The original 1982 Blade Runner isn’t just one of the best science fiction movies ever made, it is also one of the most influential; the dark, overcrowded, rainy, beautiful, bleak, neon-lit dystopian future was the birth of a new genre. It’s a neo-noir detective story where a bounty hunter, Deckard (Harrison Ford), stalks the android remnants of an off-world revolt. The film star Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos.
Directed by Ridley Scott, and adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, the movie is an adaptation of prolific author Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The film is set in a dystopian future Los Angeles of 2019, in which synthetic humans known as replicants are bio-engineered by the powerful Tyrell Corporation to work at space colonies. When a fugitive group of advanced replicants led by Roy Batty (Hauer) escapes back to Earth, burnt-out cop Rick Deckard (Ford) reluctantly agrees to hunt them down.
Dick was famous for creating worlds for himself both on the page and off; plagued by schizophrenia and paranoia, he suffered from hallucinations that informed his fiction and complicated his personal life. Although Dick never saw a completed version of Blade Runner, he wrote about some of what he saw in its marketing materials. Included in the Official Collector’s Edition of the “Blade Runner” Souvenir Magazine was this blurb by the
“All I can say is that the world in Blade Runner is where I really live. That is where I think I am anyway. This world will now be a world that every member of the audience will inhabit. It will not be my private world. It is now a world where anyone who will go into the theater and sit down and watch the film will be caught up and the world is so overpowering, it is so profoundly overpowering that it is going to be very hard for people to come out of it and adjust to what we normally encounter.”
The screen story follows the novel insofar that it prophesies such 21st-century dilemmas as mass globalization, global warming, and genetic engineering. Ridley Scott’s sweeping, moody, dark visuals and bravado special FX capture the essence of Dick’s novel, although the screenplay diverts from the author’s plot.
Skies are blackened, shrouded with nuclear fallout and dust, inconceivably large buildings and spires of industrialization reach to the tattered atmosphere, flying vehicles glide about the heights of a Los Angeles skyline that looks more like a New York City mutation in its vertical reach.
At ground level, streets are crowded with bodies, and much of the city has become somewhat Oriental. Bright neons entice and steam billows. Underneath all is a constant sense of claustrophobia, hopelessness, and terror. The dusty light shafting through Venetian blinds; the pounding, backlit rain; and the kaleidoscopic colors, are now basic grammar of any filmmaker but exotic ideas back in 1982.
On June 25, 1981, exactly a year before it opened, Variety reported that the film was racing to complete before a director’s strike. “Despite unconfirmed reports over the past several weeks of a mushrooming budget, pic will wrap June 30, five days over schedule. Considerable special effects work will then remain to be done under the supervision of Douglas Trumbull.” A few weeks later, Variety reported that Ladd Co. had picked up “Blade Runner” from the financially beleaguered Filmways.
The film earned $26 million in its summer run in 1982 — not bad, but not enough to get it into the summer’s top 10. And it was certainly not enough to make a profit (the summer box office was dominated by two films, “ET — the ExtraTerrestrial” and “Rocky 3”). Initial reactions among film critics were mixed. Some wrote that the plot took a back seat to the film’s special effects and did not fit the studio’s marketing as an action and adventure movie. Others acclaimed its complexity and predicted it would stand the test of time.
It did stand the test of time. The boom in home video formats helped establish a growing cult around the film. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1993 and is frequently taught in university courses. In 2007, it was named the second-most visually influential film of all time by the Visual Effects Society. It was voted the best science fiction film ever made in a 2004 poll of 60 eminent world scientists. Blade Runner is also cited as an important influence on both the style and story of the Ghost in the Shell film series, which itself has been highly influential to the future-noir genre.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 90% approval rating based on 119 reviews, with an average rating of 8.50/10. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Misunderstood when it first hit theaters, the influence of Ridley Scott’s mysterious, neo-noir Blade Runner has deepened with time. A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece.”
The opening scene introduces the audience to this bleak world and it does so effectively. Before we’re introduced to the world or characters, we’re treated to scrolling text that sets up our conflict. The androids are “REPLICANTS,” and their hunters are “BLADE RUNNERS.” One will pursue the other and will only be satisfied by their execution, or “RETIREMENT.” Vangelis’ score swells as Los Angeles 2019 is revealed, and it’s the most beautiful cityscape ever put on film. Millions of lights twinkle in a sea of darkness, flying cars race past the frame, and yet there’s no sign of life amongst the towering structures. It is a burning, blinding, lonely world.
In the skyline’s largest building, a Blade Runner named Holden (Morgan Paull) awaits engineer Leon (Brion James), who will be the subject of his interrogation. He’s running a test to see if Leon is one of the escaped Nexus-6 replicant fugitives who’ve made it to Earth.
We then get to meet our hero and main character Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a Blade Runner who is tasked with taking down the Replicants who have made their way to Earth. At this time, Ford was a massive star, having recently broken out with the Star Wars franchise and the beginning of the Indiana Jones series. Later, we meet Gaff (Edward James Olmos), the cop who helps Deckard from the sidelines. Olmos is perhaps best known for his role as William Adama in Battlestar Galactica.