White text scrolls up over a black screen to inform the audience that "Early in the 21st Century, the Tyrell Corporation advanced Robot evolution into the NEXUS phase -- a being virtually identical to a human -- known as a Replicant." These Replicants were nearly as intelligent as the human beings that created them and were used to conduct hazardous or inhumane jobs. However, one team of Replicants from NEXUS 6 staged a mutiny and the Replicants were soon outlawed. Blade Runner Units are police squads that trained to destroy any replicants, a process which they call "retirement". The title across the next screen reads "Los Angeles, 2019". Fade into a birds eye-view of futuristic Los Angeles, with spaceships shooting through the sky and explosions blasting out of the tops of skyscrapers.
The camera cranes over a large, imposing geometric structure in the middle of the city - this is Tyrell Corp. Cut inside to a smoky, sparse cubicle, where Holden smokes a cigarette, his back to the camera. An omnipresent female voice announces the arrival of new Tyrell Corp employee Leon Kowalski, who has been working in waste disposal for 6 days. Holden and Kowalski sit across the table from one another. Holden administers the Voigt-Kampff test, asking Kowalski seemingly mundane questions while watching his responses register on the machine. At one point, Kowalski gets tense, but Holden assures him that the test is designed to provoke an emotional response. He asks Kowalski about his mother, and Kowalski shoots him.
Cut outside, as a spaceship flies through the glittering, neon-studded sky. An advertisement blaring from a zeppelin urges people to begin their lives anew by moving to an 'off-world colony'. At street level, in the pouring rain, people stream past Rick Deckard sitting outside a Chinese restaurant, reading a newspaper. He crosses the street to a noodle bar and orders, taking a seat as an old Chinese man serves him. Before he can eat, two men appear behind Deckard and say that he is under arrest in a language he doesn't understand. They call him a Blade Runner.
Cut to Deckard, who is sitting next to Gaff in a flying police car, still eating his noodles. They fly over the futuristic skyline before landing on top of one of the skyscrapers. Inside, Deckard throws open the door of Police Inspector Bryant's office - they already know each other. The "arrest" was the only way Bryant could get Deckard to the station. Apparently, some fugitive Replicants have killed the crew and passengers of a shuttle and are now roaming around Earth freely. Bryant wants Deckard to find the Replicants and finish them off before anyone finds out they are on the loose. Deckard insists that he no longer works for Bryant, but Bryant counters that Deckard has no choice - Holden has been critically injured and is not available.
In the next scene, Deckard and Bryant are watching a video of Leon Kowalski's test. Bryant says that 3 male and 3 female replicants escaped from an off-world colony, and three nights ago, they tried to break into Tyrell Corporation, where 2 of them were destroyed. Holden, also a Blade Runner, was conducting tests at Tyrell Corp looking for the surviving 4 Replicants, and found Leon. Bryant and Deckard both wonder why the Replicants are trying to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation.
Besides Leon Kowalski, who is skilled in weaponry, Bryant shows Deckard the profile of Roy Batty, who is the most powerful Replicant of the group and likely the leader. Zhora, a female, is a trained murderer. Meanwhile, Pris, also female, was designed to be a "pleasure model" for military men. Bryant tells Deckard that these Replicants were engineered to be physical copies of human beings, but lacking capability of human emotions. However, the Tyrell Corp engineers made sure that in case these Replicants did develop independent emotions, they only have a four-year lifespan.
Gaff drives Deckard to Tyrell Corp - Deckard's face is stoic as they approach the pyramid-like structure. Inside, an owl flaps across an Egyptian-inspired office. Rachael introduces herself, explaining that the owl is artificial - this is what Tyrell Corp does, making life-like artificial beings. She then asks Deckard if he's ever retired a human by mistake, and he says no. Dr. Eldon Tyrell enters and asks Deckard to see a demonstration of the Voigt-Kampff test, which the Blade Runners use to determine the presence of a Replicant. He asks Deckard to administer the test on Rachael, a human.
Deckard sets up the Voigt-Kampff machine and starts asking Rachael what she would do in hypothetical scenarios. Deckard's face doesn't give anything away as Rachael gives him snappy, confident answers. He monitors her pupils closely. When the test is complete, Dr. Tyrell asks Rachael to leave. Deckard now knows that Rachael is a Replicant - and it took more than 100 questions for him to determine this. Tyrell tells Deckard that Rachael is unaware that she is a Replicant. She is an experiment, part of Tyrell's quest to create artificial beings that are "more human than human." By giving Replicants manufactured memories, Tyrell explains, humans can control the Replicants better; having a past gives the Replicants a "cushion for their emotions."
