Blade Runner: A Pioneer Of Sci-Fi And Cyberpunk
An underrated cult classic, that changed cyberpunk forever.
Cyberpunk as a genre has always had a special place among science-fiction fans. The idea itself is very appealing. Thinking how high-end tech in a dystopian world will affect our lives is fascinating to think about. Moreover, the tech and emotions make it so cool for fans. There is, however, one film that truly revolutionized Cyberpunk. That is Blade Runner!
Blade Runner – a flop that changed cinema
Financially, it was underwhelming when it was released in 1982. The film’s budget was $30 million at the time and earned only around $33 million at the box office. This might have been so because it was released very close to Star Trek, but there were many other problems. For instance, the theatrical release was in shambles. The studios had meddled so much with the production, that the movie became unidentifiable. Here’s a comparison of the different Blade Runner cuts:
These are just 3 versions. The movie has around 8 cuts! Yes, you read that right. The theatrical release was so poor, that the audience was visibly agitated. It was a major reason why it flopped at the box office. Here’s another video on it:
Popular opinion is that the Final Cut is by far the best. Therefore, we’ll only discuss that from now on. So, what makes Blade Runner so special?
The movie’s plot is based on Philip K. Dick’s book ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’. The plot takes place in 2019, where humans have colonized many worlds. For cheap labor, humans have built clones of themselves, called ‘Replicants’. These Replicants, however, aren’t considered humans. They’re banned on Earth and as a result, Blade Runners are hired who hunt them down and kill them. Except, it’s called ‘retirement’ instead of a kill.
Sounds very engaging, right?
Harrison Ford, as Rick Deckard really stole the show. He kept his charm alive and mixed it with Deckard’s own state of confusion about the world he lived in. Moreover, Mary Sean Young was exquisite as Rachael. She displayed her own state of confusion over being a replicant perfectly. And to top it off, Rutger Hauer stole the show as the replicant Roy Batty. His final ‘Tears in Rain’ monologue is often considered one of the greatest scenes of all time. For those who want to see, here it is:
3. Soundtrack – arguably the best part of the film:
With both the plot and acting of the film working well, the soundtrack simply stole the show. Vangelis’s music was breathtakingly beautiful, one that is remembered through generations. The score of the film helps the audience relate to the emotions seamlessly while giving it a futuristic touch. Vangelis did such a good job, that he could easily give Hans Zimmer a run for his money!
Now we come to the main question – how did it impact Cyberpunk?
Game changer for Sci-Fi
There were several aspects of Blade Runner that made it such a pioneer for Cyberpunk and Sci-Fi overall.
Aesthetics and look
The aesthetics of Blade Runner were simply incredible. The use of neon lights, shadows, and unorthodox light scourses gave a real grim look of the future. Despite that, the film felt intimate and recognizable in looks. And to be honest, the film was partially accurate in visualizing the future. You can see a similar street view today in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seol, and other East Asian Metropoles. Ridley Scott spent months with artists before production to ensure this look. They worked tirelessly to create the dystopian vision of Cyberpunk.
A grim but familiar future
Blade Runner gives a very grim outlook of the future. But, it was one that the viewers could recognize. Animal hunting was a major concern in the 80s, which is why Ridley Scott showed animals as more valuable than gold in the film. Moreover, tall skyscrapers were the idea of the future at the time. That is why the vision of the future never seems alien, while still feeling grim.
The moral and philosophical question
By far, the most important thing about Blade Runner was the philosophical question and the moral dilemma it led to. With such advancement of technology, the main question that arose was “What does it mean to be human?”. And the subsequent question was, “Does it even matter?”. There will come a time when technology could pose such challenging questions before us. Where what we build as humans, in code or in flesh will be hard to distinguish from us. What should we, as a species, do in such a case? It is a major dilemma that this film touches brilliantly.
An inspiration for many blockbusters
Blade Runner didn’t just make it’s way to our DVD shelves. It also paved the way for several Cyberpunk Blockbuster films. The most notable one is The Matrix Trilogy. Just like Blade Runner, The Matrix also gave us an idea of a dystopian world, though vastly different. It gave a grim look of the future, dominated by AI, and presented many moral and philosophical dilemmas. The basic footprint was similar to Blade Runner. The difference, however, lied in the questions asked and the future depicted.
Similarly, its effects bled into Anime and Manga too. One that stands out is Cowboy Beebop. It also has an incredible score and a very different outlook of the future than its inspirations.
A more familiar and recent cyberpunk hit that traces its roots from the film is Altered Carbon. It too asks the same fundamental questions, while being set up in a vastly different world. Although, the framework remains the same as Blade Runner.
No one can possibly deny the impact Blade Runner left on cinema. It changed the way we looked at Sci-fi and forced us to address this genre differently. And the best part is that the sequel to this film, Blade Runner 2049, was equally as good. It also followed similar footsteps as the original, while diversifying its premise. Similar to Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling gave a memorable performance too. But that is a story for another time.