It is November 2019. This is when the classic 1982 film Blade Runner takes place.
This is the time that director Ridley Scott had envisaged in which law enforcement officers would be flying through dark and rainy Los Angeles in vehicles called “spinners”. It is now that we would send artificial human beings to do our dirty work in off-world colonies, and if they dared set foot on our filthy home planet, they would be summarily “retired”. Passers-by would barely budge when someone is shot in a crowded street.
I saw Blade Runner when it first came to the big screen in 1982, and during at least one more screening thereafter. I had a copy on VHS (possibly a “TV Broadcast” version with less nudity), and I have the “Director’s Cut” on DVD.
Blade Runner left a lasting impression.
At first it was the set design and overall bleak atmosphere which struck a particular chord.
Over the years I’ve begun to appreciate the subtleties and symbolism of the animals and the origami figures, all the while trying to find additional clues whether it wasn’t Gaff who was the titular “Blade Runner” while Deckard was, in fact, just a pawn and the unaccounted-for sixth escaped replicant. As it turns out, that idea was based a simple goof by the film makers — but one that had pundits spin the wildest of theories.
Blade Runner doesn’t pit man against machine; instead, it asks the fundamental question what it means to be human.
Where does humanity begin? What are its minimum system requirements? Are we defined by our recollections of the past or our actions in the present? Are we human because we have memories, or because we have empathy? Is the creation greater than its creator? Questions, indeed.
For over three decades I’ve wondered what the year 2019 would really be like.
[…] since the original film came out, the future imagined by Ridley Scott, designer Syd Mead and the film’s creators hasn’t come to pass in quite the form they imagined. We don’t have flying cars or human-like robots, but at the same time, their imagined future doesn’t have the internet and smartphones. So according to [Blade Runner 2049 director] Villeneuve, the sequel takes place not in our future, but in an alternate future extrapolating upon the world seen in the original film. That’s why there are no iPhones, but there are adverts for defunct companies like Pan Am and Atari.
That said, as of this month, Blade Runner is no longer a science fiction film noir.
Blade Runner has become a moody detective story about a gumshoe tracking down a group of murderous illegal immigrants. That’s it! That’s the plot in a nutshell.
Oh, and one of them saves his life. He also falls in love with a girl with fake memories.
It is these last two points which elevate the story toward philosophical greatness; and while they aren’t explicitly addressed in the film itself, they’ve laid the groundwork for much, much cause for debate and further expansions by way of official as well as fan fiction, theories, art, and a sequel. One might even give the story a socio-political spin by imagining skinjobs akin to black people in white-majority America. Their basic wish is to be free to have their own dreams and aspirations while all they have are false memories and the very human desire for longevity. Even androids fear death.
In the original book, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, author Philip K. Dick explicitly linked the use of artificial humans to slavery, while the description of a female replicant as “a basic pleasure model” raises questions about consent.
Unfortunately, Mr Dick never got to see the completed film: he died a few months short of its June 1982 release.
I, conversely, finally saw the “Final Cut” during a special cinema screening two weeks ago.
While the lustre of the previous versions had faded substantially over the last few years, this completed and remastered version, with its subtle additions and minor corrections was an absolute delight to revisit (again) in 4K and in Dolby Atmos. I need to own a copy!
In another cruel twist, Rutger Hauer didn’t live to see the real moment of his signature role’s demise. He passed away earlier this year at the age of 75.
RIP, Roy Batty. You were “more human than human” after all.
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