Released in 1982, the widely regarded and frequently praised Blade Runner presents a seemingly uncomplicated love story and detective mystery set in Los Angeles, 2019 – where the world is highly globalized, politically corporatized and environmentally devastated. Loosely based by screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples on a short novella by pulp sci-fi auteur Philip K. Dick (which director Ridley Scott admitted he never fully read), Blade Runner samples the dystopic hyper-imaginings of various present concerns and turns them into a discombobulating future-stew version of West Coast America.
On paper, such a premise seems unremarkable when juxtaposed next to the numerous commercially and/or critically successful science fiction films that populated the 80s. However, Jenkins notes that beyond Blade Runner’s polished surface, its filmmakers explore the potent implications which corporatism, globalization and advanced technology have upon certain philosophical, religious and moral conventions. This thematic range is broadened by the very presence of synthetic humans called replicants who, after a violent revolt on an off-world colony are declared illegal on Earth, evokes the paranoia of Western immigration concerns.
Also present is the ironic reliance the detectives have on advanced technology, namely the advanced bio psychological testing device known as the Voight-Kampff test, to spot the replicants. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to value the film exclusively as a majestic exercise of futuristic prognostication. Rather than merely articulating fears and neuroses about the future, Blade Runner hypothesizes where present concerns and issues may take us if they continue their course into tomorrow.
Interestingly enough, Blade Runner was not a universal critical success and as Sammon notes, it received polarizing reviews from film critics during its initial release. The Los Angeles Times’ Sheila Benson derided its meticulously slow pacing by calling it “Blade crawler,” while State and Columbia Records’ Pat Berman dismissed its lavish production values as nothing more than “science fiction pornography. ” Although he would later revise his opinions into a more positive light in subsequent viewings, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave a rather lukewarm appraisal of Blade Runer.
He opined that in spite of the lavish visual achievement, Blade Runner was “a failure as a story” and ultimately regarded its characters as thinly conceived. With an estimated budget of US$28 million Blade Runner fared poorly at the box office, and pulled in a rather disappointing US$6 million during opening weekend. Sammon identifies a release date coinciding with the presence of other science fiction releases such as E. T. : The Extra-Terrestrial and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as having been a significant handicap to its potential revenue.
Over the past two decades following its release, Blade Runner began to receive significant attention, controversy and debate among critics and scholars of both science fiction and film. Much of this attention was sparked by the revelation of the film’s troubled production, several details of which were brought to light by the publication of Paul Sammon’s Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner in 1996, as well as the considerable interest in the film re-ignited by the release of a Director’s Cut four years earlier.
Crucial to such debates were meticulous comparisons between the different versions that were produced of the film, ranging from the original theatrical version and subsequent versions that featured originally deleted scenes that substantially questions the nature of its protagonist, Deckard, voice over narrations that were produced in response to disastrous test screenings, and the removal of a studio imposed ‘happy’ ending.
Sammon’s research, founded on promotional access to the film’s production, is the source of much gossip about the film, such as the managerial style he employed to cope with the numerous complexities demanded by his uniquely meticulous attention to detail that he had established in his previous sci-fi outing, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful space horror film Alien (1979) and the off-screen awkwardness between Sean Young and Harrison Ford and the difficulties Scott had in getting along with his actors.
Another contributing to Blade Runner’s post-theatrical popularity and interest is its distinctive production design. Produced at a time prior to the ubiquitous use of computer graphics technology in visual effects, the film was lauded in 2007 as the 2nd most influential film of all time by the Visual Effects Society.