2017 feels like an era where originality is no longer profitable. Most only flock to the theatres two or three times in a year; and it won’t be to see ambitious flicks like JAWS or Alien or even the modest hit Blade Runner, which returned this weekend with Blade Runner 2049.
35 years on and Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner is still receiving analysis and breakdowns like it’s a novel from a bygone era. But what is it about the Neo-Noir thriller that makes it so enthralling? How has it stood the sands of time, and not faded like tears in rain? Why is Blade Runner considered a classic?
For starters, the film is damn good. Director Ridley Scott found an exceptional team to craft the film in a way similar to his previous work of groundbreaking sci-fi, Alien. Extravagant sets, beautiful compositions, gorgeous cinematography, and a haunting score that’s all wrapped around a compelling story with engrossing characters. But good films, even great ones, rarely leave an impact the way Blade Runner has.
What allows the film to stand out in among the greats is its originality, style, and refusal to play by the established rules. In a world dominated by the likes of the fun, quirky sci-fi like Star Wars or E.T. (which was released the same year as Runner), Scott stood to make something much more attuned to the sci-fi gems like THX-1138 or 2001: A Space Odyssey. What was created, however, felt far closer to the classic ‘Film Noir’ genre of the 40’s & 50’s. With that, Runner was a film with the bleakness of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the grimy detective story that oddly fits Chinatown.
This is known as Tech Noir, a genre that takes the classic film genres and melds it into a typically dark and twisted vision of our future. Acclaimed filmmaker James Cameron first coined the term in his ‘84 classic The Terminator, and other films such as A.I., The Fifth Element, and 12 Monkeys have also adopted this style. In many cases, the films vast and winding landscapes are taken directly from Production Designer Lawrence G. Paull’s world.
Ridley Scott’s classic is also one of the most divisive films out there. Many who finally flock to it (myself included) rarely see why it’s hailed to be the “be all end all” that cinephiles claim.
But then you watch it twice. The film has a nasty way of latching onto you like a leech, constantly sucking your attention as you fixate on what Scott & Co. were really focused on: theming.
We all remember Prometheus. Scott’s ill-fated return to the Alien franchise 30+ years later; a film that was much maligned for its talks of fate and religion in what was supposed to be a chilling horror prequel. “What happened to him?” We all wondered. And yet, why were we so surprised, considering how much of the themes from Prometheus, and its follow-up Alien: Covenant, were tackled in Blade Runner?
The character of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the film’s primary antagonist, sets out to find a greater purpose than what society deemed for him; the exact character arc of Prometheus’ David, an android who sets out to discover the key to life via the sadistic old man that created him. This discussion of deities and our placement in their world is a common motif throughout Scott’s career (see Exodus: Gods & Kings, or you know what, just take my word for it), yet he’s never seemingly surpassed (or meet in that regard) the excellence he stumbled upon way back when in 1982.
Blade Runner is not without its flaws. The pacing is very slow, there’s a disconnect with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) as a protagonist, and the flick takes a very unexpected turn as our hero forces himself onto Rachael (Sean Young) an android he chose to protect. And yet, we excuse so much of what would otherwise fade a film into the mid 50’s on Rotten Tomatoes because of just how important of film it is. Whether or not you find the movie enthralling or drudging is entirely up to you, but it created a genre, and through this genre we’ve gotten fantastic classics in their own right (1990’s Ghost in the Shell is another prime example), and I think we ought to congratulate Ridley Scott on creating at least two flicks that have not only defined sci-fi, but left a whole new legacy ready to be challenged.
And now, with 2049 exploding its way into cinemas, we can hope that Director Denis Villeneuve and his team (which includes the likes of Roger Deakins as Director of Photography, see Skyfall for why this is astonishing) to further the adventures with new characters, conniving plots, and interesting questions that just might have us all debating again for another thirty-five years.
Blade Runner 2049 is now playing in theaters everywhere. Read our review.