The first thing you need to figure out when talking about Blade Runner is just what film it is that you are watching. As of this writing, there are seven versions available. Of those versions, three are considered standard and are the most often shown.
The Theatrical Cut is the version originally released in theaters in 1982. The studio was wary of director Ridley Scott’s vision and cut this version differently against his wishes. Feeling that the story was too confusing and cerebral a voice-over narration by Harrison Ford was added to explain things, sometimes painstakingly so. Violent scenes were reduced or cut completely and most of the film’s ambiguity was removed with a “happy ending” added of Rachel and Deckard riding off into a literal sunset.
In 1992 a Director’s Cut was released with significant changes from the theatrical version. Although called the “director’s cut” Ridley Scott did not actually have a hand in this due to other commitments at the time. He did contribute extensive notes and consultation on the project, however. The major changes are the removal of the narration, the addition of a dream sequence of a running unicorn, and the removal of the “happy ending” leaving the film more ambiguous as to the fate of the characters. This version was seen as a monumental improvement over the original and closer to the director’s vision and intent. That is until 2007.
For the 25th anniversary of the film, Ridley Scott was given for the first time complete artistic control. The film was completely re-mastered and cut-down scenes were restored to their original length. The scenes deemed too violent were restored, and a longer version of the unicorn dream added alternate edits inserted. This version is called the Final Cut and it is the version I will be talking about when I talk about Blade Runner. I believe this is the best version of the film and if you are going to watch it this is the one you should watch.
That being said I have to admit that the Theatrical Cut still holds a very special place in my heart. It is considered the worst version, and to be fair it probably is, but when I first saw this movie it was the only version.
In 1982 I was thirteen years old and I went to see this movie with friends. A group of rowdy thirteen-year-old boys, there were five of us total. Because the star was Harrison Ford we thought we were going to see a Raiders of the Lost Ark/Star Wars hybrid. What we got was a slow, meditative space-noir film with not a lot of action. When we left the theater there were moans about how boring it was and how much it sucked so bad. And I added my voice to these dissents because I was thirteen and not at all confident to actually put my own opinion forward. But secretly I loved it.
Later when it started showing at the dollar theater I went to see it two more times; once with my brother and once by myself. It moved me. It mesmerized me. And although at the time I could never have put my finger on just why and I would never have used this term, but it touched me in a very existential way. Mortality, identity, slavery, class, and a world dying all around us; are the themes of Blade Runner and they still move me to this day.
What It’s About
Blade Runner is based loosely on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. And I do mean loosely. The connection is strained to be sure, but the themes and the intention of the novel and the film do connect.
In the near future (2019 actually) Earth is an ecological disaster. Many have left for the off-world colonies. In these colonies, people are given replicants, androids that look and act human, as slaves. In order to be able to relate to the humans the replicants are given false memories to make them believe they are human; to be “more human than human.” In fear that they might actually develop real emotions, the replicants are given a four-year lifespan. Occasionally the replicants want more and run away. When that happens a special type of police officer called a “Blade Runner” is charged with tracking them down and “retiring” them. Retirement is permanent.
Four of the most advanced replicants, the nexus 6 type, escape and come to Earth. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is the Blade runner tasked to track them down. He seems to be having a moral dilemma as he does so because along the way he meets Rachel (Sean Young), someone he believes at first to be a real woman but who actually is herself a nexus 6, and falls in love with her.
Meanwhile, the escaped nexus 6 replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) attempt to find their creators and get a longer life. It does not go well.
Deckard eventually tracks down the replicants and has a final showdown with Roy that ends with a touching monologue in the rain.
I have deliberately kept this synopsis vague. First of all, I don’t think I can truly do justice to the complexity of the story and second, ambiguity makes this film better so why not the synopsis as well?