When it was announced that Prisoners‘ director Denis Villeneuve (whose new film, Sicario, will play In Competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) would helm the Blade Runner sequel, I think many of us breathed a sigh of relief. It will be in safe, competent hands. But while Villeneuve has been a director of intense, complex thrillers, he is going to have to pull off something incredible to top Ridley Scott’s magnificent 1982 original.
Blade Runner has been through as many as seven cuts, some featuring voice-over by Harrison Ford, some with a happy ending. The BFI have re-released the ‘Final Cut’ from 2007 as part of their “Days of Fear and Wonder Season” celebrating science-fiction. Last year, they similarly re-released Stanley Kubrick’s monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most immersive, transcendental experiences I have ever had in a cinema.
Seeing Blade Runner up on the big screen is a sight to behold, not least because it’s a full head and shoulders above practically everything else Ridley Scott has ever done. From Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, a painting of lost souls sitting in a diner in 1940s America, was born a true masterpiece of the science-fiction genre; a noirish dystopian vision of a rain-drenched Los Angeles in 2019, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.
Genetically engineered humanoids – known as Replicants – are now banned on Earth since developing the ability to feel emotion, with many working in off-world colonies. Four return to Earth, led by the indomitable and dangerous Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), in order to try and extend their four-year lifespan. Deckard (Harrison Ford), a blade runner, is hired to track them down and ‘retire’ them.
He is conflicted, however, since he has fallen in love with Rachael (Sean Young), who works for the corporation that designs the Replicants, unaware that she is one herself.
This is a film that can be enjoyed on many levels. Deckard’s search is classic 1950s film noir, with each stunning frame meticulously photographed by Jordan Cronenweth, beautifully accompanied by Vangelis’ haunting score. The special effects by Douglas Trumbull (who worked on 2001) are an astonishing visual treat, creating an immersive cinematic universe unparalleled in its power to transport us to another world.
But like all great sci-fi, Blade Runner deals with philosophical themes such as existentialism, memory, loneliness and the human condition. Many of the Replicants have been implanted with memories from human beings, making them believe they have experienced events at which they were, in fact, never present.
This presents us with one of many pertinent questions. If we are the sum of our memories and experiences, what are we when our memories are wrong or false? How is it that in such an overcrowded world, people can still feel so alone? Is it really such a crime to want to survive, or is it completely futile to live in fear of death? As one character puts it, “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?”
Although it may be Harrison Ford’s name above the title, this is unequivocally Rutger Hauer’s film. He brings humanity to his mesmeric performance, so that although he is the antagonist, he never seems evil. “I want more life, Father,” he demands of his creator, Tyrell (Joe Turkell, who played Lloyd the bartender in Kubrick’s 1980 chiller The Shining).
This line has been intriguingly redubbed over co-writer Hampton Fancher’s original “I want more life, fucker.” It gives the film yet another layer; an almost divine quality, with Tyrell as a god having created Batty in his own image, himself a fallen angel. His transition from will to survive to cold-blooded rage is truly terrifying.
The iconic, heartbreaking ‘Tears in Rain’ speech, partly adlibbed by Hauer on set, has defined an entire genre. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” he laments, but with a wry smile. And we believe him; we see them as vividly as he can and his experience of life feels utterly human.
It’s interesting that the film was so divisive upon release, and to some extent it continues to be. (“How did he suddenly acquire a dove?” asked my underwhelmed companion of Batty during the climax – he has a point.) But history has generally been kind to Ridley Scott’s seminal masterpiece, one of the few films I would describe as being pretty much perfect in nearly every way. Blade Runner’s reputation as an enduring classic ensures that these moments will never be lost in time.
Blade Runner – The Final Cut is out in UK cinemas