Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Blade Runner is a dark cyberpunk film directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1982. The screenplay, written by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher , is loosely based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It presents a bleak dystopic vision of Los Angeles in November 2019. Harrison Ford stars as a "Blade Runner" named Deckard.
In the future world of the movie, manufactured androids called replicants are used for dangerous and degrading work in Earth's "off-world colonies." The latest generation "Nexus-6" is a biorobotic-based replicant. Replicants became illegal on Earth after a bloody mutiny of Nexus-6 replicants; Blade Runners are specialist police personnel who track down and "retire" (kill) escaped replicants. Deckard is called out of his own retirement to "retire" several advanced Nexus-6 replicants who are illegally in Los Angeles.
Based loosely on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, the original screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher , which attracted the interest of producer Michael Deeley . Deeley secured financing from the film from a range of sources (which later proved to be a problem) and secured the services of director Ridley Scott. Scott was not happy with the script and had David Peoples do a re-write. The soundtrack was composed by Vangelis.
The term "Blade Runner," used in this film as a designation for people of Deckard's profession, comes originally from a 1974 novel by Alan E. Nourse, The Bladerunner, the protagonist of which is a smuggler of black-market surgical implements. Nourse's book inspired William S. Burroughs' book, Bladerunner, A Movie , a script treatment in the form of a novel. Neither Nourse's novel nor Burroughs' had any influence on Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner, except that Hampton Fancher happened upon a copy of Bladerunner, A Movie while Scott was looking for a snappier title for his film. Scott liked the term, and obtained the rights to the title (but not any aspect of the plot). Some editions of Burroughs' book use the spacing Blade Runner.
Scott contracted Syd Mead, who did most of the production design. Jim Burns also worked briefly on the project on the design of the Spinner flying cars. The special effects for the film were supervised by Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich .
Six versions of the film exist but only two are widely known and seen:
- The original 1982 theatrical release, also called the domestic cut.
- Two workprint versions, shown only as previews to test audiences' response; one of these was distributed in 1991, billed as a Directors Cut, but was not approved by Ridley Scott. These workprints have occasionally been shown at film festivals.
- The Ridley Scott-approved Director's Cut in 1992, prompted by the unauthorized 1991 release. This is the only version so far released on DVD.
- The international cut, with more graphic violence.
- The broadcast version, with some profanity removed.
For the 1992 Director's Cut, Ridley Scott removed Deckard's explanatory voice-over. Two scenes were added. The first was a dream Deckard had while dozing off at home drunk playing the piano, showing a unicorn running through a forest (footage reputedly originally filmed for Ridley Scott's Legend). The second was a small part added to the ending, where Deckard picks up a small origami unicorn (presumably made by Gaff) that he noticed on the ground, when it was knocked over by Rachael as she was walking towards the elevator.
In 2002, Scott completed a new cut of the film--creating a new digital print of the film from the original negatives, updating the special effects, and remixing the score into 5.1 surround sound. Unlike the rushed 1992 Director's Cut, Scott personally oversaw the new cut. The Special Edition DVD is said to be a three-disc set including the original theatrical release, the 1992 director's cut, and the newly-enhanced version, as well as deleted scenes, extensive cast and crew interviews, and a BBC documentary. However, as of 2005, this "Special Edition" release has been delayed indefinitely by Warner Brothers due to legal disputes with the film's original bond guarantors (specifically Jerry Perenchio), who were ceded ownership of the film when the shooting ran over budget.
Significance and issues
The world of Blade Runner depicts a future whose fictional distance from present reality has grown sharply smaller as 2019 approaches.
Blade Runner operates on an unusually rich number of dramatic levels. The movie's dark cyberpunk style and futuristic design have inspired many subsequent science fiction films, The Fifth Element and The Matrix, for example. As with much of cyberpunk, it owes a large debt to film noir, containing such conventions as the femme fatale, a Chandleresque first-person narration (removed in later versions), and the questionable moral outlook of the Hero - extended here even to include the humanity of the hero, as well as the usual dark and shadowy cinematography.
