Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has been a blind spot of mine for a decade. I’m a sci-fi guy, but this film loomed almost larger than life. Am I watching the right cut? Do I need to take them all together? Will I get out of Blade Runner everything I could? Everything I should?
When the sequel was announced after years of speculation—and especially knowing it’d be directed by Denis Villeneuve, a new personal favorite filmmaker—I picked up the Final Cut on Blu-Ray, and still it sat. With 2049 in theaters, it was time to cross this one off my list. And so I did.
For all the hype I gave this film, I really didn’t know that much about it. I knew it starred Harrison Ford. I knew it was in the tradition of film noir. I knew about “like tears in the rain.”
I didn’t know how slow the film would be. It’s slow. It’s really slow. Like, wow, it’s really damn slow.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I love me a good, slow burn thriller, but Blade Runner never really thrills. It’s a film that’s really easy to admire, but extremely tough to love.
For all the complicated world-building the film does, it’s still relatively plotless. Deckard [Harrison Ford] is given orders to take out four advanced robots called replicants, who are very difficult to differentiate from humans. That’s it. It’s a chase film, but no one really chases anyone. The gender dynamics are pretty dreadful. It rains a lot.
That all sounds awfully negative, and while my experience watching Blade Runner wasn’t the greatest, it was more disappointing than abjectly awful. [Stay tuned for The Cinessential podcast this week for that take.] I admired the film’s craft. It looks and sounds incredible. I also enjoyed seeing Harrison Ford, in the middle of his prime, playing somewhat against type. I went into Blade Runner assuming Deckard was a hero in the vein of Indiana Jones or Han Solo, but he’s kind of an asshole, and if not for a major final act swerve in character behavior and motivation, I thought Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty was much more traditionally heroic.
This dynamic was the most interesting thing about Blade Runner. Because these characters are such blank slates, I kept thinking how different a film it would be if Scott changed one thing here or added or a scene there. I’m assuming this was a deliberate choice by him and screenwriters David Peoples and Hampton Fancher, but regardless, it’s also allowed Scott to explore the film’s mystery in interviews over the last 35 years, and in his several new versions of the film that have come out since its original release. [I watched the Final Cut.]
I’m still planning on checking out Blade Runner 2049, though I’d be lying if I said my expectations weren’t dampened a bit. A similarly slow and contemplative noir with an extra 45 minutes and Jared Leto? Not great, Bob. But the promise of some big-screen Roger Deakins action is still enough to entice me, and I hope my lower expectations, and the fact that I have a better idea of what this world is about, mean things click into place for me.