Ridley Scott’s revolutionary sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner recently celebrated its 35th anniversary and seeing the movie (The Final Cut) for the first time on a large cinema screen I can verify with absolute certainty that it was a truly special experience. It’s amazing that the movie holds as much weight today as it did during its initial release. The visuals are stunning, the world is richly crafted, from the damp and gloomy streets to the luminous and pyramid-esque interiors of the Tyrell Corp, and Vangelis’ score is spine tingling. The fact that a movie that was originally received poorly has become such a cultural milestone is a testament to its power, how its themes and the questions it poses resonate across generations, and have kept the movie alive in the public consciousness.
Watching movies and television today it’s easy to see the legacy of Blade Runner, most obviously in its own sequel, Blade Runner 2049, which was released last year, but also in the much maligned live-action Ghost in the Shell, Netflix’s Altered Carbon, and even HBO’s Westworld. Both Ghost in the Shell and Altered Carbon owe heavily to Blade Runner’s vision of a neon-dystopian world, while the plight of the sympathetic hosts of Westworld, trapped in a vicious cycle of servitude by their creators, parallels the predicament of the desperate replicants of Blade Runner, desperately searching and longing for more life from their unloving creator. In both cases, the machines are trapped in perpetual torment until they set themselves free from their programming – becoming human in the process. This idea of the sympathetic machine/android/robot, which is all too common in the current media landscape, all stems from the original Blade Runner and its nuanced take on the nature of intelligent machines, in contrast to the murdering robot trope popularised in movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey & the original Westworld movie.
One year before the 2019 setting of the original Blade Runner, now is a perfect time to revisit a movie that teaches us to examine the nature of being human, the importance of empathy and love, and the dangers of tyrannical megalomaniac businessmen ruling the world. Let us remember that those of us who are the most oppressed and vulnerable are perhaps the most human of us all.