“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
Blade Runner, 1982 (Harrison Ford), The Ladd Company
I knew I had to end my Vintage Cable Box series with, what I regard to be, one of the greatest movies ever made. Nothing can prepare you for Blade Runner after a couple of years of the standard cable television fare. Occasionally, you had the big-budget spectacles, fine examples of genre film-making, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, but Blade Runner was unique. I only vaguely remembered trailers and teasers running on broadcast television. I never saw a preview at the movies, nor did I even see the movie in theaters. Ridley Scott had made a name for himself as a first-notch filmmaker with The Duellists and Alien after paying his dues in production design and advertising. The script and story treatments for Blade Runner floated around for a couple of years while Scott was preparing an adaptation of Dune. The Dune project fell through (and would eventually be helmed by David Lynch), and Scott was eager to start working on Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The year is 2019, and the place is Los Angeles. Our world in 2019 is a dystopian nightmare. Constant sheets of acid rain have destroyed the already-dilapidated metropolis and most humans have taken to life in “off-world colonies” (“The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity,” the advertisements proclaim). Replicants, initially considered a form of android but then ret-conned in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 as “manufactured humans” have become a dangerous liability when confronted with their slave status and the built-in obsolescence of a four year life span. In an effort to control these replicants, developer Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) implants memories in them, but this backfires when they inevitably crave life more than the humans who built them. Errant replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a bunch of them to jump ship and return to Earth to meet their maker. Enter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a replicant killer more commonly known as a “Blade Runner.”
Deckard is tasked with interviewing a beautiful woman, Tyrell’s assistant, named Rachael (Sean Young) who may or may not be a replicant. It seems Tyrell’s task is to either deceive authorities as to the identity of his replicants, or perhaps make his replicants believe they are human. It takes a while for Deckard to come to the conclusion that Rachael doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She saves his life when another replicant, the sub-intelligent Leon (Brion James) tries to kill him. He takes her back to his apartment and promises to keep her secret. Tyrell tells him she has no shut-off date; that she is, in effect, unique. Deckard retires the remaining replicants, but Batty proves to be a challenge. He taunts Deckard and leads him on a merry chase through the Bradbury Building. While Deckard is intent on finishing the job, Batty is fighting for his life, even as he knows his time is limited. Batty is incensed that Deckard has mercilessly killed his friends, and he tortures him for it. Ultimately, he spares Deckard’s life and perhaps Deckard has re-discovered his humanity.
Blade Runner was unfairly maligned by critics upon release in 1982, but over the years, the movie has attained an enormous cult following, culminating in the release of Blade Runner 2049 last year. In 1992, a “director’s cut” was released which removed the original film’s narration (considered by Scott to be tedious) and introduced a scene where Deckard dreams of a unicorn, making the reveal at the end of the movie (Deckard discovers a small origami unicorn in his hallway) ambiguous about Deckard’s humanity. Personally, I do not believe Deckard to be a replicant because, for me, it would make the ending of the movie and Batty’s sacrifice less meaningful. I would rather Deckard learn the lesson of his humanity, rather than believe him to be an amnesiac android. Blade Runner 2049 continues along this line of reasoning; perhaps what we value as humans is our capacity for understanding the gift of memory, and when our memories are manufactured, we will retain less of that value. Everything about this movie is perfect.
That about wraps it up for Vintage Cable Box. Again, I want to thank my readers. It’s been so much fun going back and revisiting and re-living these movies and that crazy time period, that time-line of what I saw and experienced and how it shaped me. Blade Runner just might be the most influential movie of the last 40 years, and it played constantly on cable television back in those days. Blade Runner 2049 manages to successfully evoke all of the best qualities about the original movie (and even improve upon certain aspects), which surprises me. Before I sign off, I have to thank a few people. Mark Jeacoma hosted these articles on his VHS Rewind! page. Andrew La Ganke suggested some great movies and found me a couple of hard-to-find titles. Geno Cuddy suggested Metropolis and provided a copy of the movie for me. Tony Verruso from the Vintage HBO Guides on Facebook was a staunch ally in dark times. Thanks for reading.
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.