The definitive sci-noir, with Harrison Ford as a harder-drinking Han Solo/Indiana Jones. It’s 2019 Los Angeles, and Ford’s Rick Deckard is a former blade runner—an executioner of AWOL, artificially intelligent robots, or replicants. Deckard gets forced back into active duty by the authorities, Sam Spade-like, when four escaped replicants are reported loose in the city.
Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? provides the plot mechanics and existential underpinnings, but Blade Runner lingers because it is one of director Ridley Scott’s most potent stylistic exercises (which is saying something). The constant rain juxtaposed with piercing neon signs; the spotlights from an omnipresent advertising blimp sweeping into nearly every room; an electronic Vangelis score, which washes over the city like its own synthetic storm. All of this adds up to a richly realized science-fiction world that’s been oft-imitated but rarely matched. (My favorite detail: the fluorescent umbrella handles that dot the dark streets like a parade of glow sticks.)
Ford curdles his charisma a bit, but otherwise mostly floats by on it. Sean Young, as a corporate assistant who may be a replicant herself, is supposed to be the femme fatale but isn’t served well by the script. Far better is Daryl Hannah, who brings an eerie glee to the part of one of the replicants (you can imagine her as one of Joker’s goons).
Ultimately, though, Blade Runner belongs to Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the replicants’ leader. With a poetic flair and dreamy expression, he acts as if it’s a given that Roy has a soul. Roy “lives” in awe of the world around him, even as he expresses anguish over the limited lifespan (four years) that his corporate creators have allotted. His climactic soliloquy—the “tears in rain” speech—has become the stuff of legend because it’s so dramatically delivered (as if Roy had been programmed for Shakespeare) and yet so deeply felt. He’s speaking for replicants when he laments his mortality, but by that point Blade Runner has become so noirishly fatalistic that he’s really speaking for us all.