There’s no denying the cultural significance of BLADE RUNNER. The noir/sci-fi aesthetic has served as an inspiration to countless films. It’s a film that is virtually impossible to discuss without diving into heated debates about which characters are Replicants and which version of the film is the definitive. In fact, the film is considered one of the finest of director Ridley Scott’s career. But when you strip that all away, BLADE RUNNER is ultimately a slow burn with incredibly low stakes – and too emotionally hollow to enjoy.
Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a “Blade Runner” whose job is to track down escaped androids and kill them. Ford is in his prime in the film, and what’s so frustrating is that he plays Deckard without an iota of charisma or charm. Deckard is extremely dull, and it’s virtually impossible to emotionally connect with him. Without that emotional connection, it leaves the rest of the film unbalanced. Deckard is built up as the best Blade Runner around, but the film constantly shows the opposite. He seems virtually incompetent at his job as he is bested time and time again by his opponents. When he does emerge triumphant, it is due to outside factors or just luck – not his skill.
Probably the most incredible thing about BLADE RUNNER is how nuanced the environment is. It’s astonishing how this film’s world feels so alive. Taking place in Los Angeles in 2019, the city has developed a fascinating Asian influence. The city is filled with neon lights and enormous advertisements that glimmer along the sides of buildings and tower over pedestrians. The settings of this dark, dank, rundown city practically ooze with character. It’s refreshing to see a world so lived in.
At its essence, BLADE RUNNER is a story about four androids (called Replicants) that escape from off-planet and return to Earth with one mission: find their creator and get him to extend their lives. These Replicants are a new model, and not only are they designed to perfectly mimic human behavior – they are also created with a six year lifespan that has almost reached its end. These Replicants are desperate, and on paper – that sounds incredibly compelling. The problem is that the Replicants aren’t portrayed in a sympathetic light in BLADE RUNNER – it’s a real missed opportunity to give the film emotional weight.
The film follows Rick Deckard as he tracks the Replicants down with the express purpose of killing them. It’s a real slow burn, as Deckard slowly tracks down these androids to the soundtrack of 80s synth that is about as welcome as nails on a chalkboard. It’s just so dull, and the stakes are so low that the plot developments don’t carry the momentum forward. The pacing is really poor, and the film feels too drawn out. There’s also an odd subplot involving a Replicant woman (Rachael, played by Sean Young) that felt entirely out of place throughout the film. I get that, as an homage to noir films, there needed to be some sort of love interest for the hardboiled, grizzled main character – but Rachael does not fit the bill. After Deckard callously tells her that she is a Replicant, he forces himself on her sexually. Honestly, the scene feels decidedly like a rape scene. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch, and it’s so unneeded to the overall film that it really spoils the overall good will that the film has established up to that point.
I understand the influence that BLADE RUNNER has had on film over the decades. The impact can still be felt today. I just can’t get over how soulless the film feels. The biggest fault isn’t just that the characters are unlikeable or that the story lacks appropriate emotional weight. It’s that the dark, dreary world that BLADE RUNNER inhabits is oppressively dystopian – existing without a single spark of hope.