January 13, 2010

#97: Blade Runner

I had seen Blade Runner once before, alone and uninspired by it, and now rewatching it I had forgotten most of why I hadn't cared for it, so I came at it with eyes as fresh as they could be.

Company: Moni and Asbjorn, fantastic aunt and uncle who have probably seen twice as many movies as I have; Stephanie, younger sister, gourmet chef and distributor of wacky vocabulary; Anna, older sister, recently consumed by a job search; Mish, Moni and Asbjorn's cat, who perched on my chest for portions of the movie

She just curled up on my chest. Jealous?

Cuisine: Stephanie's delicious fondue de poulet a la creme out of the Julia Child cookbook, white wine and leftover Christmas cookies (will they ever end!?)

Blade Runner is a 1982 "neo-noir" science fiction film by Ridley Scott, who had just come off from directing Alien (aaaand let's talk about why that movie isn't on this list). It was initially received poorly, faring badly with critics and audiences alike, but has since become a cult classic and has inspired scores of science fiction films, including the one most influential on this generation, The Matrix. Based on the fantastically-titled 1968 Philip K. Dick novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," Blade Runner opens with a scrolling-text prologue informing us that it's 2019 and masochistic humans have created themselves again in the form of Replicants, humanoids who are so similar to actual humans that they can only be told apart by Voight-Kampff tests.

World's most unnecessarily huge ceiling fan, or just visual trickery?

When interrogated, these humanoids have one dead giveaway: they cannot register emotional responses. They're being questioned because Replicants are no longer welcome on Earth after, having been shipped to "off-worlds" to be used as slave labor, they rebelled. We're so egotistical that our highest ambition is to replicate ourselves, and then when we don't like them anymore, we exploit them... and then we're actually surprised when they fight back? Incredible.

The plot follows Rick Deckard (played by a 40-year-old Harrison Ford -- how was he already 40?!), a retired cop whose job it was to track down and kill (or, more appropriately, "retire") any Replicants found on Earth. He's called in from retirement to find and kill six Replicants who, having managed to get back to Earth, want to increase their lifespan (Replicants were conveniently built to only live a set amount of time).

The first three movies I watched on this list were about big, somewhat happier themes like promise, hope, glory, fame and redemption. This is the first darker movie (no complaints here) and it's certainly one that takes its time introducing us to an environment.

The opening shot shows us Los Angeles in November 2019, a poisoned world on fire with industry and filth. But luckily for us, there's green grass on the other side ... of the universe.

Floating advertisements promise "a golden land of opportunity and adventure in the off-world colonies." After we've poisoned and destroyed this world (the book deals more intimately with man's relationship to animals, who have been all but eliminated from the planet), naturally we'd go find another. It's a macabre parallel of WALL-E -- even the loudspeaker voice was vaguely reminiscent of Fred Willard. Long stretches of the movie, accompanied by what could be described as futuristic smooth elevator jazz, just show us this post-apocalyptic world, almost as complete breaks from the narrative.

Deckard's hunt for Replicants is disturbed by his attraction to Rachael (Sean Young), a woman who is suspected of being a Replicant. It's difficult to confirm her status because she is a prototype for a new Replicant that can feel and has memories of a past. It's the first time he's been confronted with murdering something (someone?) who can feel. The rest of the film follows Deckard's pursuit and simultaneous bud of compassion of the humanoids.

A great shot: Deckard emerging from behind Rachael, as the line between human and android has grown too small to see.

An overarching theme of the film is the essence of humanity: what makes us human? Do we long for our humanity, or do we wish we could remove ourselves from it so the pain of life would be easier to handle? The last Replicant to survive, Roy Batty (played with sinister Aryan verve by Rutger Hauer), puts it this way: "Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch." Is living a disease? Replicants are a slave to life: in the world of the film, they are created for labor, and their introduction to emotion has first warranted fear of their own expiration. Knowing they will die. I'd imagine the parallels with the AIDS epidemic if only the vast majority of the world either didn't care or didn't know about the disease yet. It was only the summer of 1982.

Deckard hunts Replicants in the most depressing lounge ever.

By the end, while I applaud the masterful cinematography and production design, I can't help but think that the film moved too slowly to be considered an action movie or a thriller, and didn't delve into its own questions enough to really warrant its position among great science fiction movies. Did it make me think? Sure. Did I want more? Yes! Do I think the time allotted (117 minutes!) could have been used more efficiently? Maybe. I watched the director's cut, which supposedly took out much of Deckard's voiceover (perhaps explaining the long silent stretches), but apparently Ford hated the voiceovers and I guess Ridley Scott wasn't crazy about them either. So: I'm willing to be proven wrong here, but when thrown in a pile with other greats of the genre, I think I might lose sight of Blade Runner. Some distance from it might help.

What do you think? Does
Blade Runner deserve its later accolades, or would you have been among the critics who dismissed it in 1982?

Next up: #96 is the 1989 "Spike Lee joint" Do the Right Thing.

1 comment:

  1. "Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?"

    In 1982, when this movie hit the theaters, I was 16 years old and a sophomore in highschool. I don't remember that it bombed in theaters, often news of that sort didn't make it to Dillon, MT. I remember that I saw it twice and I was captivated both times, I think I even had purchased the movie poster from the theater after the movie had left.

    To me this film speaks of a God complex that is born out of money, power, and technology. Corporate giants influencing and running governments, more often at the expense of humanity and the environment; to such an extent that most of the human race has moved "Off World".

    I think this film gives the viewer the license to take from it what you will, what you want to see. It's easy to get lost in the beauty and style of the film, and I still do. It begs the age old question "who am I", and "what is it to be human?"

    For me it did what a movie should do, it entertained me, made me think and expanded my idea of creativity.