It is one of the most literate science fiction films, both thematically--enfolding the philosophy of religion and moral implications of the increasing human mastery of genetic engineering, within the context of classical Greek drama and its notions of hubris--and linguistically, drawing on the poetry of William Blake and the Bible. It also features a chess game based on the famous Immortal Game of 1851.
To emphasize similarity by juxtaposition. When Roy saves Deckard, a replicant is saving a human. When Deckard falls in love with Rachael, a human is feeling affection towards a non-human. If replicants are hunting and falling in love with replicants there is no ambivalence and therefore no conflict. If Deckard is a human interacting with replicants who are showing very human behavior it makes the question of whether there even is a difference resonate. It puts a few of the attributes of humanity into relief so that they can be seen clearly.
To emphasize Deckard's struggle to find his own identity, and to cause the audience to feel as he does in their own struggle to understand Deckard's identity, and ultimately to question their own understanding of how we can know our own humanity is different, and how we can know anything (cf. epistemology). If the audience does not know the answer until the end, and the characters do not know it either, then the story makes the audience and the characters ask again what is the difference between me and something un-human if I can be either human or un-human and I need someone else to tell me which?
Genetic engineering and cloning
The first draft of the entire human genome was decoded in June 26, 2000, by the Human Genome Project, followed by a steadily-increasing number of other organisms across the microscopic to macroscopic spectrum. The short step from theory to practice in using genetic knowledge was taken quickly: genetically modified organisms have become a present reality, with genetically-modified food ingredients an everyday part of human daily diet (at least, in North America).
The embryonic techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer from a specific genotype via cloning, as well as some of the problems pre-figured in Blade Runner, were demonstrated by the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996. Since 2001, political efforts have been mounting in many countries to ban human cloning, impelled by a sense of its abhorrence and imminence, while rumors abound that the first human clones may already have been produced, the most famous example being a claim by the Raelians, a religious group who believe in extraterrestrials and have offered no proof of their efforts.
In all of these developments, a clear tension between commercial and non-commercial interests is apparent, as scientific and business motivations conflict with ethical and religious concerns about the appropriateness of human intervention in the deepest fabric of nature.
Such issues are deeply troubling to many. At core, the creation of life and the ordering of the natural world has been the traditional prerogative of God or gods, and the substance of various creation myths. In the classic Greek tradition, the term "hubris" denotes actions by humans that usurp roles properly reserved for the gods; heroes who display hubris invariably meet nasty ends (nemesis). Blade Runner has been praised for immersing us in these conflicts, successfully blurring any standard expectations of moral correctness.
Eye symbolism appears repeatedly in Blade Runner and provides insight into themes and characters therein.
The film opens with an extreme closeup of an eye which fills the screen reflecting the hellish landscape seen below. When reflecting one of the Tyrell Corp. pyramids it has a strong visual connection to the Eye of Providence (all-seeing eye) on the back of the U.S. one dollar bill.
In Roy's quest to "meet his maker" he seeks out Chew, a genetic designer of eyes, who created the eyes of the Nexus-6. When told this, Roy quips, "Chew, if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes." This emphasizes the importance of sight in the formation of self. Then Roy and Leon intimidate Chew with disembodied eyes and he tells them about J.F. Sebastian. It is ironic that the man who designed replicant eyes shows them the way to Tyrell. It is also sharply ironic in the sense that Roy's eyes are Chew's eyes, at least inasmuch as they are the products of his labours.
Eyes are widely regarded as "windows to the soul," and this meme is used to great effect in Blade Runner. The Voight-Kampff test that determines if you are human measures the emotions, specifically empathy, of an individual through various biological responses. Among them the fluctuation of the pupil and involuntary dilation of the iris. The glow which is most notable in replicant eyes creates a sense of artificiality. According to Ridley Scott, "that kickback you saw from the replicants' retinas was a bit of a design flaw. I was also trying to say that the eye is really the most important organ in the human body. It's like a two-way mirror; the eye doesn't only see a lot, the eye gives away a lot. A glowing human retina seemed one way of stating that". 
