And the hits keep coming!! Ah, 1982, what a wonderfully amazing year for Scifi fantasy enthusiasts…A huge amount of time tested cinema in the Sci fi adventure, horror, and fantasy had been released that year. But one really stood out, was not so much a runaway box office smash. But its legacy touched the very fabric of science fiction, artificial intelligence, and the unrestful possibilities of a far less than perfect ultra-modern society existing in our future.
On June 25th, 1982, while the world was in utter high anticipation of STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI, still about a year to release, ALIEN director Ridley Scott took on another unique scifi adventure of epic proportions. Epic proporations not so much on the grandeur of outer space and shuttlecraft expeditioning, alien encounters, bloody conflicts, and mass explosions… but more on the Earth bound advancement of technology and artificial intelligence. A movie with heart on what it means to be human, or to be aware of one’s self despite having been a product of genius technological manufacturing, not by biological process. A movie that deals with such beings and the mystery of their own life and origin, their place in the world, and the battle to survive in it. In also following with the current hype of Ridley’s new film sensation, PROMETHEUS, this feature, Comic Book Therapy gives a hearty 30 year salute to the Cyberpunk/futuretech noir masterpiece, BLADE RUNNER. Joining in on the lookback are local comic industry artists and writers Henry Barajas, Mike Moran, and Ross Demma.
BLADE RUNNER, not your typical, NEVER your typical, “android scifi” work…it was the one film that brought to light the other side to how humans felt when technology has taken life IN technology for granted and when said technology was TOO intelligent and then out of control. This was also a film that brought the issue on the flipside and brought empathy and sympathy to the plight of better programmed “android beings” (known as “replicants”) in finding out who they are, where did they come from, where are they headed, topping it off with how best to live the rest of their lives in peace… All this while making their way through a dystopian Los Angeles, year 2019. As Blade Runner‘s being a film as a whole, there is excellent direction by Ridley Scott, further giving credit to his visionary filmmaking in Scif Fantasy. Add to it, excellent performances by all the cast, taking Harrison Ford’s stardom up another notch, and kickstarting the successful 80s film careers of Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, and giving more notice to Edward James Olmos in his pre-Chief Lieutenant Castillo from Miami Vice days. All in all, a great piece of work combining detective style mystery within a futuristic city environment.
I first came across BLADE RUNNER sometime in early July of 1982. Just a fifth grader on the start of an awesome summer vacation with family, We all took refuge on a hot summer’s day into the local mall and theater and saw the ad for BLADE RUNNER. It starred Harrison Ford, he was packing a gun, it takes place in the big city in the future, FLOATING CARS!! ENOUGH SAID!! We went in, and nothing prepared us for what we were about to see. A futuristic Los Angelian environment enshrouded in days of still smog-ensconced skies and miserable, dank, rainy evenings. Still, the rocket hover cars were a sight to see soaring about the night skies passing high scale buildings and HUGE projection billboard screen ads of Geishas puffing gourmet tobacco line cigarettes. Ford’s performance as Deckard, edgy and hard boiled, a man working his toughest crackdown on replicants, and a man constantly in the supposed delusion that his life is not his own. Add therein, Sean Young as Rachel, the mystery woman throughout the story in Deckard’s life, and Rutger Hauer as replicant leader Roy Batty among his gang of renegade replicants that Deckard must take down before they get a good handle on himself. Numerous chase scenes, gunshots, breaking glass, chokeholds, breaking fingers, lovely stuff! It was all mostly a blur, I thought “Its Ford against these “androids”… I get it.” …But, there was much more to it, and with a little bit of story guidance from my folks, a lesson was learned in how life was precious to Deckard, Rachel, Roy, and everyone else in the film, replicant or NOT. The film, in end point, was thoroughly enjoyed.
My take on BLADE RUNNER and its influence on pop and scifi culture…?? Where to start and how long to note here are bigger questions… *LOL* Blade Runner first off, I would like to note, the sub-genres that it is representative of, are really what make it such a big deal in cult and mainstream scifi cinema. Starting with its easy-going but prevalent use of Film noir styles made famous in old film classics like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and detective classics like the Mike Hammer and Philip Morrow novels and television series. Those styles gave it a more classic crime drama edge that made it different from other scifi big city films and in part give Blade Runner some uniqueness. Blade Runner’s biggest deal though, one that actually is the cornerstone of its influence on scifi is of making significant use of a yet at the time underused subgenre of Science fiction in the movies called Cyberpunk. Now just what is Cyberpunk? The general interpretation of Cyberpunk would be a branch or subgenre of science fiction dealing with dystopian and somewhat lawless futuristic urban societies that are dominated by computer, cybernetic and/or other related technologies. This genre was made well into literature early on by tech and scifi fantasy authors like William Gibson (author of Neuromancer) and Philip K. Dick(author of A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Group, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep…this one, being the story basis for BLADE RUNNER). Going by this, and BLADE RUNNER being a forerunning film in bringing to light the prominence of Cyberpunk in cinema, are the biggest parts of its influence in scifi culture later in film, TV, and other media here and abroad for years to come. First the effects were immediate on American Scifi cinema, starting with James Cameron’s Machine Doomsday war masterpiece, THE TERMINATOR, the cult popular apocalyptic tech movie CYBORG with Jean Claude Van Damme, and even the Cyborg law man fav ROBOCOP. This carried on through the 90s with the TERMINATOR 2: Judgement Day Sequel, the cult favs JOHNNY MNEMONIC, HACKERS, and the mega earth shaking intensity of the Wachoski Brothers epic, THE MATRIX.
