Blade Runner is a pretty complicated film. Multiple versions of it have become available since its release in 1982. There are so many opinions about just which cut is the best version of the film. I bought a Blu-ray set that had five different versions of Blade Runner. When was the last time that you’ve seen a five movie set for sale that was all the same film? I can’t recall any other movie receiving that kind of treatment ever.
I’ve enjoyed every version of the film that I’ve seen, and I recently read the book that the movie was based on for the first time. I was surprised at how close the movie followed the book and how different it was from the source material at the same time. It might have been hard to tell from the title of the movie, but the book is titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It was probably easier to put Blade Runner on a movie poster than the original title, but it also has to do with the film cutting out one of the main plots from the novel.
Both the film and the book tell the story of Rick Deckard. Deckard is a bounty hunter for rogue androids in a future where they are used to do all types of different jobs. The androids are not mechanical robots, but synthetic replicants identical to humans except for some key differences. Androids are stronger, faster, and smarter than humans. They also lack empathy. It is Deckard’s task to hunt down a group of the most advanced androids ever made using questions and devices that test a person’s ability to empathize.
The theme of empathy is paramount to the story of the novel. It’s not just used to determine who is and who is not an android. In this future, a great nuclear war has caused most of the animal life to die on earth. Animals become precious, and it is expected that every person cares for an animal. Animals also become a kind of status symbol.
One of Deckard’s motivations in the book is to earn enough money from bounty hunting to afford a real animal. He has a robotic sheep that he acts as if he cares about it. He had a real sheep at one point, but it died because of an accident. So, to keep up appearances, he got a cheap robot copy of his while he tries to find a proper replacement. He hopes that a real animal will pull his wife out of her depression and fix their marriage.
There is also a pseudo-religion called Mercerism. Humans who practice it use “empathy boxes” to engage in a virtual reality that connects all the users to share each others’ pain. Of course, androids can’t use the boxes since they can’t empathize or have any interests other than their own. The goal of the renegade androids is a war on empathy via attacking Mercerism.
Mercerism and the animals are excluded from the movie. The film turns the aim of the androids into a quest for prolonged life. The replicants of the movie are preprogrammed with a limited lifespan. They seek to meet their creator and petition him for a longer life. The only thing in their way is Deckard.
Both the book and the movie can be considered masterpieces in their own right. The detective noir pacing of the movie might not be for everyone. The artistic style and acting of the film need to be seen, and the ideas of the book should be given thought and reflection. Experiencing both help give a better understanding of the material and the world that is being presented. They both succeed in what all good science fiction should do, generate discussion and share ideas.
“This is a bad one, the worst yet. I need the old blade runner; I need your magic.”
Novel by Philip K. Dick
Original Publication Date: 1968