It was 1983 at the Academy Awards and Steven Spielberg's E.T. looked poised to win the Best Picture Oscar. The buzz was hot for the sci-fi family film, and some people declared it the finest movie of its genre since George Lucas' Star Wars. However, while E.T. won over the hearts of every American family as well as garnering four Academy Awards, another science-fiction film slipped under the radar. It not only walked away from the Oscars empty-handed (with only two nominations in tech categories), but also bombed in theaters and received almost no critical support.
That film was Blade Runner, and until its re-release on video in 1992, few would have imagined that Sir Ridley Scott's film would be praised ten years later as a science fiction masterpiece. Warner Brothers, upon viewing it before its theatrical release, felt uncomfortable with the film's lack of dialogue and forced Scott to add a comprehensive voice-over. The company even went so far as to change the film's ending, replacing Scott's enigmatic final reel with a cookie-cutter conclusion that contradicted the rest of the film's moods and themes.
It wasn't until Scott released Blade Runner: The Director's Cut on VHS in 1992, without the voice-over and the happy ending, that audiences began to register the film's visionary style. It was soon declared "ahead of its time" and is now, as of 2007, being released again into theaters across America, visually updated and digitally restored.
There is no question that in 1983, the eerily familiar futuristic setting of Blade Runner was prophetic. It's post-apocalyptic vision of a dirty and cluttered Los Angeles in 2019, was a frightening creation, which predicted our problems of climate change and overpopulation.
Blade Runner's world, much like our own, is littered with trash. The atmosphere has become too toxic and the cities too crowded for the majority of their inhabitants. While the rich and the fortunate flee to space colonies, the rest are left in a dark cesspool of cultures on planet Earth, where the Chinese population dominates all other races and smog-filled flying cars further taint the already permanently dark and cloudy skies.
Nevertheless, there is a breathtaking beauty to Blade Runner's sprawling landscape, mainly because the city, despite its post-apocalyptic state, is laden with history. The film mixes New-Age Asian influence with 80s punk, crumbling Gothic towers with pristine Egyptian pyramids, film noir with a synthesized Vangelis score. Added together, it makes for a fully realized and fabricated city that is both strikingly new and unshakably historical. The future has never looked so honestly innovative yet so true to our past. The film feels like an homage to time itself, nostalgically resurrecting our history while predicting an epoch that is clouded in nervous anticipation and fear.
However, time is only one of the many dualities that Blade Runner plays with. There is also the notion of sentiment versus technology, a conflict that manifests itself in the tragic character of Roy (Rutger Hauer), a man-made machine known as a Replicant. He is programmed to function and work as a human laborer, but made to live for only four years. Over his limited years of life, however, he develops real human emotions and he begins to fear the inevitability of his own death. Humans call a Replicant's fourth year "retirement," though Roy sees it more as murder, and he demands a longer life from the corporation that made him.
Blade Runner acts as an allegory not only for history but for life and death as well. In what is perhaps one of the film's most powerful scenes, Roy sits on a decrepit rooftop in the pounding rain and says moments before he shuts down and dies, "All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." It is difficult to think of many other mainstream films that have tackled the subject of death with such a sense of grace and sincerity.
Though labeled as a science-fiction film, Blade Runner feels more like a monolithic two-hour visual poem, especially when seen on the big screen. Ridley Scott has re-mastered the film himself and has dubbed it the Final Cut, though few artistic corrections have been made since his Director's Cut in 1992. Still, the film is a wonder to behold and it can be seen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for an exclusive two-week engagement starting Nov. 16.
Whether you're a sci-fi fan or an average moviegoer, the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut is an opportunity few should miss. Aside from being one of the most visually arresting films of all time, it is also one of the most soulful and beautifully articulated stories to ever hit the big screen. See it now or see it in another ten years, it doesn't really matter. The film will not only stand the test of time; it'll always be a couple years ahead of it.