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Blade Runner: What You Never Knew

Posted on 29/7/14 by Pete

We're just past 3 decades since the release of Blade Runner, the film that pretty much defined cyberpunk. And while it didn't set box office records ablaze while it was in theaters, it has matured into a recognized and venerable icon of science fiction. With a reputation that grows with each passing year, this film has captivated new audiences with the sticky philosophical dilemmas it poses in between shots of the most intriguing futuristic vision ever committed to film.

And here you didn't think of Atari during that intro.

We're talking about Atari as in "have you played Atari today?" It is one of many companies whose logo had featured prominently in the film's set, all of which have since folded or otherwise failed to prosper. This happened to so many companies whose logo were in the movie that it's called the "Bladerunner curse." Among the logos scattered about the city's neon tapestry:

  • Pan Am - Long gone (airline).
  • Bell - Dissolved by anti-trust ruling (phone company).
  • Cuisinart - Out of business (kitchen appliances).
  • RCA - Defunct (media).
  • Polaroid - Still kind of there, but no longer in the camera business.

The two companies whose logos are featured prominently are TDK, whose logo is partially obscured, and Coca-Cola, which did launch the "New Coke" flavor which is a famous miserable failure.

And if you never knew that, read on to what else didn't you notice:

Spot the prop:

  • The Millennium Falcon is a building in the landscape - as spotted by the eagle-eyes of this fansite.
  • Also, none other than the ship from Dark Star also forms part of the city-scape around the police station.
  • If you can stand the theatrical cut with Ford's jabbering, the top of the police station is a recycled saucer-top from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • Ridley Scott used some of the same video displays in Alien
  • The spinners (the flying police cars) also pop up in other sci-fi movies, such as 1998's Soldier.

Adam Savage has been trying to re-create Harrison Ford's blaster:

Kinda figures that he'd be the kind of geek to obsess over a sci-fi gun. He's shot everything else up on Mythbusters already.

Animal crossing

Each of the supporting main characters has an animal motif:

  • Roy Batty - Howls like a wolf, tends to think of his fellow replicants as a pack.
  • Leon - He's tough and dull like a turtle and gets offended in the opening scene when it's implied that he wouldn't help a flipped-over tortoise.
  • Zhora - Dances with snakes, and has a tattoo of a snake.
  • Pris - Draws her eye makeup like a raccoon.
  • Rachael - Has a childhood implanted memory of spiders. Also dresses like a black widow.
  • Dr. Eldon Tyrell - Keeps a synthetic pet owl in his office, and wears owl-like glasses.
  • J.F. Sebastian - A meek, mousy little guy who lives in an abandoned apartment.
  • Rick Deckard himself - Unicorns, naturally.

Eye symbolism

Blade Runner is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The author, as we've noted before, was fascinated by philosophical questions such as the nature of humans, what it is we think of as reality, the blur between our perceptions and reality, and how we take the world in. Eyes fascinated him - so it's no surprise that there's eye motifs all over Bladerunner.

We'll just point to the Wiki on this one.

That gives us room to point out that another sci-fi cyberpunk film based on a Philip K. Dick novel, Minority Report, is also crawling with eye themes and motifs. Scanners read your eye to I.D. you, advertise at you, and allow you access. To fool the scanners, you get your eyes replaced. The precogs reside in a giant chamber with an eye-shaped ceiling, persist in asking those without their psychic vision "Can you see?", and record visual clues to future crimes for investigation.

Is Deckard a replicant?

Now we come to the central question at the heart of this film, and indeed, questions like these are why moviemeanings.com exists. If there's anyplace to discuss it, it's here.

But here's Scott's word:

For the record, here's all the answers we can scare up:

Philip K. Dick's novel clearly states that Deckard is not a replicant; he passes the Voight-Kampff test in the book. But maybe that just means that the test is flawed. We know from Rachael already that the test can at least be faulty.

Screenwriter Hampton Fancher says that he treated Deckard as a human, but made the screenplay ambiguous in the end.

Harrison Ford says nope, Deckard's not a replicant. However, that doesn't mean he can't be driven to paranoid suspicions. He's been driven to empathize with replicants from his many contacts with them. The work clearly shakes him up. He may not be the first person to fall in love with one (Rachael), but he's perhaps the first to have his life spared by one (Roy), too.

After all, the film does go out of its way to put the question in front of us. Dechard's apartment is filled with photographs, as all replicants like photographs. Gaff lets Deckard and Rachael escape, and utters many cryptic clues ("But then again, who does?") to suggest that Deckard's and Rachael's fate may be shared, even before he goes dropping off origami unicorns. But finally Rachael herself demands of Deckard if he'd ever taken that test himself.

Keep in mind also that there is the story of the scrapped scene where it would have been revealed that Tyrell, himself, is a replicant, a clone of the original founder of Tyrell corporation. Which goes to show that the story, at some stages of conception, would always be pulling the rug out from under us. Now imagine living in this world where the fake is so real you can't tell one from the other. In a world full of people, half fake and half real, including people who didn't know they were fake, wouldn't you begin to wonder about yourself? Perhaps everybody in the Blade Runner universe is half-suspicious of themselves or each other all the time. Perhaps the difference is smaller than they make it out to be.

Roy Batty is a Pinocchio, a replicant who wants to be a human. In counter, could Deckard be turning into a human who wishes he was a replicant, the better to justify Rachael's love?

If you're thinking deeply about these questions, that's just what Philip K. Dick wanted the reactions to his work to be. And they become all the more relevant as our technology advances to the point where we can barely tell the real from the artificial now. If it's too close to make a difference, what does it matter anymore?


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