Last night I was Ridley Scott's re-cut Blade Runner, which is back in theaters in limited release. Needless to say, the film kicks ass over just about any sci-fi flick in theaters now. People have been trying to remake Blade Runner for twenty-five years now -- and I don't just mean Ridley Scott. It's a magnificent film with exquisite production design. If you've never seen it on a big screen, do yourself a favor and find this movie at a theater near you. Ridley Scott uses every inch of screen to tell you the story. And he canned Harrison Ford's cheesy voice over!
There's some damn good writing in Blade Runner, of course. Most of it is in the very structure of the film -- a super clean opening that gets you deeply immersed in the plot world right off the bat. I was marveling at how the final fight sequence works. I won't spoil if for you if you haven't seen it yet. It's a famous scene... and would be a pinnacle of film history if it weren't for that damn bird.
The sequence works so well because of some pretty fancy footwork with character sympathy. It wouldn't work at all if Rutger Hauer's character stayed in the realm of homicidal Nazi-looking replicant killer machine. I mean, he's trying to kill Harrison Ford, for god's sakes. He can't be a good guy. But here's the rub: if you just want the bad guy to die, then the movie will fall flat for you.
So Scott (and Philip K. Dick and Hampton Fancher and David Peoples) do something that most filmmakers would shy away from in the big battle scene. They all but flip the character sympathy around. The bad guy's all alone. Harrison Ford just killed his girlfriend. The whole world is against him. And Harrison Ford isn't exactly fighting fair. What's Rutger Hauer do? He pulls Ford's arm through the wall and breaks a couple fingers as he lists exactly why he's angry. And then he gives Ford back his gun.. and gives him a running start.
Suddenly the Harrison Ford's running like a coward. He's fighting for a principle he doesn't really believe in. Plus, he just killed Darryl Hannah.
And Rutger Hauer's fighting for his dead friends and his kind. He's fighting his own genetic code. And he's alone in this world -- and not in a mopey, one-scotch-too-many way like Harrison Ford.
You don't see this much because most writers don't understand just how valuable and exploitable character sympathy really is. But the makers of Blade Runner did know -- and they want you listening to the message that Rutger Hauer is carrying.
There are plenty of films out there inspired by Blade Runner, and a lot of them end with the bad guy choking out some cheesy catharsis and his own blood, a long "Noooooo!!", then call it a day. There are a million films like that out there now... and I can't quite remember their names right now. But I can guarantee most of them won't go back into theatrical release in twenty-five years.