Every month, I’m going to write a post about a movie where I will try to make a movie analysis and I’ll start of with Blade Runner 1982. That’s my new project for 2021. Also, I will answer frequently asked questions that I find on the internet. My first movie study will be Blade Runner, as there is much to discuss.
Briton Ridley Scott came out with his loose film adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. With Blade Runner, Scott took his second giant step into the sci-fi genre after Alien. The film’s combination of film noir, philosophical angle, and unusual pace meant it was not for everyone. Even the critics at the time were not unanimous.
A cult film
The question many people are going to ask is: why is Blade Runner a cult movie? What makes it so special? Even I was asking these questions. When I watched Blade Runner for the first time, I was even more confused. So, don’t worry if you’ve just seen it, and you’re all lost. You’re not the only one!
Blade Runner is an excellent movie because it was a first (or at least a standout) movie in a number of areas:
- It was one of the first films that you could take seriously as both an action film and a romantic drama.
- It created a visual universe that was varied, with multiple social and economic layers, while maintaining a consistently unified whole.
- The cast, acting, and writing were all strong, and the cinematography was excellent.
- The story asked legitimate philosophical questions without any obvious pandering or preaching.
Is Blade Runner a cult film? Of course, it is. Just like Fantasia and Gone with the Wind. Citizen Kane is a cult film. All great movies are cult movies at some point because the mass of the audience doesn’t go to the film because the movie is great. They go because it’s Saturday. They want to relax with something (generally) new and undemanding. Blade Runner was a complex, layered film that came out at a time when most sci-fi, and movies, in general, were straightforward stories with simple visual languages. It wasn’t those things. Blade Runner wasn’t a perfect movie by any means, but it is a great film. However, I recommend to watch it multiple times to understand it fully.
Blade Runner was a flop
The film was released in the summer of 1982. During that summer, box office hits included E.T., Conan The Barbarian, Poltergeist, Star Trek II, and The Road Warrior. All of these films are well-known entertainment films. These films’ popularity clearly indicated that audiences in 1982 wanted action, thrills, and distinct “good guys” and “bad guys.”
The audience probably expected Blade Runner to be a “popcorn flick” as well. It was directed by Ridley Scott, who had previously made the box office smash Alien. Alien was very entertained and probably influenced expectations as well. Harrison Ford was also cast, who had starred in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars. So yes, many had a different idea before going to the cinema.
Not what people expected
Blade Runner, however, was not an “exciting adventure” but a moody, introspective film noir whose “hero” was often unheroic and whose “villain” – an artificial human – was the one who ultimately exhibited true humanity. Moreover, Blade Runner’s photography and art direction so defied conventional expectation that audiences struggled to process the film. Even Vangelis’ music was the antithesis of Chariots of Fire – it was sad, bittersweet, sometimes abstract (with no catchy earworm this time).
Audiences and critics were stunned – and it showed in reviews and box office figures. Fortunately, Blade Runner appeared at the beginning of the home video market, and its release on videocassette gave it a second chance to find an audience. Many critics who initially dismissed the film upon its initial release, reassessed their opinions upon further viewings.
Blade Runner would prove to be the most visually-influential film of the next decade, with many filmmakers (and most commercial and music video directors) scrambling to imitate Scott’s style. I made an analysis of Blade Runner 1982 because of that.
Blade Runner may not have been a success in 1982, but consider some of the films that were. Gandhi was one of the most acclaimed films of the year, sweeping the Oscars – and while it is still a respected film, it is not considered a classic. Some of the most popular movies of 1982 were Tootsie, Porky’s, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – but how many people remember those pictures?
Blade Runner Movie Explanation
Many people are totally unaware of what the film is about or what message this film wants to share. Here is an explanation of Blade Runner.
Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner is set in a dystopian setting: the Los Angeles of 2019. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard. A police officer tasked with tracking down and destroying malfunctioning, human-looking androids. Agents who specialize in this are also called blade runners.
The androids or robots are replicants. They are created by the powerful Tyrell Corporation and serve as slaves to humans. However, They are unhinged and a danger to society. Blade Runner is mainly about the themes they want to tell, such as identity, consciousness, morality, freedom, and the meaning of life and death.
The tests we see at the beginning, for example, serve to find out whether someone is a replicant or not. They are analyzed for their emotions rather than the effective answers. Usually, replicants don’t show as many emotions as a human does. That’s where they differ.
This special relationship in Blade Runner 1982 is worthy of an analysis.
