I was ten years old when Blade Runner came out and it played theaters so briefly in my small hometown that I never got the chance to see it. Also, ten year olds didn’t get to see R rated films in 1982. So my first experience was reading the Archie Goodwin/Al Williamson Marvel Comics adaption, a book of which I literally read until the cover came off.
I also asked my uncle, a librarian, for a copy of Philip K. DIck’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? Perhaps a ten-year-old was not yet ready for the complexity of Phillip K. Dick, but he never dumbed it down for me.
The first time I finally saw Blade Runner on HBO it was after a year of reading about the film in Starlog, obsessing over the comic book and the source novel, so my experience was so alien to anyone else that saw it in theaters in 1982.
For a movie seen as a failure — it made $41.6 million on a $30 million budget, so I have no idea how that is failure — this is a movie that literally changed the world and has grown to become our world.
And yet, this is a movie that has seven different versions thanks to all of the changes from studio executives. Even the voiceover, which was added by them, has star Harrison Ford reading the words as if he has no interest, perhaps hoping if they were bad they’d never be used.
The blade runner is former police officer Rick Deckard (Ford), who is charged by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) with doing what he does best: hunting down robotic humanoids and retiring them. Now, he must stop four Nexus-6 replicants: Leon Kowalski (Brion James), Zhora Salome (Joanna Cassidy), Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).
Yet within this film noir story set in a neon-filled future straight out of a Moebius drawing, the real tale is about whether Rick and his lover Rachael (Sean Young) are humans or machines themselves. In fact, of all the characters, Batty is the most human of them all, a character of both deep menace and surprising tender thoughts.
Blade Runner arises from pain. Ridley Scott had left Dune and lost his brother in short order and wanted something to take his mind off life. Dick had no idea it was even being made, but his initial distrust was saved somewhat when he saw the script revisions and special effects footage. Ford and Scott also fought throughout.
Neither can agree if Deckard is human or replicant, even if they’ve made up.
I think about Blade Runner a lot. I think about Pris flipping across the room, how her face paint looks, how deadly these killing machines are with such grace. I think of Rutger Hauer ad-libbing “All those moments will be lost in time…like tears in rain” and caressing the dove. I remember the spinner police car and Deckard’s car that I had as a kid and played with constantly. And I wonder, does Gaff leave the silver unicorn after not killing Rachael as him telling Deckard to pursue his dream or is Deckard’s dream of the unicorn just one progammed into him?
Most of all, I’m so thankful for this movie because without it, I may not be so fascinated by Philip K. Dick, a person who I quote or reference every day. My uncle knew what he was doing.