After leaving Tyrell Corp, Deckard and Gaff go to the run-down hotel where Leon Kowalski told Holden he was living. Nobody is there, and they snoop around. Deckard swipes a tiny, silver flake off the bathtub and places it in an evidence bag. In Kowalski's drawer, he finds a series of photographs. Gaff makes a little man out of matchsticks and leaves it behind.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut was released in 2007. It is Ridley Scott's re-edited and re-mastered version of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner that came out (and flopped) in 1982. Scott feels that Blade Runner: The Final Cut represents his true and most pure vision for the film. In 1981, some of the producers pressured Scott to tweak the film prior to its initial release because test audiences were frustrated by Blade Runner's lack of clarity. To help alleviate some of this confusion, Ridley Scott and his creative team added a voice-over for Deckard's character. It didn't work, and the voice-over turned out to be one of the aspects of the film that critics hated most fiercely about the 1982 theatrical version. Additionally, Harrison Ford openly denounced it.
Blade Runner is, by nature, a film that is difficult to understand fully without paying close attention. As scholar Scott Bukatman writes, "[Ridley] Scott's 'layering' effect produces an inexhaustible complexity, an infinity of surfaces to be encountered and explored, and unlike many contemporary films, Blade Runner refuses to explain itself" (Bukatman 16). Bukatman felt that without the voice-over, "Deckard emerged as a character of greater complexity... His status as a human - physically, psychically morally - is increasingly in doubt. He is, quite simply, out of control. No retrospective, reassuring voice-over could disguise that any longer" (93).
Meanwhile, the main reason that Blade Runner did not perish in a vault after its disappointing box-office run in 1982 is because of the enduring, influential look and feel of the film. When Ridley Scott first signed on to direct Blade Runner (which was called Dangerous Days at the time), it was originally a small love story between an android and the man who was supposed to hunt her, taking place entirely indoors. After reading the screenplay, Scott asked screenwriter Hampton Fancher, "what's outside the window?" In creating the Los Angeles of 2019, Scott was inspired by Hong Kong, "pre-skyscraper...[when] the actual harbor was filled with junks...[it] was remarkably, darkly romantic". He also cited 1959 New York City as a reference, calling it "a city on overload" (Greenwald).
For contemporary filmgoers and filmmakers, it is astonishing to imagine that Ridley Scott and his team created the world of Blade Runner for under $30 million and before the advent of CGI. The tight budget actually informed the way that Scott developed his shooting style for the film. There are not too many wide shots (with the exception of the opening), because many of the street scenes were shot along the same street in a Burbank backlot. Scott said that he and his team were "disguising things by moving objects around" to make each scene look like it took place in a different location. Additionally, large set pieces and props - like the pyramid that houses the Tyrell Corp. and the flying police cars (spinners) - were miniature models. In order to disguise the artificiality of these shots, Scott says, he used a lot of smoke and atmosphere. He also commented, "That's the reason it's raining all the time...to disguise the fact that we were shooting on a backlot" (Sammon 378).
However, Scott's creative solutions to the budgetary constraints ended up being part of what makes Blade Runner so influential and memorable. Blade Runner is an early science fiction film that envisions the future based on the present. Scott says that he was very much inspired by Stanley Kubrick's dystopian vision in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he didn't want Blade Runner to be a "hardware" story like the former. Syd Mead said, "what he wanted were backgrounds that reflected an everyday, workday level of technology, yet backgrounds that would still be sufficiently impressive to interest an audience" (Sammon 79). There is an internal logic to the world of Blade Runner and therefore, it doesn't have the same air of whimsy as futuristic visions that preceded it (like the original Star Trek, for example). Many of the scientific developments in the film are subtle, but also grounded in Blade Runner's realistic vision of the future.
For example, Ridley Scott and Syd Mead came up with the idea that the first "flying vehicles would be the police. The police, by [2019, would] be paramilitary - they're already paramilitary in Los Angeles... we all agreed that [this vision] was pretty much the way cities will go" (Sammon 76). Similarly, the idea for the Voigt-Kampff machine that Holden uses on Leon Kowalski and Deckard uses on Rachael grew organically out of the narrative. According to Philip K. Dick, the Voigt-Kampff test helps Blade Runners to identify Replicants because Replicants "have no empathy... [they] don't care about what happens to other creatures" (Sammon 285). By monitoring the eyes, a Blade Runner can gauge the subject's emotional reaction to certain hypothetical scenarios - and therefore determine whether or not the subject is human. Therefore, the more sophisticated the Replicant, the more questions it takes for the Blade Runner to catch it. These first sequences of the film set in motion the primary conflict of Blade Runner - what does it mean to be human?