Deckard’s search for the replicants leads him to Rachael (Sean Young), a beautiful woman who finds out through her contact with Deckard that she herself is artificial. At first, Deckard, the lonely, reluctant hero, refers to Rachael in inhuman terms: “Does it know what it is? But Deckard might as well ask this question of himself. For is he really ‘human’? Also, Deckard usually only has to ask around twenty questions to determine if someone is a Replicant. However, this time it took him a hundred questions.
Racheal has been given false memories that make her so difficult to discern. She herself did not know at first that she was a Replicant either. Then we can actually ask the question: what do you become when all your memories turn out to be false? Because finally, it is your past that shapes who you are, but what if you had no history? Do you become someone else?
Even Deckard questions his own humanity after feeling attracted towards Rachael. This is where he starts to sympathize with the Replicants.
The Nexus-6 were a series of replicants developed by Eldon Tyrell and his genetic design team to be more human than any previous Nexus models. Rachael, for example, was one of them. The film’s enemy, Roy, is also part of this.
Still, your first impression is that Roy is a bad guy, but the further the movie goes, the more that you understand him. Finally, he is someone who is rebellious because he has so little time to live. It poses questions where we decide who stays alive or not.
His prey, the artificial beings, are directly opposite him when it comes to solitude and humanity. These form a group; they work together, and determine how they live. Indeed, they are aware of their humanity. One of them, Pris, even says, “I think… therefore I am. But thinking, Deckard, empty human, does not – he hunts and kills at the behest of a community that knows no humanity. That is the core of his loneliness.
When Leon (replicant at the beginning of the film) almost kills Deckard, Rachael shoots him. Now, she has killed a fellow replicant instead of the hunter. That causes even more confusion for Deckard.
When Rachael later asks if Deckard would come after her afterward, he simply replies, “no.” That is the moment where you said he almost doesn’t see the difference himself. Then Deckard wants to leave, but Rachael stops him. And this is the moment where they make love, although there is a little violence here. Still, this is for a reason and was this to see if a replicant can perform acts of love.
When Roy discovers through the replicants’ creator that his life span cannot be extended, he feels lost. Now, he no longer has a goal and is confused. Now Roy lives in a world that only wants him dead. Therefore, he does the only thing he can do. He rebels and kills Tyrell.
Once he confronts Deckard, he looks demonic. We, as viewers, don’t know who to cheer for. After all, they are both killers. Roy hunts down Deckard. Finally, in his last minutes of life, he decides to save Deckard. By saving Deckard as the last act of his existence, he demonstrates that he has free will, that he is fully human. Roy realized how precious all life was. This ultimately shows that replicants have a morality that humanity seems to lack. That also gives clearance to Deckard.
Thanks to his transformation, he can go to her: Rachael. His definition of being human is no longer limited to simplistic thinking about tangible bodies. And now he can love. ‘Too bad she won’t live,’ a colleague snarls at him. And that’s true: Rachael is a replicant who may have another year to go before she is automatically deported. But Deckard now knows: to be authentic, you don’t need a body, nor are you bound by anything like time, or place, or memory. His flight with Rachael (to where exactly we may see in the sequel) forms a romantic ending. The loneliness has been lifted. His thinking is changed and enlightened. So, he is. Finally.
In the movie, Deckard sees the unicorn while playing on the Piano. You can take several different meanings from the scene, and I will go through each of them in as much detail as possible. However, these are all open for interpretation.
The first meaning that can be made of the unicorn is that it is an imaginative fantasy that takes place in Deckard’s head, and he muses about all the things that could or would be. This is also assuming that Deckard is a real person and not a replicant. The interview with Rachel at the Tyrell Corporation has clearly excited him enough that his imagination is spawning the vision of the unicorn in the woods.
In addition, Rachel was an attractive young female, and Deckard is a divorced, single man whose sexual connotations are easy to make. I won’t go into detail, but the beauty of the unicorn and Rachel’s physical attraction is not lost on Deckard. The unicorn is probably how he “sees” Rachel in his mind, although he also knows that allowing Rachel to persist in believing she is real goes against Deckard’s commitment to retiring replicants who work outside and beyond their protocol.
As a fanciful fantasy, the unicorn may represent a resurgent hope that life could get better or that things could change significantly. It could be a meditation on Rachel’s attractiveness and Deckard’s desire for female companionship. It could also be his imagination interpreting the challenge of replicants who challenge the assumption that machines can be nothing more than machines.
