Study Guide

Blade Runner

Blade Runner Introduction


Release Year: 1982

Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples, Philip K. Dick (novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young


Contrary to what you may have been expecting, Blade Runner is not a movie about a team of misfit teen roller-hockey players who need to defeat a better-trained and snobby team of wealthy roller-hockey players. 

If you're looking for something like that, head on over to D2: The Mighty Ducks.

No, Blade Runner is a science fiction classic about Harrison Ford killing androids that aren't really androids because they're actually kind of human...or something. And then there's this weird skyscraper pyramid, and there's Daryl Hannah doing somersaults and capturing Ford's head between her thighs in a vise-like grip while she tries to kill him. You've surely seen that somewhere; it's been copied in about a million other movies. 

Possibly even D2: The Mighty Ducks.

  

Oh, wait. That was totally D3: The Mighty Ducks. Our bad.

Blade Runner, which was adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, morphed into something entirely different. It borrows the bare outline of the book's plot—a guy has to track down and kill rogue biological androids—but it veers in a decidedly different direction.

Whereas Androids was focused more on oddly specific details of its future world, like the mass extinction of animals, Blade Runner became a vision of humanity dehumanized by technology and a meditation on how glimmers of human goodness and empathy can persist through that degradation. The "replicants" hunted by Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard aren't human… and yet they are. In some ways, they're even more human than some of the actual humans in the film.

When it first premiered in 1982, Blade Runner drew a lot of mixed-to-negative reviews. Why? Well, it was released in the summer of 1982, the same summer as E.T. Heartwarming sci-fi was in, and grim negative sci-fi was out.

Other reasons? While impressed by the movie's visuals, a lot of critics seemed bewildered by the story and couldn't follow it. "What was that flake he just picked up in that bathtub?" they asked. "Why is there an origami unicorn at the end?" "So are replicants robots or what?"

But with the passage of time and the release of new versions of the movie—like director Ridley Scott's definitive "Final Cut" in 2007—Blade Runner has sealed its reputation as a permanent sci-fi masterpiece, and the answers to these critics' questions have gradually become clearer.

So, the next time you see some knock-off movie with a noir-ish detective running around a crumbling-yet-technologically-advanced future dystopia while attempting to track down rebellious androids—you know, like in roughly 72% of all anime movies, most cyberpunk stories, and at least one tabletop RPG—you'll know what those filmmakers were ripping off.

They were ripping off Blade Runner.

What is Blade Runner About and Why Should I Care?

If you've ever sat around wondering if you lack the correct emotional responses—if, say, eating a boiled dog stuffed with rice sounds more appetizing to you than eating spaghetti—Blade Runner might be able to explain what ails you: you're a replicant.

"But, gee whiz, Shmoop, what's a replicant?" you ask as you drop your popsicle in shocked curiosity.

Well, a replicant is a manufactured, biological android used for slavery in the "off-world" colonies of the future, as depicted in Blade Runner. Contrary to popular belief, a replicant is not exactly a robot: robots are mechanical, involving wires and electricity and stuff, while replicants are biological and are genetically designed. They're kind of like clones, but not quite, since they're actually made as opposed to birthed.

Anyway, what we're trying to say is that the movie Blade Runner goes pretty deep into the question of what it means to be human. It also asks you think about how technology can change humanity. Whether you're a human or a replicant, the question of how technology can change you is something that gets more important year by year. Hey, think of it this way: you're probably taking a break from reading this article to Snapchat with someone right now—so that means technology is altering you, giving you another profound reason to watch and study this movie.

Sure, Blade Runner has action in it, but it's probably not the kind of shoot-'em-up, blast-everything-in-sight adrenaline fueled action movie you might expect—Starship Troopers it ain't. It's a little more philosophical, and it's a little more slowly paced. It takes time to linger on the details of its finely crafted world. It's really a vision—a vision of the future… and of the ways in which humanity might suffer and endure that future.

Trivia

Rutger Hauer came up with his own final line in the movie himself—that classic "tears in rain" bit. (Source)

At one point, Ridley Scott criticized the film's American crew for being less adept at following orders than British film crews, who would simply respond with "Yes, Guv" to any command. In response, the American crewmembers printed out T-shirts that said "Yes, Guv" on the front of them—with a sassy retort on the back—and wore them on the set. (Source)

The title Blade Runner was taken from a book by Alan Nourse called The Bladerunner. (The term "blade runner" was not actually used in Philip K. Dick's book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,on which the movie was based.) In Nourse's book, the term refers to something utterly unrelated to anything in the movie—a person who sells illegal surgical instruments. (Source)

Ridley Scott claims that Deckard is supposed to be a replicant, while Hampton Fancher, one of the screenwriters, says that there is no right answer, and it's intentionally ambiguous. On the other hand, Harrison Ford said he intended to portray Deckard as a human. (Source and source)

Ridley Scott and the cinematographer, Jordan Cronenwerth, made the replicants' eyes shine weirdly using a technique called the "Schüfftan Process," which was invented by the great German director, Fritz Lang. It involves bouncing light off a half-mirrored piece of glass at a certain angle. (Source)

Blade Runner Resources

Websites

Blade Runner's 30th Anniversary Website
There's nothing quite like an official 30th Anniversary website to get the party started.

