“I’ve seen things, you people wouldn’t believe.”
Could the final scene of BLADE RUNNER be the greatest ever show down in cinema history? Forget the rest of the film for a moment. Forget its visionary genius of the retro-fitting of the future cityscapes that has been so influential and still seems so fresh. Forget the history of the film: rejected by preview audiences, spliced and diced for the studios before its lackluster release, eventually becoming a VCR favourite that was released and re-released in a ‘Directors Cut’ and ‘Final Cut’ version. Forget too all the ‘is he?’ ‘isn’t he?’ debates over Decard being a replicant himself. All these things are implants.
Let’s cut to the chase.
Harrison Ford turned in a surly performance as the Marlowesque ‘Blade Runner’ employed to ‘retire’ renegade genetic robots that are so hard to spot that they have devised a complex emotional test to determine replicants from real people. His hard-nosed boss tells him that a batch of replicants have jumped ship from the off-world colonies and are on the loose. They are led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and are engaged on a killing spree in order to find out when they are due to expire at a pre-programmed date.
The final confrontation is set up perfectly. LA’s famous Bradley Buildings are given the full Scott treatment: darkness, diffused by smoke, beams of light cutting through. Decard arrives as an ominous industrial groan releases. The creepy toys made by the genetic designer J.F. Sebastian, walk into shot, marking something sinister. What follows is a thrilling conflict between the intelligent, demented performance of Hauer and the increasingly fragile Harrison: Hauer bursts through walls, hangs out of windows, breaks Decards fingers and taunts him for his lack of gamesmanship and finally rescues him in a dramatic one-armed lift.
Watch this stunning thrill-ride again and notice how many times Decard is referred to as a ‘man’: “Aren’t you the good man, Decard?”, “Proud of yourself? Little man?” and, rival Blade Runner Gaffe, commends Decard on his achievement at catching Batty, “You’ve done a man’s work, sir.”
I’ve seen this sequence a hundred times and I love it. The tension and the final validictory speech by Hauer is perfect and I’ve always struggled to understand why on its release, so many critics and fans of science fiction took against it. So much so, that I wrote an article in the SF magazine SCANNER debating the merits of the film compared to the book. Philip K Dick is considered a ground-breaking genius by many in the SF literary scene and they were squeamish about the overly literal portrayal of his vision. Brian Aldis took exception to its lack of imagination and its change of title (‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ the original title, although perfect for the novel, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue!). In the article I disputed the premise – the book being better than the film – as they are two totally different entities. The film is the replicant to the book, and thanks for the increasing video sell-through apparent in the late 80s, the video/ DVD/ film is likely to sit on the bookshelf as long as book.
The final showdown reveals the power of Dick’s original text in an exhilarating and clever manner – the ambiguous nature of the repeated reference to ‘man’ against a machine, is pure Dick. Perfect.