The second meaning that can be made of the unicorn is that Deckard sees himself as a unicorn, as other answers to this question have also provided. He is a replicant who believes he is a human-like Rachel and the unicorn is a symbol of uniqueness. While this has some significance, there is not enough evidence in the film to justify why Deckard dreams of the unicorn. It could be a mental alarm system that looks peaceful and serene to the replicant but also signals to the replicant’s handler that this particular model is developing emotional responses and needs to be retired. This explains why Gaff left the origami unicorn at Deckard’s door. The handler is aware that the product exceeds its limitations.
The third meaning that can be made of the unicorn is that the unicorn symbolizes what Batty is doing. Batty resists his programming, exceeds limitations and returns to the point of origin to confront the boss, the producer, the god of biomechanics. This is important because Batty’s actions are detrimental to the future of the replicant industry. If Batty can make it all the way to Tyrell and get more life, then the product has surpassed the producer’s limitations and become something else. So the unicorn is Batty.
The maverick who made it all the way to the top of Mount Olympus (Tyrell building) and confronted the god of biomechanics and killed him and effectively freed current and future replicants from their master. If Deckard is a replicant, then his dream is one in which he recognizes that one of his brothers has become something else, and the only way his mind can conceptualize this transformation is as a unicorn: a fantastic and mythical beast of incredible beauty and danger.
The Unicorn in Summary
In summary, the unicorn is a symbol of transformation. Who or what makes this transformation can be further debated, but in the context of the film, the transformation from one state to another is fundamental and the extraordinary beauty and awesomeness of the unicorn is the only symbol that can approximate such a transformation taking place.
Whether the unicorn was a real animal or simply something that a poet or storyteller had imagined is not the point. It is the possibility, the “what if” of it all that makes it so important.
There are two popular versions of the film “Blade Runner”: the one that was released in theaters at the time and the one that was later remastered by Ridley Scott. The main difference is that the theatrical version is more action-packed than the Director’s Cut and uses a typical film noir-like voice-over. This was done at the time because of pressure from the studios. They were afraid that the film would not attract an audience otherwise. Ironically, this was also the version that was hardly taken seriously by critics at the time. The Director’s Cut has removed almost all of the above elements and also uses an entirely different ending, and generally has the film in a more philosophical and romantic vein.
There were a total of 7 versions of Blade Runner shown to the public:
- A workprint that was shown to test the audience in 1982. No voice-over. No dream sequence. And, no happy ending with Deckard and Rachael driving away (that was, funnily enough, b roll of Kubrick’s The Shining).
- A Sneak preview in San Diego shown to a test audience before the US release. They cut three scenes as a result of this screening.
- The American theatrical version released in 1982. Narration was included and a happy ending was raised by the film’s financiers, who were concerned that the work print was far too dark and confusing. Ridley Scott, who is now working on Thelma & Louise, was essentially kept out of the editing room.
- The International Cut, which was more violent. Criterion later released this version on Laser Disc.
- The Broadcast version in 1986, adapted for T.V.
- The Director’s Cut in 1992 (which, as Mark Hughes pointed out, was not controlled by Ridley Scott). The reason for this was actually a screening of the original working print that went over well with audiences. The studio realized that there was a demand for a cut that was closer to Scott’s original vision.
- The Final Cut was released i
The best versions
As for the best version, it’s hard to disagree with the others. The Final Cut is without a doubt the most definitive version, especially considering that the most definitive version of a film is the one most in line with the director’s original vision. When a director’s vision changes, things get more complicated. However, it seems that Ridley Scott always had a specific vision in mind when it came to Blade Runner and he was allowed to express his vision with the Final Cut version.
However, another question can be asked. Is the best version one that is closest to the author’s intent? Or is the best version the one the audience likes best?
Harrison Ford’s thumping narration and happy ending are parts of Blade Runner. But the voiceover is part of the experience. Harrison Ford has said that he resisted recording the narration (along with Ridley Scott, he hated the idea), and, as a result, he was less than thrilled to do it. He never thought they would use it, and in his mind, his performance on the voiceover was just terrible.
However, it always contributed to the dark and somber atmosphere. I could even argue that it adds to the ambiguity about whether Deckard is a replicant or not, given how emotionless and monotone it is. However, most fans of the film would probably argue that this ambiguity is completely destroyed in the American theatrical version.
So I would say that the two main versions are the American Theatrical Cut and Ridley Scott’s 2007 Final Cut.
Cinematography and Set designs
Ridley felt the photography style in Citizen Kane was closest to the look he wanted for Blade Runner. This included high contrast, unusual camera angles, and the use of light shafts.
