Monday, June 25, 2012

"Blade Runner": Ridley Scott's iconic and multi-layered science fiction classic turns 30 today

30 years ago today, "Blade Runner" was released in theatres and was greeted with....muddled reviews and less than glowing public response. Out of this initial stumble at the box office, the movie would go on to become one of the seminal science fiction movies of all time!

Director Ridley Scott followed up the smash success of "Alien" with another visit to the science fiction genre, dipping into a Philip K. Dick novel about a seasoned ex-cop whose called upon to locate and 'retire' several replicants who'd escaped from an off-world colony to extend their very short life span by any means necessary.

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is an intricately dense book that screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples had to sift through to bring the essentials of story to the surface. What ultimately appeared on screen was a world no one had ever seen before which ultimately yielded some interesting layers of it's own. Those layers wouldn't be revealed fully for another ten to fifteen years.

Of course it goes without saying that there were two very notorious aspects of "Blade Runner" during production and post production:

Harrison Ford was repeatedly at odds with Ridley Scott, never wanting to discuss the movie until it's 2007 'Final Cut' release on DVD.

Also, when shooting wrapped and Scott went into the edit room, the studio felt the story was a bit confusing and downbeat. They ultimately forced him to insert a Ford voiceover to clarify story points in the movie, as well as tacking on a 'happy ending' where Deckard and Rachel escape the confines of the dark depressing city to arrive in greener pastures.

The movie would become a trifecta for Harrison Ford who'd already just perfectly inhabited such iconic characters as Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

Ford's Deckard is pitted against Rutger Hauer's stunning performance as Roy Batty, the Nexus 6 Replicant who only wants to live longer and will do anything to ensure that.

And regardless of the antics Sean Young would reveal to the public later on, her subtle portrayal of Rachael, the replicant who doesn't realize she's artificial, would influence not only a number of female characters in future films, but also the 80's/40's retrofit dresses and hairstyles she wore.

Gymnast-turned-actress Darryl Hannah somersaulted onto the screen for the first time as Pris, the deadly pleasure model who would die for Roy. And don't forget Edward James Olmos in his first high profile big screen appearance as Gaff, the Blade Runner who ultimately knows Deckard's least if you watch the special edition.

While composer Vangelis' beautiful and haunting score perfectly established the movie's LA noir setting and retro-future, Designer Syd Mead's iconic vehicle creations, like the police Spinner and intricate sets, would also emboss the film with an undeniably unique look.

The added layer that drifted to the surface as Ridley Scott's cinematic voice was finally heard years later; is Rick Deckard a replicant? That aspect subtly overlays Harrison Ford's character as the story moves into the third act. Introduced in the 1991 director's cut, now embedded in the complete 'The Final Cut'.

Past Deckard's dream of a unicorn in the forest as well as a more knowing view of the photos he has on his piano (the 'gifted' past that Tyrell gives replicants to operate as a cushion for their emotions), Gaff's origami unicorn left at Deckard's apartment before he departs with Rachael at the very end of the movie is a revelation far from the original 1982 release.

As I watched that very cut on Saturday in The 10th Box to celebrate the 30th Anniversary, I was very aware of how the voice over seemed like a square peg going into a round hole. Even awkward at times. Mostly because I had not screened this version in awhile and and am now closer in appreciation of "The Final Cut".

No matter what though, the '82 release will always stand as the cut I first enjoyed. The funny thing is (like several critics of the time) I was actually a bit disappointed with "Blade Runner" the first time I saw it in the theatre. But it was one of those films that I really wanted to like! So I made a point of going right back the following week to see again. That's when I 'got' it. I saw what was in front of me, appreciated and embraced it.

Today, the 'Deckard's Briefcase' edition DVD box set which includes all five versions of the movie proudly sits amongst my movie collection. Oh yeah, I should add that it now also sits on my home theatre hard drive.


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