Musings About Music In Film

Sequencing: Blade Runner

By Charlie Brigden bladerunner

"I've... seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears... in rain. Time to die..."

So ends the life of Roy Batty, one of the most important characters in science fiction film history and ironically the most human character in Blade Runner - now showing in cinemas in its "Final Cut" form. Having just saved the life of Deckard - Harrison Ford's battered and bruised detective - Rutger Hauer's Roy sits on the roof of a towering skyscraper and utters the above as his systems start to fail, delivering his own eulogy in a meditation on what it means to be human, even as an android.

The words by themselves are powerful, especially with Hauer's performance (he apparently also wrote the final speech in a Robert Shaw-esque move), but they're given a further dimension with Vangelis' ethereal and quasi-religious tones. Descriptively, it's built on the film's main theme: a simplistic melody that we first hear over the opening titles. Initally rendered in minimalistic tones it feels a world away from the more weary and sinister moods of the rest of the score, but it represents the crucial themes of the film, that of the ideals of humanity. What it means to be human.

In Roy's final scene he appears to have cracked it and as such Vangelis presents the theme in life-affirming colour. In a film considered urbane and punk, it's almost the feelgood Hollywood ending until Roy pops his clogs and the dove flies away to thundering drums. The soaring synthesisers emphasise the religious imagery, which as ever with Ridley Scott is none too subtle, but what's more important is that Roy Batty, the proverbial Pinocchio, dies just as he becomes a little boy.

It would be tempting to bring the score down into a more funereal mood but Vangelis rejects this, instead cementing Roy's epiphany and celebrating his life as the villain becomes the hero. The theme tails off into a sense of relief as Deckard is rescued, with a reflective coda as we hear Gaff utter "It's too bad she won't live, but then again who does?" - and this confirms Roy is not the end of the Nexus 6 line.

Interestingly, this scene is not only an example of a well-scored scene but also more ammo for the superiority of the cuts that don't have Harrison Ford's narration. As Roy dies in the theatrical cut, the beauty of the moment is instantly interrupted by Deckard's horrendous commentary on the actions, as below:

"I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life... anybody's life... my life."

It cheapens the scene immensely, not only because it constricts the flow of the scene but also because it's patronising. Joe Dante's in-movie movie 'Mant' from Matinee has a great recurring joke where the 1950s scientist says something scientific then explains it in layman's terms ("You'll continue to metamorphose - or change.") and that's exactly what the narration in Blade Runner is: an explanation track mandated by a studio too stupid to believe audiences have the intelligence to understand the film, which probably would have been better respected from the start had the narration not been forced on it. A pure example of the subtext becoming text.

But as often happens in the world of digital media, sense has prevailed and Ridley Scott's director's cut is almost wholly preferred. Not only is Blade Runner a masterpiece, it also contains one of the great cinema speeches amidst a fantastic example of the power of film scoring.

You can watch the full scene below:

[youtube] Blade Runner - The Final Cut is in cinemas now