Tyrell's trifocal glasses are the most striking example of the eyes providing insight into a character. The glasses make Tyrell's eyes larger indicating that he has a skewed view of the world, and emphasizes his reliance on technology for his power. When Roy kills Tyrell he does not smash the glasses, but instead gouges Tyrell's eyes out before crushing his skull.
The relationship between sight and memories is referenced several times in Blade Runner. Rachael's visual recollection of her memories, Leon's "precious photos," Roy's discussion with Chew and soliloquy at the end, "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe." However, just as prevalent is the concept that what the eyes see and the resulting memories are not to be trusted. This is a notion emphasized by Rachael's fabricated memories, Deckard needing to confirm a replicant based on more than how they look, and even the printout of Leon's photograph not matching the reality of the Esper visual. With this theme throughout the film, even mistakes and inconsistencies can be interpreted as further tests of the audiences' visual memory. This serves to reinforce the unsettling conclusion that despite the rich visual tapestry of Blade Runner, clarity cannot be achieved.
Another issue that permeates Blade Runner is the role of women. This is explored through the treatment and defining of lead female roles, which all happen to be artificial (replicants) and sexualized by the men around them. This gives whole new meaning to the term "objectifying women" since they are manufactured to look like models.
- Pris is a "basic pleasure model."
- Zhora becomes an erotic dancer performing with a snake.
- Rachel is supposed to be an android copy of Tyrell's niece (with implanted memories). Her ambiguous part-secretary, part-femme fatale character can be read as being objectified - her sexuality is questioned during her Voight-Kampff testing. Depending on your view of replicants she then becomes Deckard's "love interest" or "love object."
The film-noir setting provides further context of the portrayal of women in film, with the femme-fatale historically portraying women as dangerous, uncaring, devious, sexualized and deadly as a reaction to changing roles after World War II. Sebastian is lured by Prisí sexuality, a naked Zhora catches Deckard off-guard, and then there is the forbidden love with Rachael. As Simon H. Scott notes in his essay Is Blade Runner a Misogynist Text? critics may believe Blade Runner is misogynist given that Pris and Zhora can be seen as "strong, independent and non-subservient women" who are killed, whereas Rachael who is the opposite lives.
It is also clear that the use of women as victims is meant to elicit sympathy from the audience (a Voight-Kampff test), and as Scott theorizes is the summation of a postmodern critique of the film-noir archetype. In essence Blade Runner exposes the femme-fatale stereotype as dead. Not only this but the race of the female replicants does seem to imply a critique of females in Hollywood films. Becoming representative not of a battle between sexes, but "between that which is human, and that which is non-human, or to put it more simply, that which is real and that which is not real."
Economic inequality and corporatism
The decrepit, dirty, dark sprawl Deckard explores in search of the replicants is contrasted by Tyrell's offices and by the bright skyscrapers in the distance. It appears the inequality we see today has grown worse and people are migrating to off-world colonies to escape their poverty and oppression, like in previous migrations to "new worlds."
Corporations seem to dominate this world as much as they dominate the landscape with their buildings and pervasive advertising. The strong implication is that corporatism is more widespread as the military-industrial complex has graduated from manufacturing weapons systems, to soldiers.
The climate of Los Angeles in 2019 is much different than it is today. There is a strong implication that pollution from industry is having an adverse effect on the environment, possibly similar to global warming or global dimming. Since real animals are rare the biosphere is severely damaged. (In the original book, the extinction of animals and the depopulation of the world was caused by radioactive fallout from a nuclear war). See the article on Post-apocalyptic science fiction.
With the Asian demographics seen in Los Angeles in 2019 and the dialect (cityspeak) Gaff uses it is clear that there has been a great deal of cultural mixing. Globalization is also reflected in the name of the "Shimago-Dominguez Corporation. Helping America into the New World."
