This movie was like a big glaring gap in my film experience, which is almost embarrassing considering that I’m a huge fan of both science fiction and Ridley Scott. I watched it once almost 20 years ago, when my English was still rather shaky, so most of the dialogue and story details sailed right over my head. Though I couldn’t tell you what actually happened in the movie, it’s amazing how much of its imagery remained in my head just from that one watch: Daryl Hannah’s shock of blond hair and black spray-on paint around her eyes, Sean Young’s 40s-inspired hair, cigarette and that fabulous black power suit, and Rutger Hauer’s striking, blond, beautiful Roy Batty, whose face looks like it could have come from some epic blood-soaked Norse myth.
The story, which I had little memory of, turned out to be fairly simple: in the not-so-distant future, a former police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tasked with tracking down four escaped replicants – artificial humanoid beings – and “retiring” them. And no, “retirement” in this case doesn’t mean settling down in a nice corner somewhere to pursue your favourite hobbies and play with grandkids. Deckard also gets involved with Rachael, a beautiful experimental replicant who’s been planted with artificial memories and doesn’t realise that she’s not human.
Visually, the movie’s aged incredibly well, and it doesn’t hurt that the dark, noirish atmosphere of perpetual rain-soaked night does a lot to hide the dated special effects; I only really noticed that some of the flying ships didn’t look quite right. The grimy, crowded, dystopian metropolis is almost like a character of its own and the set design is exceptional throughout – a mix of shiny and futuristic on one hand and old, grubby and decaying on another. The only truly dated aspect of the film is the very 80s soundtrack, synths and all, but with the recent 80s musical revivals it doesn’t sound out of place today.
This is not a movie with the clearly defined good and bad guys that makes it easy to take sides. While Deckard is technically a protagonist, he’s a dull burned out creature who slowly rediscovers his humanity and capacity for tenderness and empathy. The replicants he hunts down have killed people in their attempt to escape, but their brief existence, programmed to last no more than four years, is so miserable and their desperate quest for longer lives is so understandable that it makes them easy to sympathise with, even when their actions are cold and violent. Their concern and care for each other is shown to be greater than that of the actual humans, who are mostly portrayed as a faceless, indifferent mass. Another thought I had while watching is that no way this movie would get made today, with its slow deliberate pace and one scene between Deckard and Rachael that would be deemed hugely problematic these days and probably cause million blogger outcries. The Director’s Cut version I re-watched lacked Deckard’s narration and the obviously happy ending I dimly remembered, which in my opinion made for a better film that doesn’t spoonfeed the audience as much. Was Deckard a replicant himself? No firm opinion on that though the clues are definitely there. It’s best taken as a great ambiguous ending on par with Inception’s spinning top.