Film essays

The Pleasantly Surprising Greatness of Blade Runner.

Blade Runner pic 1.

Replicants are like any other machine; they’re either a benefit or a hazard.

When 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) recently experienced another brief theatrical run I jumped at the chance to see what is probably my favourite sci-fi movie on the big screen for the first time. It was glorious, exceeding my expectations, and also exceeding most other cinematic experiences I’ve had before or since (though that does have something to do with the fire alarm that was inconveniently set off during the screening).

Blade Runner has followed the trend this month, being shown in select cinemas over the past week. If you haven’t seen this film on the big screen, it’s one I would certainly recommend provided you have some free time and are fortunate enough to live near a cinema showing it.

I went into it myself having only previously seen the movie once, on DVD. It didn’t exactly blow me away on that first viewing – but then again, a lot of my favourite movies haven’t been immediate hits with me. Still, when it comes to this genre I’ve always been a bit of a snob, insisting Kubrick’s 2001 is not only the best sci-fi film ever made but also my personal favourite. I must say, seeing Blade Runner on the big screen has at least made me doubt my attitude on that.

Though I’m in no position to offer analysis approaching any kind of academic credibility on this great film, I can still offer a brief summary on why exactly it is considered such a significant piece of work.

Notably, the film touched on the concepts of identity, morality, and essentially what it means to be human; what ‘it’ is that makes us human; whether that really makes us more valuable than something that isn’t. The quote above is spoken by Harrison Ford’s character to another person who, as we soon discover, is unknowingly a ‘replicant’ herself. Replicants in this film are basically androids – for lack of a better term – which look and act exactly like people, and as Blade Runner opens we are at a point in our near future when a small, highly developed group of these replicants have gone renegade.

Rick Deckard (Ford’s character), a former blade runner – whose job it was to literally hunt down and ‘retire’ (in other words, destroy) replicants – is sought out by his old boss to perform this one last job: eradicating a group closely resembling humans, whose only real crime is that they are not.

It soon becomes clear though; this job isn’t exactly like those he was used to before, as these replicants are newer models, closer to human than ever, not only in how they look but also seemingly in how they feel. They are concerned about how long they will live; why they exist; where they came from – questions that bring them uncomfortably close to humanity on an existential level.

Though we know, of course, they are not. They are only having these feelings because of their advanced programming… right? And if so, then surely Deckard’s two-dimensional outlook towards them is fair? Even if his phrase above is technically true, does this make it existentially true? Is there any real difference outside of sentimental reasoning?

These questions are only part of what the film offered its audience upon release (what was initially a subdued one) in 1982. For those less interested in its philosophical ponderings, there is still much to be found in the film – exciting action sequences, a nuanced performance from Harrison Ford among others, and beautiful visual effects.

Considering this is also the ‘Final Cut’, thought to be the definitive version closest to director Ridley Scott’s vision, I’d say it comfortably matches – in most cases outshines – any contemporary Hollywood blockbuster you could otherwise find in cinemas any time soon.

Therefore if you’re any kind of movie fan, even the curious type that likes to give money to the Transformers film franchise, I recommend grasping the opportunity to watch Blade Runner on the big screen if and when you can.

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