The film Blade Runner by North East-born director Ridley Scott which was released 30 years ago next month was initially met with derision by some critics and a lukewarm reception by movie goers . Now it is seen as one of the most influential movies ever. As Scott last week outlined plans for a sequel, MIKE KELLY looks back at the film
TO some it was odd that Ridley Scott chose to make Blade Runner when he did.
His previous movie was Alien and most directors choose a radically different subject after doing a science fiction movie – for example Steven Spielberg made the period comedy 1941 after Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Instead, Scott threw himself into something even more visually stylised and somehow more claustrophobic than Alien which was set on a spaceship where the crew is terrorised by a deadly alien.
Blade Runner depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in November 2019 in which genetically engineered organic robots called replicants – visually indistinguishable from adult humans – are manufactured by the powerful Tyrell Corporation as well as by other “mega–manufacturers” around the world.
Their use on Earth is banned and replicants are exclusively used for dangerous, menial or leisure work on off-world colonies. Replicants who defy the ban and return to Earth are hunted down and ‘retired’ by police operatives known as Blade Runners.
The plot focuses on a brutal and cunning group of recently escaped replicants hiding in Los Angeles and the burnt out expert Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who reluctantly agrees to take on one more assignment to hunt them down.
It was based on Philip K Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the title is taken from a sci-fi novella by William S Burroughs.
Blade Runner, notoriously, was completely misunderstood when it was first released. Ford was an action man and audiences could be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a sort of Indiana Jones and the Flying Police Car. It wasn’t helped by the clumsy voiceover that the studio insisted upon.
Negative initial critical opinion of the movie was largely reversed with the arrival in 1992 of a director’s cut, in which the Ford voiceover was removed as well as a pegged-on ‘happy ending’, which the film-maker is said to have hated.
Blade Runner fan Chris Scott – no relation to Ridley – is marketing manager at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle which was designed and built in 1937 by Dixon Scott who actually is a relation, great uncle to Ridley and his director brother Tony.
“It had a terrible response when it was first released which, in a way, you can understand,” said Chris. “When you watch it the first time you’re quite thrown by it. You have to watch it again and again to see the layers unfold.
“I was blown away by it. It really is something that grips. It has a unique look – a noir film set in a sci-fi universe. It is visually very distinctive. There are so many memorable moments.
“It’s interesting because the character who is supposed to be the hero, played by Harrison Ford, isn’t particularly pleasant and you end up rooting for the villain played by Rutger Hauer.”
Many agree with Chris and now it has achieved not just cult but classic status as well. Today, Blade Runner is often ranked by critics as one of the most important and influential science fiction films of the 20th century and is usually discussed along with William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer as initiating the cyberpunk genre.
The film has been hailed for its production design, depicting a ‘retrofitted’ future, and remains a leading example of the neo-noir genre. It brought the work of Philip K. Dick to the attention of Hollywood and several later films were based on his work.
Scott regards Blade Runner as “probably” his most complete and personal film and in 1993 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Interestingly, South Shields-born Scott, who later moved to Teesside with his family, is said have based the idea for the opening shot of the film, a futuristic cityscape of bright lights, industrial hulks and flames licking into the sky, on Teesside’s Wilton Chemical Plant.
The film can be read in different ways. Is Deckard a replicant? is a question still not answered – even Scott and Ford can’t agree. It is Rutger Hauer’s final speech, as the dying replicant leader Roy Batty, that people remember the most. It’s an emotional end, adding unexpected heartbreak to a film that may have seemed almost baffling at first viewing.
Ridley Scott’s return to Blade Runner will be a sequel featuring a female protagonist. Alcon Entertainment, which owns the follow-up rights to the 1982 film, announced in August that it had pulled off a coup by engaging the veteran British director to revisit one of his greatest triumphs, but it was unclear at the time what form the new film would take.
That uncertainty has now been dispelled, however, after Scott enlarged on an Alcon statement revealing that “the new story will take place some years after the first film concluded”.
In an interview last week, Scott said: “I started my first meetings on the Blade Runner sequel last week. We have a very good take on it. And we’ll definitely be featuring a female protagonist.”
Alcon has also revealed it is in talks with original Blade Runner writer Hampton Fancher to write the screenplay.
“The three-time Oscar-nominated Scott and his Blade Runner collaborator Fancher originally conceived of their 1982 classic as the first in a series of films incorporating the themes and characters featured in Philip K Dick’s groundbreaking novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, from which Blade Runner was adapted,” said Alcon in a statement. “Circumstances, however, took Scott into other directions and the project never advanced.
“It is a perfect opportunity to reunite Ridley with Hampton on this new project, one in fact inspired by their own personal collaboration, a classic of cinema if there ever was one.”
But is it a good idea? Chris, for the moments, remains unconvinced. “I’m not entirely sure it warrants a sequel. I’m more excited at the thought of Scott’s new film, Prometheus, which we’re showing here in June.
“I would have been excited but after seeing how Star Wars and Indiana Jones have been messed up with sequels, I’ll just have to wait and see.”
When you watch it the first time you’re quite thrown by it. You have to watch it again and again to see the layers unfold