Same story, new town: a review of the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner (1992)
Opening statement: Blade Runner is a neo-Noir science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott that uses the concepts of Philip K. Dick’s book as a framework to re-imagine the iconic noir films of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Brief Synopsis: Deckard is a world-weary blade runner, a bounty hunter for the incredibly human-like androids called replicants. Although he states he doesn’t want to continue this line of work, he’s pulled back in by the city’s police department after four replicants escape an off-planet colony and attempt to lead human lives back on Earth. The movie follows Deckard as he hunts the replicants amidst the broken backdrop of the city and spirals into an existential crisis of what it means to be human.
Overall impression: Blade Runner paints a beautiful picture, but it’s sadly been painted before. In his dystopian world, many parallels can be seen between Deckard and Sam Spade of The Maltese Falcon. A hard-boiled, knight of the new world who shows little emotion and follows his code relentlessly.
In his pursuit of the replicants, Deckard follows many of the tropes of the noir anti-hero. A knowledge of the streets he walks can be seen in the beginning, as he interacts with the street merchant serving him his cup of noodles. He falls for the femme fatale Rachael, even though he’s aware of her nature and dangerousness before he even initiates the Voight-Kampff test used to identify replicants.
The similarities between Deckard’s futuristic slums of Los Angeles and the dark alleys of San Francisco are also too strong to ignore. The mean streets play just as prominent a role in 1929 as they do in 2019, serving as almost another character involved in the story. Ridley Scott spends a significant amount of time showing the world that Deckard lives in. Just as Dashiell Hammett and his contemporaries grounded their detectives using the street names and landmarks of their respective cities, Scott relied on the visuals of his dystopian Los Angeles to provide context for both Deckard and the plot.
All of these things make for a solid interpretation of the noir concepts. However, merely putting these concepts into a different setting doesn’t necessarily make the film something truly unique or interesting. The original work, written by Philip K. Dick, is never delved quite too deeply into and none of these noir concepts are really explored in a way that hasn’t been seen before.
This is somewhat mitigated by the arc Deckard shows as he reassesses what it means to live and what a life is after his experiences with the replicants. There is also perhaps a level of self-awareness as Deckard expresses the same misogynistic actions of his predecessors, albeit with a robot, perhaps alluding to the lack of character or substance given to females who filled this role in the old noir films. This may however be unintentional, as this self-awareness is undercut by the deep-rooted questions of what defines life and humanity that permeate Deckard’s character arc. Is Rachael merely a thing that illustrates this lack of substance in femme fatales of earlier works? Or is Rachael a living, breathing person that Deckard effectively forced himself on?
That is sadly the extent of the depth in Blade Runner. For all its ambitious visuals and potential, it settles for being a sculpture seen many times before, just with a different coating of paint.
Quotation: If you loved the classic film noirs, then lines like the following will seem very familiar…
Captain Bryant: I need ya, Deck. This is a bad one. The worst yet. I need the old blade runner… I need your magic.
Deckard: The report read “Routine retirement of a replicant…” That didn’t make me feel any better about shooting a woman in the back.