Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner may be one of the most well-realized visions of the future committed to film. The bleak, neon-lit Los Angeles of 2019 has been imitated in many films since, but never equaled in scope or menace.
The film, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, follows retired police officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in his work as a Blade Runner, a lawman charged with tracking down and "retiring" replicants – bio-engineered robots mostly indistinguishable from humans, which are illegal on Earth, of course. Deckard's sanity begins to erode as questions about his own origins are raised, and the book and film (in some cuts more strongly than others) imply that Deckard himself may be a replicant.
The story has rested in that refreshingly ambiguous place since (if you don't count less-well received book sequels written by K.W. Jeter, a friend of Dick's), but moviegoers may have a chance to find out more of the story soon. As Alcon Entertainment producer Andrew Kosove told the L.A. Times, Scott has signed to direct a new Blade Runner film, hopefully turning the revered film into a lucrative franchise. Kosove has said that the new film should stand as separately as possible from Blade Runner, and could be in the theaters by 2014.
The biggest question raised is about the source material for the new movie. Dick wrote only one novel about the Blade Runner story before his death in 1982, and follow-up novels continuing the story of Rick Deckard have not garnered great reviews. The film's aged leading man could complicate things further, as a robotic future policeman could variously be "retired," expire after four years, or not age at all. Inconveniently, the one thing he could not do would be to visibly age nearly 30 years as Harrison Ford has done. Kosove implied as much to the L.A. Times:
"In no way do I speak for Ridley Scott," Kosove said. "But if you're asking me will this movie have anything to do with Harrison Ford, the answer is no. This is a total reinvention, and in my mind that means doing everything fresh, including casting."
Signs seem to point to a prequel then, but with the original film taking place in the close-enough-to-touch 2019, when could the futuristic and dystopian prologue credibly take place?
Blade Runner also faces another challenge: its own success and influence. The original cult film's distinct vision of the future city and technology has been reinterpreted dozens of times by other films, television shows, animations, comic books, and video games. Original ideas like those in Blade Runner can produce an interesting type of backlash with audiences. Despite their freshness on release, truly successful plot devices and settings can become tired through endless imitation and repetition, a trope sometimes called "Seinfeld Is Unfunny." Consider of the predictable-from-the-beginning conclusion to Every Sports Movie Ever, the subdued-by-overuse elevator music of a John Williams score, or the parody-worthy language of thriller films that strips older works by Hitchcock of their suspense. Blade Runner's greatest strength was its originality. Scott's biggest challenge in directing a new film may be his own legacy.
Skeptics may doubt Alcon's intentions in reviving Blade Runner, but Kosove has their concerns in mind:
"When we made the first announcement there was a lot of skepticism, understandably. And now with Ridley coming back there's a greater level of comfort," Kosove said. "And once we have the writer, I think fans will feel even more comfortable."
Hiring Ridley Scott, the visionary behind not only Blade Runner, but the first Alien film, seems to be a step in the right direction. Here's hoping he can dazzle audiences with his vision of the future again.