Rick Deckard (Blade Runner)

Created by Philip K. Dick
Developed for the screen by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples

When the topic of sci-fi/private eyes comes up for air, so does director Ridley Scott’s grim and gritty 1982 film Blade Runner, and, occasionally, the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that it was loosely (very loosely) based on.

The film, a stylish chunk of cyber-noir, starring Harrison Ford, has become a stone-cold classic, a much loved and hugely influential film that pretty much cemented Ford’s status as a star.  It’s a toss-up as to whether Ford’s character is a private eye or not, but the connections to the private eye genre are legion (and intentional): the mood, the feel, the overcoat, the voice-over narration, the beat-down Los Angeles where the sun never shines.

Hell, the climactic showdown even takes place in the Bradbury Building.

The only thing missing is a fedora. If the film had been made in the 1940s, it would have starred Bogart.

I loved this film. A lot of people loved this film.

But it’s flawed–at least as originally released-according to Ridley Scott.

But what the fuck does he know?

RICK DECKARD is a former cop who’s recruited to track down and “retire” runaway replicants (essentially life-likw robots who could pass for human) for the bounty on their heads, in 2019 Los Angeles. The film is visually stunning, full of gloomy, smoke-filled shots of an over-crowded and decaying hellhole rife with corruption; a city where it’s always raining. Deckard is a loner, a bitter and cynical bounty killer who never brings ‘em back alive and who’s started to identify more with the androids he’s hunting down than with the humans he’s supposedly protecting. A provocative, intelligent, challenging, beautifully-photographed film, ruined (some, including Scott, say) by the phony, tacked-on happy shiny ending (where did all that sunlight come from?) that the studio supposedly insisted on. A director’s cut version is also available, which removes Harrison’s voiceover narration and the last scene, which Scott felt was too “up,” and added a sequence or two that jacked up ambiguities barely hinted at in the original version.

Get that one. Or get the original. They’re both great.

The book which inspired the film is, literally, another story. On the one hand, my sci-fi friends assure me, it’s a classic in its own right, by one of the renowned masters of speculative fiction.

Sure. As long as you don’t actually read it.

I did, and I’m sorry to say my initial reaction was “Meh.” And then WTF?

As Jonathan Lethem once put it, Dick “couldn’t write his way out of a wet papersack.” Or, as a well-received biography of the author, Divine Invasions by Lawrence Sutin put it, Dick’s style as “wayward and sprawling, in the spirit of a new Orange County shopping mall.”


The original novel definitely doesn’t qualify as a private eye book. In any way, shape or form. Sure, Deckard still tracks down fugitive androids, but he’s a cop for the LAPD, a salaried employee of the city.

He’s also hopelessly middle-class, with a bad case of coveting his neighbour’s horse, and a loveless marriage to a wife addicted to her empathy box. In this future, L.A. is under-populated, due to massive mounts of radiation, and the majority of the planet’s people have emigrated to other worlds. A consequence of the fallout is the extinction of almost all animal life on earth, and therefore, owning an actual animal becomes the ultimate status symbol. For those unable to afford one, such as lowly-paid civil servants like Rick, lifelike replicas are available. Rick, to his chagrin, can only afford an electric sheep. But when a gang of renegade androids make their way to earth, Rick sees his chance for a ticket to Easy Street. Under a relatively straightforward, rather plodding tale lies a complex novel which questions our notions of identity, empathy, religion and morality.

Recommended reading? Maybe. Molly Young in the The New York Times in October 2022 cautioned “If you’re a stickler for prose style and hold a zero-tolerance policy toward the word ‘boobies,’ this is not your fellow.”

But don’t expect it to have much to do with the subsequent film. And don’t expect it to keep you up at night flipping pages. The word “blade runner” never appears in the book.

Then again, sci-fi author K.W. Jeter, who has successfully continued the adventures of the film Deckard in several sequels to the film (and to the original novel), and added a few pretty nifty touches of his own. At the same time, he started another series, set in the same nasty Los Angeles, featuring McNihil, a former “information cop” with a fetish for the classc film noirs of the 1940’s.

But even more surprising was the appearance in 2017 of a cinematic sequel, Blade Runner 2049, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Québecois wunderkind director Denis Villeneuve, which pretty much ignored Jeter’s continuations. Instead, original screenwriter Hampton Fancher, along with Michael Green, came up with a story that has Ryan Gosling playing young LAPD blade runner, K, who’s been dispatched to track down the legendary former blade runner Rick Deckard (played once again by Ford).

When they finally meet, a wary, battered Deckard ruefully confesses “I had your job once. I was good at it.”

To which K replies, “Things were simpler then.”

It’s one of the best sequels I’ve seen in years, ranking right up there with The Two Jakes in its organic honesty—this wasn’t some knocked-off cash cow brain-dead remake, a photocopy of a film with  a Roman numeral number tacked onto the end of the title, but an honest-to-God sequel that presented a new story in a way that embellished and expanded the narrative and themes of the original in thoughtful and credible ways.


  • “The movie is…superb, both as science fiction and as a private eye tale of pursuit and capture.”
    Baker and Nietzel, One Hundred and One Knights
  • “(Philip K.) Dick was Chandler’s dark twin, a man who couldn’t write his way out of a wet papersack.”
    Jonathan Lethem (April 18, 1984, Newsweek)




  • BLADE RUNNER | Buy on DVD Buy on Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1982, Warner Brothers)
    118 minutes as originally released
    Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
    Based on Do Androids Dream of Eletric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
    Directed by Ridley Scott
    Starring Harrison Ford as RICK DECKARD
    Also starring Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson, Daryl Hannah, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James
    Is this even a P.I. flick? There are so many shout-outs in it to private eye films and literature, I just always assumed Deckard was a private operative. In the long-awaited sequel from 2017, however, it’s stressed that Deckard was LAPD.
  • BLADE RUNNER 2049 Buy on DVD Buy on Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2021, Columbia)
    163 minutes
    Premiere: October 5, 2017
    Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
    Based on Do Androids Dream of Eletric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
    Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
    Story by Hampton Fancher
    Directed by Denis Villeneuve
    Starring Ryan Gosling as K
    and Harrison Ford as RICK DECKARD
    Also starring Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Mark Arnold, Jared Leto, Vilma Szeecsi, Wood Harris, David DastmalchianTómas Lemarquis, Sylvia Hoeks


    (1982, Marvel Comics)
    45 pages
    Adaptation of the film by Archie Goodwin
    Art by Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon, Dan Green, Ralph Reese
    Cover by Jim Steranko
    Issue 22 of the Marvel Comics Super Special series of premium titles, later reprinted in a two-issue mini series, as well as a digest-sized paperback. 


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

One thought on “Rick Deckard (Blade Runner)


    One important aspect of the director’s cut is that it raises the question of whether Deckard himself is an android.

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