Debate over whether Deckard is human or a replicant
The question, "What does it mean to be human?" is a central issue of the film, and whether Deckard himself is human or a replicant has an emphasizing effect on this question. There is strong debate continuing among Blade Runner fans as to whether it is possible to be certain whether Deckard is human or a replicant, and which. This debate renewed when the Director's Cut was released with the unicorn sequence. Since the Original Theatrical Version (OV) points to Deckard being human, whereas the Director's Cut (DC) indicates Deckard is a replicant, it has been asserted in the Blade Runner community that Deckard's nature depends on which version you watch or consider more authoritative.
This debate fits the mind-bending quality of the works of Philip K. Dick. Tension in his books often relies on the false paranoia of characters whose identities are being manipulated, impressed on them, or hidden from them. His style is to misdirect the reader — brainwashing the reader as to who the character is, before allowing the mystery to be solved, sometimes leaving open the identity crisis as well as the philosophical questions of identity and knowability.
Relevant opinions from those involved in the production:
- Ridley Scott stated in an interview in 2002 that Deckard is a replicant.
- Harrison Ford continues to insist that Deckard is human.
- Hampton Fancher (one of the screenwriters) has said that he did not write the Deckard character as a replicant.
Evidence for Deckard not being human
Evidence for Deckard not being human (both versions):
- Rachael's question: "Have you taken the test yourself?" remains unanswered.
Evidence for Deckard not being human (Director's Cut version):
- The origami unicorn Gaff leaves for Deckard suggests that Gaff knows the content of Deckard's thoughts (unicorn daydream), implying that Deckard's memories are copied like Rachael's.
- Gaff's saying to Deckard: "It's too bad she won't live, but then who does?" may imply that Gaff is questioning Deckard's own sentience.
- Gaff's quip to Deckard: "You've done a man's job, sir!" has obvious implications given Gaff's insight shown through his origami.
Evidence for Deckard not being a replicant
Evidence for Deckard not being a replicant (both versions):
- All humans are referred to by their last name (Bryant); all replicants are referred to by their first name (Roy).
Evidence for Deckard not being a replicant (Theatrical Version):
- The reason to give Deckard memories of an ex-wife (as stated in the voice-over) is not explained.
Plot holes if Deckard is not human (both versions):
- Having Deckard as a replicant implies a conspiracy between the police and Tyrell which is not expressed in the movie.
- The reason for using a replicant in the police force when they are illegal on Earth under pain of death is not explained.
- The reason for making Deckard weaker than the replicants he is to chase is not explained.
- The reason for giving Deckard bad memories of the police force and of being a de facto ex-blade runner at the beginning of the film is not explained.
Evidence compatible with Deckard being human or a replicant (both versions):
- Six replicants are initially mentioned by Bryant, so perhaps Deckard is the missing replicant. However, there is ample evidence that this is not the case. In an earlier version of the script "Mary" was the fifth replicant, and "Hodge" was the sixth. Bryant's line in that script got past the screenwriter unnoticed. It was recorded correctly in the Workprint as "two got fried" but botched again on the release print.
- Deckard, like most humans, is physically inferior to every Nexus-6 (except Rachael) he meets.
- Deckard is able to recover quickly from several beatings by the replicants.
- Deckard's eyes glow (yellow-orange) similar to the replicants when he tells Rachael that he wouldn't go after her, "but someone would." If the glow was real a Voight-Kampff test would not be necessary; in the Blade Runner canon the glow is to help the audience visualize replicant artificiality.
- Deckard shows empathy, but Roy empathizes with Deckard. According to Tyrell, given enough time Nexus-6's can develop their own emotional responses, and this is demonstrated by Rachael.
Alternative unicorn interpretation if Deckard is human:
- It can be asserted that the unicorn sequence merely clarifies that Deckard is engaged in fantasy (daydreaming), and that the origami unicorn left by Gaff is making the same statement, which is that Deckard wants to believe that he and Rachael can live happily ever after. This is an outcome the Director's Cut leaves in question with the ambiguous ending.
