Everything You Need To Know About Blade Runner So You Can Skip The Original

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The rain is always falling in Blade Runner’s Los Angeles. Down past the neon billboards, down past the space ships leaving the dismal planet Earth for brighter and more luxurious off-world colonies, down into the winding and narrow alleys where Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) spends his days hunting down androids.
Blade Runner imagines the America of 2019 to be a damp, depressing dystopia. Within that gritty landscape, one of the most influential science fiction movies ever is set. Though there have been eight versions of Blade Runners since 1982, it's taken 35 years for a Blade Runner sequel. And now, the wait is over.
Out October 6, the heavily anticipated Blade Runner 2049 will further Blade Runner’s world and plot in thrilling ways. Harrison Ford even punches Ryan Gosling. But if you’re going to partake in the blockbuster phenomenon of the year, it’s best you study up on your Blade Runner terminology. Otherwise, you’ll be wandering through a cyberpunk world of confusion. Seriously. You’re going to thank us later.
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Like many great sci-fi stories, Blade Runner originally came from the mind of writer Philip K. Dick.

Blade Runner is based on sci-fi paragon Phillip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In the book, a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard plucks off rogue replicants, androids completely indistinguishable from humans who are used for “undesirable” labor in the outer colonies.

Funnily enough, director Ridley Scott never actually read the book. “I actually couldn’t get into it. I met Philip K. Dick later, and he said, ‘I understand you couldn’t read the book.’ And I said, ‘You know you’re so dense, mate, by page 32, there’s about 17 storylines.’”

The term “blade runner” doesn’t come up in the novel, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering Scott’s distaste for the original work. It was pulled from a failed film treatment called Blade Runner by William S. Burroughs. “I thought the words ‘Blade Runner’ very well-suited to our needs. It was a nice, threatening name that neatly described a violent action,’” Scott said.
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Okay, but tell me what Blade Runner is about, already!

Fine, fine. In the film, Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a burnt-out, trench coat-clad "blade runner," or replicant assassin. His police chief boss (M. Emmet Walsh) forces him to go on one last mission, one of grave importance. Four replicants have mutinied a ship and landed back on Earth, where they hope to extend their four-year lifespan. Now, he has to “retire” — a.k.a. kill — the replicants.
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What now? Replicants?

Replicants, or synthetic organisms that are virtually indistinguishable from humans, were first created by the Tyrell Corporation early in the 21st century. The “Nexus 6” models, which Deckard hunts in the movie, are smarter, stronger, and more agile than humans. Each replicant is implanted with memories and backstories, but all are programmed to die after four years so that they don’t develop emotions from their backstories.

The trouble began when, years before the movie’s action, a Nexus 6 combat model staged a violent mutiny on an off-world colony. Since then, replicants were banned from earth, and the Blade Runner units were formed.

Deckard has to retire two combat models, Leon (Brion James) and Roy Batty (Rutger Hower), a murder squad model named Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), and a pleasure model named Pris (Daryl Hannah).
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How can Deckard tell replicants from humans?

Good question. Blade Runners use the Voight-Kampff test, a series of random questions designed to elicit empathetic responses, to weed out replicants from humans. A person's heart rate, respiration, and contractions of the iris are measured while these questions are asked.

Usually, it takes 20-30 questions to figure out whether someone’s a replicant or human. In the movie, Deckard asks Rachael (Sean Young) 100 questions before he realizes she’s a replicant, though even she doesn’t know it yet. Deckard has to tell Rachael that all of her cherished memories are actually false.
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Are there other blade runners in the movie?

Yes, though he doesn’t get along well with Deckard. Gaff (Edward James Olmos) speaks almost entirely in “Cityspeak,” a mash-up of German, Japanese, and Spanish. Gaff’s always doing weird things like leaving origami figures, like a chicken and a unicorn, in random places.

In the theatrical release of the movie, Gaff spares Rachael’s life, and lets her and Deckard run off together. Gaff will appear in Bladerunner 2049.
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There’s a reason why Gaff doesn’t like Deckard — and it’s a spoiler.

Ready? There's no turning back now.

As the director's cut, released in 1992, makes so clear with its alternative ending: Deckard is a replicant himself. Whereas the theatrical version ends with Rachael and Deckard driving off through the countryside, the final cut ends with Deckard dreaming of a unicorn, right before Gaff gives him the unicorn origami figurine.

If Deckard is a replicant, that means that each of his thoughts have been planted in his mind — including dreams of unicorns.

“If Gaff knew about that, it’s Gaff’s message to say, ‘I’ve read your file, mate,’” Scott told Wired.
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Let’s talk about the versions of the movie.

There are eight — I repeat, eight — versions of Blade Runner. Here are the imporant ones. The 1982 theatrical cut is the most straightforward, because a dead-pan Harrison Ford narrates all the action. The theatrical version doesn't resemble the final product Scott intended for his film; though, because executives at Warner Bros. spliced together a happy ending that Scott never intended. In fact, the final aerial shot of Deckard and Rachael in a car was actually footage pulled from The Shining.

The international theatrical version, also released in 1982, is incredibly violent, and features eye-gouging and people being lifted up by the nostrils.

In 1992, Scott got to undo the wrongs foisted upon Blade Runner by studio execs. Scott's director’s cut gets rid of the voiceovers and happy endings, and asks more probing questions about Deckard’s identity. The 2007 final cut revamps the 1992 director’s cut, and inserts all the gore of the international theatrical cut.
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So, where does the sequel stand in all this?

Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve, takes place in L.A. 30 years after the original. In this future, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) runs an android company which creates docile replicants, happy with their fate. Ryan Gosling plays K, a blade runner who eliminates those replicants who still have a fighting streak in them. During one elimination, he comes across a discovery which could change the way people think of the categories "replicants" and "humans" — and that's when he seeks out Deckard.
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Even if you haven't seen Blade Runner, you've felt its influence.

We don't blame you for not partaking in a slow, dense, 35-year-old sci-fi staple. Yet if you've seen anything from The Matrix to Ghost in the Shell (the anime version; let's not talk about this year's), you've seen traces of Blade Runner.

Cyberpunk movies like Blade Runner look at the way technological advancements affect the social order, and the ways in which technology simultaneously advances and cripples society.
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