David Dryer was one of the special effects supervisors. He worked with black and white prints of the majority of the scenes in the film for some reason, and he almost wished the Blade Runner could be released in black and white. David thinks it would have gotten even more depth and style in black and white. Of course, this would not do justice to Cronenweth’s work, but it is indicative of the way the film’s photographic style harks back to classic films. Like every other aspect of Blade Runner, the photography of Cronenweth goes a step beyond classic conventions.
There is a lot of contrast, counterlight, smoke, rain and lightning to give the film its personality and mood. The streets were depicted as terribly overcrowded, allowing the audience to relate. The street scenes were just filled with people. All the people were all the same in the sense that they were all part of the flow. It was like going in circles… like you weren’t going anywhere. Photographically, they’re kind of colorless.”
If the people on the street were colorless, the New York Street set was anything but: “The character and therefore the lighting of New York Street was achieved through the use of dozens of neon signs. Simultaneously, the off-camera neons were used as the primary light source whenever possible by leaving them at their brightest level.
If the existing neons were not sufficient for lighting or dressing, then new neons were made and placed wherever it was needed. I’ll give you a quick example. Some letters were put on the side or strips that were in the interior of a bus, like the one where Harrison Ford runs through.
The Snake Lady Chase
In the sequence where Harrison Ford is chasing Joanna Cassidy’s ‘Snake Lady,’ the script calls for her to run through the glass windows of a store. The art director built a storefront to match the action, but when it came to dressing it up, Ridley was very unhappy with the first attempt.
They ripped out the dressing and a week later he presented a new interpretation, but Ridley still hated it. Finally, he had the wonderful idea of taking the neon signs from the New York Street set and putting them in the windows of the stores. What developed was something that really worked. Then they photographed the chase with multiple cameras running at different frame rates – normal and above normal.
Another incredible use of colored light is the toy room scene where Deckard encounters Pris, one of the replicants. Pris is made up with white makeup, and the scene is lit with rosy light. Colored light was also occasionally used for the lighting effect in the replicants’ eyes: “One of the recognizable characteristics of replicants is a strange glowing quality of the eyes. To achieve this effect, a two-way mirror was used for – 50% transmission, 50% reflection, 50% transmission – placed in front of the lens at a 45-degree angle.
Shafts of light
The other key ingredient in Blade Runner’s photography is the use of shafts of light. One of the ways the film justified the constant presence of light shafts was by including airships that floated through the night with enormously powerful beams emanating from their undersides. In the futuristic setting, they bathed the city in constantly waving light. They would be used for both advertising and crime-fighting, much the way a prison is guarded by moving searchlights. The light shafts represent an invasion of privacy by a supervisory force, a form of control.
To get shafts of light, you must have a different medium, which necessitated the use of smoke. The story lent itself very well, in the context of a highly polluted environment. Smoke is photographically beautiful, but not without its problems. It is difficult to control, especially because of the draft; and many people find it objectionable to work in. In addition, it is important to keep the smoke density constant, because a very subtle change in this density can lead to dramatic changes in contrast.
Although most of the film was staged, some notable Los Angeles landmarks were also used as film locations. The outisde of Deckard’s apartment is in fact, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House. It’s designed in 1924 in a Mayan block motif. Furthermore, The Bradbury Building, designed by George Wyman in 1893, is used for the final confrontation, and for a scene in which Sebastian takes Pris to his apartment. The Pan Am Building in the center of town is utilized for a scene in which Gaff and Deckard search Leon’s hotel room for clues.
Most of the sets for Blade Runner had ceilings, and some were built very low to enhance the sense of containment, a motif that fits particularly well with the anamorphic format. The light came in from the floor or through the windows. There is a lot of night photography illuminated by the windows. The sources would vary. It could be anything, such as searchlights, direct light, indirect light; signs, colored light, and so on. In Harrison Ford’s apartment, they created zones of light that automatically lit up as people entered on different levels. As the depth of the apartment was penetrated, more lights came on until finally the whole place was illuminated.
Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s vast office
Perhaps the most interesting set was the large office of Dr. Eldon Tyrell. It was very large. The office was about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide with three giant windows along one side. On top of that, the structural ceiling supports was rising from a shiny black marble floor. Finally, yhe walls were gray cement and the room was almost colorless.
