In This Article Blade Runner

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reviews
  • Political Criticism
  • Cityscapes in Blade Runner
  • Blade Runner and Postmodernism

Cinema and Media Studies Blade Runner
by
Rob Latham, Jeffrey Hicks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0085

Introduction

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, was originally released in June of 1982 to mixed reviews and a poor showing at the box office. It became a strong seller on home video, however, and developed a sufficiently intense fan following to allow Scott to release a “director’s cut” edition in 1992, which did well in theaters and was embraced by most critics. Based in part on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel, Blade Runner blends elements of film noir and science fiction to create a striking visual aesthetic. The plot follows police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), known on the street as a “blade runner,” as he tracks four renegade androids—genetically engineered artificial persons (called replicants in the film), who are manufactured by a sinister multinational firm, the Tyrell Corporation—through the streets of a sprawling, dismal, future Los Angeles. Forced in his job to “retire” each replicant, Deckard begins to examine his definition of humanity and eventually questions his own existence as “human.” The replicants, led by the flamboyant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), are seeking a cure for the genetic coding that limits their lifespan to only four years; they are also programmed with artificial memories that give them a fragile ersatz identity. After a lengthy pitched battle with Batty across rainy rooftops, Deckard abandons his job and flees the city with Rachael (Sean Young), another runaway replicant with whom he has fallen in love. The 1982 release featured a world-weary Deckard voice-over and an arbitrary happy ending, in which Rachael’s genetic termination code has been deactivated; the 1992 director’s cut, however, eliminated the voice-over entirely, which gave the audience more distance from Deckard’s character, and restored some scenes that strongly suggested he might be a replicant too. In 2007, a digitally restored “25th Anniversary Edition”—dubbed the “Final Cut”—had a limited theatrical release before being issued on DVD. Today it is consistently listed as one of the most important science fiction movies ever made, and it is one of only 550 films admitted to the Library of Congress as part of the National Film Registry. Its cult following has inspired a host of Internet fan sites and spin-off properties. Countless filmmakers, artists, and authors have found inspiration in the film, and its proto-cyberpunk vision of Los Angeles in the year 2019 has become synonymous with the predominant conception of the future metropolis. Ultimately the film challenges the viewer’s notions of humanity, vision of the future, and faith in technology.

General Overviews

Blade Runner has drawn the fascinated attention of two generations of film fans and scholars. The best places to start for general treatments are Sammon 1996, an exhaustive production analysis, and Bukatman 1999, a penetrating monograph in the British Film Institute “Modern Classics” series. Kolb 1990 is the most extensive bibliography. Two substantial anthologies have been devoted to the film: Kerman 1997 and Brooker 2005, the latter including valuable material on spin-off properties and fan culture. (Individual chapters from these books are discussed in other sections.) Numerous fan websites have sprung up to offer tribute to the movie, two of the most useful being Los Angeles, 2019 and The Replicant Site.

  • Brooker, Will, ed. The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic. London: Wallflower, 2005.

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    Strong collection of fourteen original essays. Includes sections on expected topics such as “The City” and “Identities,” which examine the urban spaces and character types featured in the film, but also expands the critical terrain with sections covering the various Blade Runner videogames and the fan culture that has sprung up around the film.

  • Bukatman, Scott. Blade Runner. BFI Modern Classics. London: British Film Institute, 1999.

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    Illuminating—and gorgeously illustrated—examination of Blade Runner by one of the film’s most astute critics. Three chapters cover the production process, the film’s vision of the future city, and its depiction of replicants as images of synthetic life. This is the place to start for a concise history and critical assessment.

  • Kerman, Judith B., ed. Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. 2d ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.

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    Anthology of nineteen original essays, along with a superb sixty-five-page critical bibliography (an expansion of Kolb 1990). Four sections address the film’s social implications, its roots in various genre traditions, its source materials, and its aesthetics. The first edition was published in 1991 by Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

  • Kolb, William M. “Blade Runner: An Annotated Bibliography.” Literature/Film Quarterly 18.1 (January 1990): 19–64.

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    The most extensive critical bibliography available. While the annotations are sometimes terse or impressionistic, it is remarkably complete and very useful. Reprinted, with an addendum updated through 1995, in Kerman 1997 (pp. 229–293).

  • Los Angeles, 2019.

    E-mail Citation »

    Information and news site devoted to “the Blade Runner universe.” Includes various sections on production issues, an image archive, audio downloads, fan art and music, a regularly updated blog, and the documentary, On the Edge of Blade Runner, that originally ran on British television in July 2000.

  • The Replicant Site.

    E-mail Citation »

    Beautifully, if somewhat quirkily, designed information and news site. Features detailed sections (with links) on the actors, the soundtrack, the vehicles and gadgets used in the film, and more. Maintained by an Italian fan, though there is an English-language version.

  • Sammon, Paul M. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    Detailed, definitive study of the production, distribution, and reception history of the film, from the development process through the 1992 director’s cut. Expanded from an article titled “The Making of Blade Runner,” which appeared in the magazine Cinefantastique in 1982.

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