Director Ridley Scott, now that’s a man’s man. He has cigars for fingers. He wrestles tigers. Or maybe he wrestles Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Or Washington, Crowe, and tigers. Scott’s movies lock and load, and mess you up, and make much use of heavy lens filters. Last year, he did American Gangster, which might as well have just been called Balls. Now, he’s adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, which makes No Country for Old Men look like Little Women. Hell, Scott’s so macho, he once made Demi Moore shave her head and shout “Suck my dick!” in a close-up.
But long before the 1997 catast-erpiece G.I. Jane, Scott actually made more interesting, less ludicrous films. His most enduringly popular, and possibly least mantastic, is 1982’s Blade Runner, a shadowy, rainy, neo-noir futurist melodrama based on fiction by Philip K. Dick, with Harrison Ford in the year 2019 contemplating his feelings and chasing androids in silly costumes.
“Android” isn’t precisely correct. They’re “replicants,” if you please—manufactured, highly humanlike organisms. So humanlike that it doesn’t always occur to them that they’re not human. They were created for offshore slave labor, among other things, the shore being Earth itself. Under penalty of death (“retirement,” as they say in the business), replicants aren’t allowed back on the planet, but a few renegades have broken that rule in order to confront their corporate-creepy-genius creator (Joe Turkel) and demand a lifespan longer than the standard four years. (You’re thinking: If they only last four years anyway, why go to all the trouble of taking them out by force? Bear in mind what four-year stints can yield. Remember, this story takes places not long after two consecutive Bush administrations. Nerves have frayed. Patience, not to mention civil society, has expired.)
That’s where Ford comes in, as Deckard, a replicant bounty hunter. Which is to say, a bounty hunter of replicants. Or, wait, maybe a bounty hunter who is a replicant. Eh? Eh? OK, you knew all this. Or never really cared. Either way, by now, the real dramatic question is: Why do people keep coming back to this movie?
There are a few reasons.
First, for all its armor of brutalizing urban dystopia (and, boy, is there a lot of that—you could fund a war on terror with the fog- and rain-machine budgets alone), Blade Runner has a gooey center. His job may be tough, but in private moments, Deckard tends to finger his piano and daydream of unicorns. Unicorns, for chrissakes. Does he also have a collection of Rainbow Brite stickers stashed away somewhere in a super-futuristic Trapper Keeper? Meanwhile, Sean Young, a replicant possibly in real life as well as in the movie, diddles Deckard’s piano, too, and then lets her hair down to a swell of lush, only-in-the-’80s synth pads and ersatz sax by Vangelis. Message: In a world so grim, even artificial feminine wiles will do—it might be all that can make this unicornless life worth living. And people still think Scott’s cringe-inducing Thelma & Louise was feminist?
Plus, Deckard has professional supervision from a dandified origami hobbyist (played by Edward James Olmos, now a pro at android-intensive drama in Battlestar Galactica), and a tender rapport with his chief replicant opponent, Roy (played by fellow softhearted tough guy Rutger Hauer). “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain,” Roy laments of his too-short life, to which Deckard responds by shedding a tear. Possibly. It’s hard to tell, because, as usual, it’s raining. See, that was Roy’s point.
Yes, Blade Runner is, for Ridley Scott at least, a curiously delicate picture. Sensitive, even. Save for a few oil-tower fireballs, there’s nary an explosion in sight. And only a few bullet wounds. And only two squished eyeballs.
Another reason moviegoers can’t stay away from it, though, is that Scott keeps releasing different versions of the damn thing. And different versions of the versions. So indecisive. How manly is that? By now, you can get the two-disc DVD set of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, or the four-disc one, or the five, which comes in a shiny suitcase announcing your official resignation of a social life. Or—OK, and—you can see it properly, on a big screen, for a limited time.
After which, before you know it, like tears in rain, it’ll be gone again—at least until the release five years hence of Blade Runner: The Yeah, Sorry About Implying That Last One Would Be Final, 30th Anniversary Cut. Of course, who knows if it’ll be as good then. Word is Scott’s cutting that one with his own rusty straight razor.