The movie scene called for the room to be lit at dawn. Outside the windows was a front projection screen on which an 8″ by 10″ plate of the futuristic city was projected at sunrise. This allowed them to photograph the players walking in front of the lower part of the screen. In addition, it gave them the opportunity to later create a background with movement for the upper parts of the screen area. They had to match the color of the set to the color of the created sunrise.
At one point in the scene, Tyrell pushes a button causing huge tinted shades to fall across the windows. The ‘shades’ were actually optically applied later, but the effect of lowering the shades had to be created while shooting the scene. To achieve this, Carey Griffith, the key grip, built an installation that would allow a very large 60 neutral density filter to slide down the six arches used to simulate sunlight.
The set for Tyrell’s office was also repaired to serve as two other film sets. You may be surprised but it was also used for Tyrell’s bedroom. That was photographed in flickering firelight; and as the Tyrell Corporation interview room, which was photographed in bright white shafts of daylight. In each situation it looks completely different, and yet it is the same set. The flicker for the firelight was created by arcs through torn strips of silk and dubotine.
The Ice Room
The most unusual set for Blade Runner was the “Ice Room,” which was built inside a meat storage locker to create the effect of a refrigerated genetics lab. The ceilings were repeatedly sprayed with water for five days to form icicles, then the crew shot for two days in the cold at 7°F below zero while it was 98°F outside.
Another interesting photographic problem with Blade Runner was photographing the interior of the Spinners to create the illusion of movement. Should you not know what a spinner is, it is the flying cars. The Spinner could move in all directions and at very high speeds.
To create the feeling that the vehicle was moving at night, different techniques were used. Two sets were built with programmable light strips, each about a meter long and each equipped with twelve photo flash units that were individually connected and had different colors. Each was placed on the outside of each side of the Spinner’s cockpit.
The lights flashed at different intervals in combination with each other and individually. An additional motion was created with set lights activated by a keyboard, so the lights were literally ‘played’. Moving the camera on both axes through the use of dual gear heads and the use of wind, water and smoke enhanced the illusion. To create an additional movement for daytime scenes, bright bulbs were used in the strip lights and a moving arc mounted on a Chapman crane to simulate a change in the Spinner’s position relative to the sun.
At first, they wanted to film the rooftop scene in downtown Los Angeles. Unfortunately, however, this proved impractical. This is because of the size of the shoot and the difficulty of achieving some of the effects. So the sequence was filmed on the backlot of Warner. This required the construction of a pair of movable roofs about 30 feet high.
To show the extreme height, she used roofs as foreground cutouts with the live-action on them. They also used a 65mm camera when they did a mat shot. They did have to photograph from very high parallels, with devices that could not move at all. As a result, they had to reinforce the normal parallels with extra steel and weight. Carey Griffith made reservoirs in the bottom of the parallels and filled them with several hundred gallons of water. Together with the reinforced steel on the sides of the parallels and the use of solid reinforcements, this made for a very rigid camera platform.
Rain, smoke, lightning, and moving beams were also used in this sequence. None of these can be used in matte shooting because they disappear in the matte area while remaining in the live-action area. One would then be faced with matching the effects of the matte area to the live-action rain, smoke, etc. Therefore, the procedure when taking matte shots is to incorporate these effects later in the composite.
Film noir is a 1940s film style that incorporated elements of other genres, such as the crime film, the mystery film, and the detective. In Blade Runner, some of the characteristic elements of film noir were mixed with those of the science fiction film, in a genre that would later become known as tech-noir. A more global term for tech noir is the term neo-noir. Neo-noir describes the trend of mixing elements of film noir with other film genres.
Blade Runner has many of the characteristics of film noir:
- An overriding sense of fear and uncertainty in this existence.
- The male protagonist who becomes entangled in an obsession with a woman.
- A stylish, arrogant, highly sexually independent and smoking Femme fatale who gets men into trouble.
- The nurturing woman as a counterpart to the femme fatale (sometimes united in the same female character).
- The (hardboiled) detective where the detective usually meets the wrong lady, the femme fatale, and does not “get” or “conquer” her because she mostly dies.
- A worked through and interwoven story structure with multiple layers of meaning.
- The protagonist’s own account using flashbacks or voice-over. (in the case of Blade Runner only present in the 1982 cinema version, although not originally provided).
- The misanthropic worldview: Man is evil and the world corrupt.
- The lower social class in relation to one or more higher social classes.
- The lack of a happy ending (in the case of Blade Runner, it does in the 1982 version).
- Highly contrasting lighting.
- A strong melancholic atmosphere permeated by fatality and “inevitability”.