Further reading on this controversy
- In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Deckard becomes so confused about his identity that he takes the Voight-Kampff test. It indicates that he is human, although it is not clear that the test is foolproof.
- The Replicant Option essay by Detonator
- Deckard Is Not A Replicant essay by Martin Connolly
- Was Deckard a replicant? discussion at 2019: Off-World
- Ridley Scott interview
- Hampton Fancher interview
- In the novel, owls are the first species to become extinct in the deluge that creates the Blade Runner world; in the movie, this is the reason for Deckard's line about Tyrell Corporation's owl: "It must be expensive."
- In the novel, the newest replicants are very difficult for the Voight-Kampff test to distinguish from humans, and the test has never been applied to a Nexus-6. In the movie, this is the reason for Deckard's line "And if the test doesn't work?"
- The final scene of the mountain fly-by in the original theatrical cut was actually unused footage from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
- A panel at the Guardian voted Blade Runner the best science fiction film ever.
- The name "Tyrell Corporation" is probably an homage to the 1974 fictional television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, where the "Mr R.I.N.G." episode features a violent genetic-mechanical hybrid android that develops a survival instinct. To avoid deactivation, the android escapes and collects artifacts and possessions, attempting to become more "human." The manufacturer of the android is the "Tyrell Institute."
- The name of the actor who played Abdul-Ben Hassan the snake-shop owner remains unknown. 
- Stand-ins are used for Roy and Zhora in the photograph that Deckard finds at Leon's apartment and later puts into the Esper machine. Also, when Deckard finds a snake scale in the bathtub and stands up to put it in a bag, it is not Harrison Ford but rather Vic Armstrong, who was a stunt double of Ford's in "Raiders of The Lost Ark."
- The snake that Zhora uses was Joanna Cassidy's own pet snake, a Burmese python named Darling.
- The chess game played between Tyrell and Roy Batty is indeed a legitimate chess problem except for one striking irony; the king and queen are interposed on Tyrell's side. A grandmaster would never make the 3 moves necessary to achieve this position.
- The six replicants that Bryant mentions during Deckard's briefing are never all accounted for (due to the fact that the sequence involving that character was ultimately cut): 1)Roy Batty 2)Leon 3)Pris 4)Zhora 5)the one that got fried in the electrical field 6)MISSING
See also: BR: FAQ - Trivia
Three more Blade Runner novels, which are sequels to the film rather than the book, have been written by Philip K. Dick's friend K. W. Jeter:
A 1999 television show named Total Recall 2070 was primarily an extended treatment of the themes introduced by Blade Runner. (One reviewer: This series was based on the hit 1990 film Total Recall. Another reviewer: Expect a lot more Blade Runner and less Total Recall )
There are also two computer games based on the film. One for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum by CRL Group PLC year 1985 and one PC game (Westwood Studios, 1997), based on the world described by the film.
The definitive behind the scenes account (aka: The Blade Runner Bible) -
Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner by Paul Sammon (ISBN 0061053147)
A collection of essays on Blade Runner -
Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and Philip K. Dick's "Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Judith Kerman (Popular Press, 2003) ISBN 0879725109
- Scott Bukatman. Blade Runner: BFI Modern Classics. ISBN 0851706231.
- Blade Runner (videogame)
- Bradbury Building - the setting for J.F. Sebastian's apartment.
- Ennis-Brown_House - the setting for Deckard's apartment.
- Voight-Kampff machine
- Postmodernism or Postmodernity
- List of movies that have been considered the greatest ever
- List of movies
- List of actors
- List of directors
- List of documentaries
- List of Hollywood movie studios
- Total Recall 2070 at the Internet Movie Database
- BRMovie.com - alt.fan.blade-runner site
- Petition: Special Edition DVD - Petition to Release Special Edition DVD
- 2019: Off-World - One of the first Blade Runner fan sites
- BladeZone - The Online Blade Runner Fan Club & Museum
- Rotten Tomatoes: Review Collection
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