Blade Runner

Blade Runner

"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."

I can't exactly remember the first time I saw Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, but I know I was underwhelmed by it. I'm pretty sure it was while I was in high school, so I wasn't exactly interested in delving deeper into the film's themes at the time-- and since my first experience was with the relatively-lackluster theatrical cut, I didn't even have any real shocking content to keep my attention.

I ended up watching the Final Cut a couple of years later after a friend recommended that I give the film another chance, and with that viewing I was finally able to understand what others saw in it. I have gone back and viewed the other cuts of the film in the time since then, and I actually enjoy most of them quite a bit-- but the Final Cut is absolutely still my preferred version, and the only one that I actively choose to watch anymore.

The film's plotline is often vague at best, but the atmosphere it creates is so immersive that it hardly even matters. The world of Blade Runner feels incredibly lived-in, and even though there isn't really that much exposition given there's a depth to the film that has rarely been matched before. This is a universe I would love to explore more (which is why I was absolutely thrilled when Blade Runner 2049 was announced, and incredibly impressed when it managed to exceed all expectations)-- and clearly others have felt the same way, since a number of other projects have imitated its aesthetics in the years since the film's initial release (such as the Deus Ex series of video games, which are arguably the closest anything has come to truly matching its magic).

But the thematic depth of the film is what truly sets it apart from most of its contemporaries (a trait it shares with Scott's other science-fiction projects, especially Alien and its prequels). The film presents an interesting debate about the morality of creating intelligent (or sentient) beings that are advanced enough to question their own existence, and there's a fascinating read about the meaning of life (and what sets humanity apart from other organisms, if anything) to be found if one looks for it. The film spends an incredible amount of time exploring this topic (as well as a number of other topics that may stem from it, such as the ability of such a being to ever truly consent to anything), and every viewing ends with me having a new interpretation of what it's attempting to say. This has all been discussed to a far greater extent than I ever could dissect it numerous times, and I highly recommend people look into thematic breakdowns of the film if they haven't already done so.

There's a lot of debate about whether Deckard is a human or replicant, and each cut of the film seems to suggest something different with varying degrees of ambiguity. I have personally believed each at different points, and I still occasionally question what was truly intended for the character-- but the existence of Blade Runner 2049 seems to have made its own choice canon in regards to the matter. It's still an interesting topic to discuss if viewing this film in a vacuum, however, and I don't know that I really believe that there's a "wrong" interpretation.

But even if you aren't particularly interested in the film's more philosophical elements, I do think that there's enough to keep most viewers interested. Rutger Hauer delivers what is almost certainly the best performance of his career here (as the unbelievably intimidating Roy Batty), and Harrison Ford is nearly as impressive in the leading role. Strong supporting turns from Sean Young and Edward James Olmos (among others) hold their own, and as a whole the film is among the most well-acted the genre has ever seen (second only to Scott's masterpiece Alien, in my opinion-- though there's certainly plenty of other candidates).

There isn't a ton of action, but when the film delivers it it does so extraordinarily well. The violence is very interesting, and often extremely brutal-- especially the infamous eye-gouging, which is among the most graphic the genre has ever seen. It even verges into horror territory at several moments in the final act, including Pris' meltdown in her dying moments (which is nearly as disturbing as the aforementioned facial mutilation). But there's also occasionally even some form of beauty to the violence, as bizarre as that may be to say-- the way Zhora's death was filmed while she attempts to escape from Deckard is absolutely gorgeous, and almost feels like it belongs in a different film.

The cinematography as a whole is truly extraordinary, and the film is honestly one of the most impressive technical accomplishments the genre has ever seen (with only a couple of others that even manage to compete with it, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien). The city in this film looks absolutely incredible, and the model work is among the best in the history of cinema. It's honestly hard to even find words to describe just how impressive it all is-- the UHD disc is one of the most staggering demo discs available, and absolutely an essential piece of any physical media supporter's collection.

I personally consider Blade Runner one of the greatest films of all time, and if it wasn't for the existence of Alien this would absolutely be Ridley Scott's masterpiece (and I think there's still even an argument to made that it is). Few films have managed to influence the trajectory of their genre's aesthetics to the same extent that this has, and even fewer have done so while being considered a commercial failure. This film was definitely ahead of its time, and I'm glad that it has been reappraised in the decades since it was first released-- especially since that led to the production of Blade Runner 2049, which is easily one of my favorite films of the last couple of decades (and arguably this film's equal, as unbelievable as that may be).

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