Harrison Ford and the Sci-Fi Classic Blade Runner

D45882Guest blogger Alex Smith writes:

Harrison Ford recently turned 71, but the once and future Han Solo has one present he’d love to return: his role in the seminal sci-fi noir film Blade Runner. Over the years, Ford has made it very clear that he didn’t enjoy making the movie, didn’t like the movie itself, and doesn’t even like science fiction.

Let that sink in for a moment. The actor best known for playing an alien (Corellian) who won a space freighter in a space card game called Sabacc with space fiend Lando Calrissian on a desert planet in another galaxy doesn’t care for science fiction. Yes, Colonel Graff from Ender’s Game, the upcoming movie about a war with extraterrestrials, isn’t even a fan of the genre! So how does he turn in such indelible performances in sci-fi movies?

The answer might be that Ford is so brilliant as a space smuggler or future general or detective hunting androids because those characters don’t know that they’re in science fiction in the first place — to them it’s just their world. Ford plays it straight and the characters come to vivid (if grumpy) life. It’s entirely possible that, if the actor was a huge sci-fi fan, it would ruin his deadpan dramatic acting.

Take the brilliant 1982 epic Blade Runner. Ford plays Rick Deckard, a burned-out former cop who is forced by circumstances to hunt down “replicants,” androids that look human but are murderous machines at heart. The entire world of 2019 Los Angeles (population 106 million) is dank and rainy and a mix of Chinese, Russian, and English speakers. It’s the near future the way author Philip K. Dick, whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the film is based on, envisioned it back in the 1960s, and it works visually and emotionally as a science fiction dystopia. Ford’s performance as Deckard is completely subdued and vulnerable — the perfect noir detective — as he learns there’s more to these androids than he ever knew.

Would Ford have given such a mesmerizing performance if he had been a sci-fi fan? We’ll never know, but it is known that he got banged up during the shoot, his knee ending up in a brace at one point. Director Ridley Scott has said that he didn’t enjoy making Blade Runner except for working with the actors (including Daryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young). It seems that this is the movie everyone loves to watch but everyone hated while they were making it.

Even Scott says now that it is probably his most “complete and personal” film, and it landed at Number One on numerous “all-time best science fiction movies” lists. But when it originally came out, he and Ford didn’t want to talk much about it, and it was considered a noble flop until it came out on home video and took off. Scott is even making a sequel to Blade Runner right now, a sure sign that the ’82 flick is close to his heart. (Ford is rumored to be making an appearance in the new film, so he might have a soft spot for it as well after all these years).

Whatever happens with a sequel, it is at least likely that there won’t be a repeat of the voiceover fiasco that marred the initial release and video until Scott’s Director’s Cut made it to theaters and video in a re-release. In 1982 the studio, Warner Bros., thought the ending as scripted and filmed was too much of a downer — in it, Deckard and replicant/love interest Rachel (Young) flee to an uncertain future, since she could die at any time — and forced Scott and Ford to create a sappy “happy” ending. Ford said he read the lines off the script and left the recording studio; Scott changed it back as soon as he could. This time around, it’s doubtful a studio will mess with a potential classic.

Alex Smith is a film and television blogger for Direct2TV.com, where he covers everything from new releases to lost classics. He is particularly interested in sci-fi from all eras of cinema (especially the 1970s), and has been a Harrison Ford fan since the Star Wars days. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.