off an overbearing boss?
The villain of the film is Roy Batty (isn’t batty another word for nuts?) aptly played by Rutger Hauer. He’s a replicant who roams LA, cutting a wide swath through various genetic scientists in the hopes he can torture one into coming up with a cure that will allow him and his friends to live longer. None of them are able to, which drives him, well, batty.
SPOILER ALERT (Although honestly, you’ve had like thirty plus years to watch this damn thing)
The surprise of the movie comes when Batty has Deckard right where he wants him. Dickard clings to a rooftop beam, about to fall at any second. Batty can easily step on the hands of the man who has been hunting him and be the victor. But instead, Batty uses his super strength to save Deckard and pull him to the rooftop.
Why? Could it be that Batty recognizes that Deckard is a fellow replicant and doesn’t want to kill one of his own? Or, does Batty just decide that killing Deckard won’t really accomplish anything, so why spill more blood?
In the end, Batty has this iconic “TEARS IN THE RAIN” speech:
I have… 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 Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like (cough) tears… in… rain. Time… to die…
Out of the mouths of replicants. That’s pretty profound stuff, isn’t it? Forget about attack ships and glittering beams, just think about all you’ve done in your life. Long before I became Blade Runner fan, I would often get choked up just by thought that one day, I’ll kick the bucket and all the memories of all my accomplishments, including starting this blog that only three people read, will vaporize into nothingness. Who knew that I was just suffering from Roy Batty sadness the entire time.
And what is a tear in the rain? A tear is happening. A memory is happening. But a tear in the rain just becomes another drop of water. A life full of memories ends, just like so many others do every other day…well, I don’t want to say that life is meaningless or “a tale told by an idiot” as Shakespeare once said, but aren’t there times when we all feel a little bit like Roy Batty?
It’s worth a rental. And Hollywood hasn’t shown an interest in remaking it with a bunch of dopey starlets who would probably just screw it up…yet.