Blade Runner IMDB Page
Trivia? Check. Technical specifics? Check. A list of cast members? Check. They've got the full scoop on Blade Runner at the Internet Movie Database.

Blade Runner Rotten Tomatoes Page
Originally, critics gave Blade Runner some pretty mixed reviews, but the reviews on this site are mostly positive re-appraisals. Get some contrasting opinions—get challenged.

"Off World: The Blade Runner Wiki"
If you're curious about the specifics of how replicants are made or how the Tyrell Corporation works, this is the place for you. It's pretty comprehensive, and it covers the greater Blade Runner universe beyond the movie.

Books

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
This is the book that started it all. Of course, the filmmakers went in a fairly different direction from Philip K. Dick's book—but the basic plot is more or less in place.

Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human, by K. W. Jeter
K. W. Jester, This dude, a friend of Philip K. Dick, wrote a few sequels to Blade Runner after Dick's death. This is the first one.

The Blade Runner Experience
If the prospect of reading contemporary academics' opinions on Blade Runner makes your heart race and your mouth water, you'll probably like this book.

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
The title is kind of self-explanatory: it leads you through the process of creating this sci-fi classic.

Philosophy and Blade Runner
Blade Runner naturally lends itself to a philosophical investigation, given that it deals with Big Questions like "What makes humans human?"

Computer Games

Blade Runner (1985)
This game was created for forgotten consoles like the Spectrum and Commodore 64. The game creators didn't get rights from the movie to use it as the game's basis, so they had to call the replicants "replidroids" instead. We're kind of into that.

Blade Runner
In this 1997 PC Game, you're a blade runner named Ray McCoy who needs to track down replicants who have been murdering animals (a crime in this world, since most animals have died out). It's a mouse-click game where you search for clues and solve puzzles.

Articles and Interviews

Roger Ebert Reviews Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Roger Ebert eventually came to appreciate Blade Runner more than he originally did in his basically negative review from 1982. This one's a positive review of the revamped Final Cut of Blade Runner.

"Review of Blade Runner," by Rita Kempley
Kempley is a Blade Runner fan: her review celebrates the movie's visionary qualities, arguing that it depicts the consequences of humanity attempting to attain godhood.

"Ridley Scott on Blade Runner: The Final Cut," by Tim Ryan
Scott, Blade Runner's director, gives us the lowdown on his new cut of the movie, talking about what he left out and added.

"Ridley Scott Interviewed," by Harlan Kennedy
In this interview from 1982, Scott dishes on his artistic influences in Blade Runner, and the interviewer makes some perceptive comments, as well.

"Ridley Scott Says Blade Runner Sequel is the Best Script Harrison Ford Has Ever Read," by Josh Wigler
This is a super short article, briefly filling in the reader on the potential Blade Runner sequel.

"Blade Runner at 30," by Richard Corliss
Time's film critic, Richard Corliss, offers a glowing 30th anniversary appreciation of Blade Runner.

Video

Blade Runner Original Theatrical Trailer
This original trailer gave audiences a little taste of the techno-monstrosity landscapes and amazing artistic design of the movie.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut Trailer
This is the trailer for Ridley Scott's souped-up 1997 cut of Blade Runner—complete with the famous unicorn dream sequence.

Siskel and Ebert Review Blade Runner (1982)
The Blade Runner segment starts at 19:15. Ebert liked the special effects but didn't care for the story. Siskel's review was even more negative: he called it a "waste of time."

BBC Critic Mark Kermode on Blade Runner
This film critic really likes Blade Runner—and he explains why.

On the Edge of Blade Runner Documentary
Mark Kermode also made this documentary on Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott on Deckard
Scott discusses the film's main character and he admits he's actually supposed to be a replicant himself.

Rutger Hauer on Making Blade Runner
Hauer (who played Roy) deeply loves Blade Runner, considering it his best movie. He talks about how he came up with his own, now famous dying lines.

Ridley Scott Directing Harrison Ford
Scott and Ford may or may not be in the process of not getting along with each other.

Audio

Vangelis Blade Runner Soundtrack
Immerse yourself in the mystical soundscapes of the famous Greek composer's score.

Keepin' It Reel Podcast on Blade Runner 2
This podcast episode discusses the potential Blade Runner sequel, which may or may not be made sometime soon.

"Blade Runner Blues" by Vangelis
This is a particularly notable track from Vangelis' score—it mixes film-noir and private-eye blues with an electronic feel.

Ridley Scott Discusses Blade Runner on NPR
Scott goes deep with NPR, discussing the ins and outs of what may well be his masterwork.

Images

Models from the Movie
Since Blade Runner came out before the CGI revolution, all of its amazing scenery was made by hand.

Tyrell's Pyramid
This is the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. And, yeah, technically it might be more like a ziggurat than a pyramid—you got us.

Giant Billboard and Cityscape
Actually, this does look like present-day New York, or maybe Tokyo.