All at the same time abroad, BLADE RUNNER and its Cyberpunk influence reached into the hearts, minds, and imaginations, of anime and manga’s best writers, artists, and directors in Japan. This was evident in such notable productions such as 1988′s AKIRA, and BUBBLEGUM CRISIS (in which the band of one of the main characters, Priss Asagiri (Priss being a name of one of the female replicants), leads a rock band known as ..heheh..the Replicants). The influence continued on with a few of manga creator legend Masamune Shirow’s works: Dominion Tank Police, Appleseed, Black Magic Mario 66, and the ever popular Ghost In The Shell saga..all into the 90s onward. Even smaller effects, such as in the much beloved retro style scifi classic anime Cowboy Bebop, there are cyberpunk elements throughout the show’s adventures and even feature a character in episode 7 “Heavy Metal Queen” named Deckard (though his looks are modeled after Woody Allen…*scratches head why*)
[Bubblegum Crisis and Ghost In The Shell; Anime and Manga's scifi legacies given the boost by Blade Runner and the then-renewed advent of Cyberpunk.]
Regardless, BLADE RUNNER and its contributions to Scifi/Cyberpunk, pop and movie culture are immense in their variety and style. Simply put, Ridley and Philip hit on a big trend in taking us to a wondrous world where all kinds of possibilities exist with technology. BUT, a certain level of order and responsibility, not to mention ethics, are needed in handling it.
Commentary with Henry Barajas:
I started reading Phil K Dick’s novels because of the film. I saw it when I was a kid and I remember feeling fearful for the future. The movies that were screening at the same time were ET and Star Trek, both not nearly as bleak.
BLADE RUNNER changed film the same way Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns did for comic books. There hasn’t been a movie like BLADE RUNNER, because of it’s unique style that can’t be repeated. It’s the best cyber noir films ever.
[Ahhhh...those insane billboards! LOVE THEM!!]
Commentary with Mike Moran:
I can’t quite place the first time I saw Blade Runner. I am 35 now so I was only about 5 when it came out. I think I saw it when I was 6 or 7 for the first time. I was already a huge fan of Star Wars. So what I remember was another great looking sci-fi film that had Han Solo in it. I would watch it anytime it was on TV since the visuals were so strong. At that age though the story was “slow” to me. Fast forward a few years and when I was about 13-14 I must have finally “gotten” it. At that point I really enjoyed the film and tried to gobble it up both visually and emotionally. I think when the “Directors Cut” came out in 1993 is when I really fell in love with it. That version to me blew away the theatrical. The narration cut and the unicorn dream really change the film to have much more meaning.
I feel that in 1982 when Blade Runner was released it set an entire template for various genre looks but especially what would be come to be known as Cyber Punk. Its pretty far reaching. When it shows up in Japanese Video Games like SNATCHER then you know it has a strong influence. Not to mention all of the film makers that were inspired after seeing it. Visually it is still very stunning and bests most modern films. Now films can sometimes be described as like Blade Runner. Pretty good for a film that was at release considered a failure. I find the more you revisit the film the more you appreciate it. From visuals to the fantastic soundtrack it holds up. The 30th Anniversary Blu Ray is right around the corner and I will have a copy in hand on it’s release.
[Promotional image for the 2007 Final Cut release]
Commentary with Ross Demma:
Blade Runner: A Retrospective From a Geek You’ve Never Heard Of.
I was 13 or 14 the first time I saw Blade Runner. My Dad introduced me to it. In fact, it was on network television (one of those cheesy 90s Saturday Afternoon movie shows) and by the first commercial break, Dad got up. “We’re not watching it like this.” He went over to his VHS collection and pulled his copy of Blade Runner from the shelf and put it in his VCR. Now, mind you, this was before the Final Cut. This wasn’t even the Director’s Cut. This was the US theatrical release that apparently plagued Ridley Scott so. I remember bits and snippets. Harrison Ford was the only actor I knew (Thanks, Star Wars/Indiana Jones): the rest, this was pretty much their inaugural performance for me. I remember coming away from it confused with a slightly bad taste in my mouth. Did I miss something? Was this sci-fi epic that everyone raved about over my head? I spent the next few years not particularly liking Blade Runner. (Wait, wait. Hold your torches and pitchforks a little longer.) When I was 18, I started working at a video store, Hollywood Video. I gave it another shot. It was the Director’s Cut this time, so not much changed in my mind. After that, I figured it was me, not the movie. I’ve since bought the four-disc set with all versions included. I’m determined to see Scott’s vision the way he intended it to be.
Since then, I’ve seen many of Philip K. Dick’s adaptations come to life. I’ve seen the impact they’ve had. None of them seem as edgy and dystopian as Blade Runner. This movie had meat to it: meat that not only could sustain you for multiple meals, but fuel future sci-fi for the foreseeable future. “Machines that look like people” didn’t have to jerk their heads around in a robot-like fashion anymore. We were *convinced* that Sean Young’s character was just as human as you or I. Sci-fi didn’t have to be dreary or overly bright; cautionary tale or hopeful dream. Movies in the genre could now be a marriage of both. That’s what drew people into the universe filled with replicants and Blade Runners: it allowed a near-seamless mix of fantasy and reality. More importantly, it placed both Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick as permanent fixtures in the realm of science-fiction and although Scott has a very short list of sci-fi to his name, he’s known for giving quality over quantity again and again. Dick’s acknowledgement has garnered us many more amazing stories to make us wonder or warn us against the wrong path. Many of which are now staples contemporary classic film.
There you have it, BLADE RUNNER… Ridley Scott’s testament to great scifi filmmaking, Philip K Dick’s observation of technology in a less than optimal society, and a testament to pop cultural phenomena of cyberpunk.
And the hype continues as CBT looks forward to the news of an anticipated sequel by Ridley Scott for BLADE RUNNER….coming soon hopefully. Catch the next lookback feature in July, where we pay a hearty 25 year salute but to another one of the aforementioned legends of Cyberpunk film… Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP.