Blade Runner Is Overrated
Over the course of the history of the internet, every now and then, someone has stuck their head up from the parapet and voiced the dangerous opinion that Blade Runner is an overrated film. This is normally followed by a tirade of abuse, accusing the naysayer of not understanding the true depths of Ridley Scott’s famous film and telling them to go back to watching Transformer movies.
Now, it’s easy to have problems with the original theatrical cut – many do. It wasn’t the most successful or well loved on its original release and even those who now see it as one of the truly great films of the 20th century will likely agree that the voice over is as cheesy as all hell, while the ending was quite ridiculous, having to utilise leftover footage from The Shining, as Deckard drives into the woodland sunset.
However, when you watch The Final Cut, which is now generally seen as the definitive version, you begin to understand why the studio were not entirely wrong to fear the films release and try and alter it. The progress of the plot feels almost baffling. Deckard goes from one android hunt to another, usually with limited segwaying or real explanation about the context of who these androids are, what they’ve done or why they’re condemned to death.
For a first time viewer it is so easy to get lost, not only forgetting where we are in the story, but also how you’ve meant to feel about anything. There are even moments where characters meet or appear in scenes and as a viewer you are not quite sure why, as no real establishing work has been done, making these moments feel erratic and jarring. Sure, we’re given a few lines on the screen at the beginning explaining the world, but these don’t adequately explain characters feelings and motives or why we should care about them. Arguably the universally hated voice over was some hack attempt to ground it and give the the consistent linear context and development that the story itself should have.
This is not to say that the film is so complex or fast paced that it needs to be slowed down. In fact quite the opposite. The series of encounters of Deckard hunting down and retiring replicants really drag, with the replicants having hardly any background, and the action feeling like there is little at stake and becoming repetitive. These scenes that should naturally feel most exciting actually fall flat, while the ones that do shine are the more delicate moments of Deckard alone in his apartment.
Many of the things that people love about Blade Runner, arguably just are not in the movie themselves, but are what the fans themselves have brought to Blade Runner. Whether or not Deckard is an android himself, really isn’t a part of the story. In the later Final Cut, Ridley Scott arguably hints at it more, but it isn’t a key element of the story in any version and feels more like movie fans hunting for easter eggs rather than something that is instantly apparent and a key plot point.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."
There’s also questions as to why Deckard stopped hunting replicants in the first place, and why the police chief manages to easily persuade him to go back to it, like he has something over him. And then Gaf remains a fairly elusive character, arguably interesting and enigmatic, but also possibly just poorly developed and placed in to move the plot along when required. Then there’s also the uncomfortable sex/rape scene between Rachael and Deckard where he seems to go from in love, to exploiting a non-human, to back in love. These all aren’t amazingly layered and nuanced ruminations on humanity though, but more feel like a film that doesn’t quite know what to do with its characters, leaving the audience to create in their minds what they think Blade Runner should be.
Although the friend or blogger who tells you that the book version was better is always the most despicable person, this really is one of those occasions where you must look to the source material to realise why Blade Runner is such a well-loved bad film. Philip K Dick’s world in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is exactly the thing that excites us. Deckard himself being a replicant is actually a big part of this story, it builds fear and tension within the lead character, while posing deep questions as to what makes us human and the morality of hunting down replicants, especially if he is one himself. This makes the hunting far more fast paced and exciting and is an intrinsically part of the story rather than being lazily weaved into a voice over. When he takes the test confirming his humanity, it makes his own misery at the world far more terrifying.
Dick also has a massive focus on animals, hence the novel's name. In a world where animals are dying out and being able to buy replicant animals is both a social symbol and a great source of happiness. For Deckard, that is his main driver in hunting down replicants, purely for the money to buy something that makes him feel human and helps him forget about his failing marriage. This gives us so much more empathy for his character while being a far better exploration of the fundamental ideas.
There’s also the entirely omitted context of Mercerism, the now dominant religion. Again, although not particularly integral to the plot, it gives us a huge understanding of the confused and despairing world and how people feel in it. It creates dystopian sci-fi with ideas rather than purely visuals and music. Again, these are all ideas that fans have added on to, or developed out of Blade Runner, making it far bigger than the original film.
"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly Roy."
That said, there are still things that are absolutely brilliant in Blade Runner. The visual style and epic futuristic cityscapes were completely unrivaled at the time and despite technology having advanced, they feel like they will never be exactly matched. It manages to create a future that feels lived in, it is certainly developed but certainly not utopian. The huge projected billboards are something so iconic it is hard for films such as The Ghost in the Shell not to be heavily influenced by them. The Vangellis score as well is a perfect suitor to this visual style, feeling both of its time, yet futuristic. On top of that there are some great lines and speeches such as the famous ‘tears in rain’ dialogue.
However these alone are simply not enough. Some enchanting visuals, good music, choice lines and an intriguing founding concept may give fans enough to slowly and gradually add their own depth and excitement to the film, but it doesn’t take away the fact that as a film itself it is all a bit of a mess that falls far short of its source material.