Sunday, June 17, 2012

Blade Runner

BLADE RUNNER              A            
USA  (117 mi)  1982  ‘Scope  d:  Ridley Scott

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.       —Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer)

Based on the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, it’s interesting that the title comes from a short William S. Burroughs novel, Blade Runner, a Movie, a book that bears no resemblance to the film other than its title (according to excerpts on page 95 from Ridley Scott:  Interviews), instead this darkly disturbing film features one of the most extraordinary set designs in movie history, one of the most influential and often copied since METROPOLIS (1927) (think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s retreaded futuristic movies), but never equaled, created by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, music by Vangelis, special effects by a team led by Douglas Trumbull, futuristic visual effects by Syd Mead, and the superb production design by Lawrence G. Paull and Peter J. Hampton.

First, for anyone who’s ever lived in Los Angeles, there is the rain.  A city built out of a desert, this sci-fi futuristic vision of Los Angeles in 2019 is a decaying neon-lit city under a constant deluge of rain, where puddles line the darkened streets at night offering their own illumination.  There is no sunlight in this film, only a bleak and downbeat, melancholic film noir mood filled with people living inside cavernous mausoleums, images of flying cars and giant sized Times Square-style neon lit advertisements on the sides of skyscrapers that have an artificial life of their own, as they thrive by night seducing potential customers with product-oriented nocturnal dreams.  Mostly set in the Chinatown district, this bears a resemblance to the international flavor of Hong Kong with its bustling street activity, outdoor noodle stands, and its myriad of night life action where anything goes, a city run by commerce 24 hours a day.  Into this bizarre, almost Fellini-like outrageous display of wild characters on the street, Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a former policeman, an understated, ultra subdued kind of guy who couldn’t be more individualistically conservative, live free or die, a hard-assed loner who loves to drink and has a rebellious streak against authority, but a man who takes his profession very seriously.  A replicant hunter, a futuristic bounty hunter known as a blade runner, he is highly skilled in recognizing state of the art, artificial life forms known as replicants, androids who are stronger and more durable while just as intelligent as their makers, creatures who have been used to perform dangerous missions in outer space, who have violently revolted at being treated like slaves and returned to earth, where they are outlawed due to their potential danger to society.  

His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to track down and destroy four replicants who are at large, where his orders are to retire them permanently.  But before he gets started, we are introduced to the mastermind behind the intricate sophistication of the replicants, Eldon Tyrell, the tiny bespectacled Joe Turkel, who lives inside an architectural shrine where we also meet his gorgeous assistant, the alluring and seductively demure Rachael (Sean Young), who always looks like she just stepped out of a fashion magazine dressed in furs with her hair perfectly in place, wearing bright red lipstick that accentuates 1940’s noir sensuality, a replicant who still thinks she’s a human.  The rest of the film is a police action thriller as Deckard tracks down his subjects with a giant gun while also cuddling up next to Rachael after telling her the truth about herself, which is a journey questioning the meaning and value of life itself, as these perfected machines have a built-in expiration date of only four years, which applies to Rachael as well.  Knowing they are condemned to die in such short order, these otherwise perfect creatures develop a desperate streak, as they want to live.  In the process of tracking them down and wiping them out, Deckard learns to appreciate his own mortality through their mysterious eyes. 

Especially memorable are the nauseatingly dull, opening interview session with Kowalski (Brion James) just before he goes beserk, the scenes of Joanna Cassidy as Zhora the snake woman running for her life through the crowded Chinatown streets, eventually crashing through a succession of glass mirrors with multiple neon reflections, the bizarre make up on Darryl Hannah as the cart-wheeling Pris who blends perfectly into the astonishingly peculiar living toy museum, which is the home of artificial designer J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), whose toys resemble the marvelously strange playworld of Lawrence Olivier in SLEUTH (1972), the phantom creatures behind the doors of the space station in Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS (1972), or Michel Simon’s museum of useless yet exotic marvels in Vigo’s L’ATALANTE (1934).  Especially fascinating are the strange poetic ramblings of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the leader of the replicants as he was trained for combat, whose will to live is climaxing simultaneously with his descent into death, as he howls like a wolf while sparring in a deliriously mad life and death battle with Deckard on the crumbling rooftops of LA, which may as well be the final showdown of the last inhabitants on earth. 

One can only marvel at the inventiveness of each shot, so carefully and beautifully constructed, from the opening panoramic image of a futuristic Los Angeles at night, a dark and mysterious place with flames of fire that billow out into the blackness, like last gasps of breath before they are extinguished, to the architectural majesty of this artificially created world that is teeming with life and bustling with energy on the surface, while underneath there are constant signs of loneliness, emptiness, and a world in decay threatened by the apocalyptic void of impending death.  In this film, artificially implanted memories serve the same purpose as real memories, as people are influenced and haunted by them, where it remains unclear whether Deckard himself is a replicant, where the line between the living and the virtual world is impossible to see except in the flashy commercialism of the streets, where the sheer artificiality is the only living reality.  What life there is left in this world appears brutal and short lived, reduced to a Darwinian dog-eat-dog existence, where perhaps only in dreams is there any relief, where we see a recurring image of a beloved unicorn running free in a forest, perhaps a Deckard childhood yearning of freedom, and of life itself before it too becomes extinguished, one of the last vestiges of love anywhere in the world, real or imagined, where all that’s left is only a memory, soon to be forgotten. 


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  2. Any thoughts on the director's cut -- I think it was released in the last year or so --
    I heard it has different ending(s)?

  3. The 1992 Directors cut initiated the way to go with this film, as it basically defined the major changes inherent in The Final Cut (2007). One of the reasons Blade Runner has had such a cult following is the existence of more than one version of the film, where the Director’s Cut has added scenes, including a unicorn daydream sequence and leaves out Ford’s voiceover along with the feel-good ending imposed by the studio, which also continue in the Final Cut, which is largely technological updates, subtle digital fixes, without any other major differences. What's essential now is seeing the film in the best screen version possible, be it onscreen in a theater or in Blu-Ray, as the film is a gorgeous revelation from the original VHS versions.