With the release of my most anticipated movie of the fall season (in fact it’s the last one i really care to see other than The Last Jedi for the year), i figured it would be best to get a review up of the classic Blade Runner before i went to see 2049.
To dispense with the pretense of objectivity in this review (which i rarely care for anyway) in prefacing this entry i have to say simply: that i love this film. In fact i regularly cite it as the movie that got me through the summer of 2005. I don’t know exactly how many times i have watched the film, but there was definitely a week in that summer where i watched it every day.
But much like i have with other movies that i easily consider my favorite, i haven’t watched it in some years. In fact it must be almost 10 since i have, as i don’t recall watching the Final Cut of the film more than once or twice since it came out in 2007. But even with the weight of so many viewings, i was surprised at how fresh the film felt; how evocative its imagery and themes were to me now as they were ten years or twelve years ago.
Lastly i have to give a word of direction for people who may not know where to start with the series, given the existence of 4 separate cuts of the film. Just get the final, it’s a spit shine and polish of the superior Director’s Cut.
The high-tech cops of the future have a suitably silly title to accompany their pursuit of equally high-tech fugitives in a decaying, dystopian, future. No explosions ensue.
It’s kind of cliché to compliment Ridley Scott films on their visual splendour, particularly with the ones that don’t offer as much substance as their visuals would imply (link legend and Prometheus), it simply can’t be helped with here in Blade Runner. While some of the visual effects look quite dated, the overall visual design and execution remains splendid.
Drawing their influences from a variety of cultural and historical periods (the renaissance, the Mayans, cyberpunk, etc) the cinematographer, costume designer, set designer, and director all converge to make a memorably dark and evocative film. With an interesting contrast of the new and old being prevalent in set and shot design; with high-tech flying cars being juxtaposed with rotting architecture, and the futuristic setting being set at odds with older cultural flourishes; as crowded bazaars and street vendors occupy the same space as towering sky scrapers and coca cola ads.
In fact the dichotomies in the setting are in support of the other dichotomies present in the film; specifically thematic, and character contrasts. Tyrell sets himself up as a god atop a huge pyramid, ultimately brought low by his own creation simply and brutally. Underlining the fact that mankind succeeding in creating life it its own image but is largely inferior in physicality. Dekard ostensibly plays the part of a hard-boiled cop, but his demure characterization and ineffectual actions show him to be quite the opposite.
These are just a couple of the many contrasts in Blade Runner, with the most affecting being the ending showdown between Batty and Dekard; where all pretense of its futuristic setting and high-tech atmosphere are cast aside for a primalistic hunt between predator and prey. Ending with the famous “I’ve seen things…” monologue, where Batty saves Dekard not for the latter’s benefit but for his own; succeeding in becoming “more human than human” and is again at odds with the Christ like nail in Batty’s hand.
There are also overarching ethical themes about AI’s running in the film, and their dealt with much more interestingly than most contemporary examinations have; where the Replicant’s (or AI’s) aren’t plotting to destroy us, but are simply looking for a way to live longer. A long life and the freedom to self determine their lives is something that they have no right to, and despite their likeness and superiority to their creators they are meant to be slaves. Indeed their humanity isn’t a given despite their appearance, and what makes us human is the question that lies at the very heart of the film.
Other highlights are understated (and great) performances by Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos. Rutger Hauer has been immortalised in his part of Roy Batty, and with good reason; as he plays his character with a mix of dangerous intellect and childish emotions that never seems false or forced.
Lastly it would be a crime not to mention and praise Vangelis’ musical additions to the film. Whose simplistic and dark compositions add indelibly to the atmosphere of the film.
As i stated earlier, some of the visual effects work in the film does not hold up. With some of the miniature work betraying the fact that the buildings are indeed only 4 feet high, and the matte work sometimes clipping around the edges (or just looking obviously phony).
Dekard also proves to be a difficult character to like, in the sense of how i usually like characters. As again he’s very understated and ineffectual in his role as a hard-boiled cop, and this unlikeability is purposefully built into the character; what with his lack of charisma, forceful affections to Rachel, and his only successes resulting in the deaths of women (having a man hit a woman is screen writing 101 in getting an audience to dislike someone) presenting themselves as obstacles to appreciating/sympathising with him.
What ultimately shines through though is Ford’s performance and the character’s application of the film’s themes. With the former being effective in conveying emotional weight, and the latter being deftly and subtly woven into the narrative. In fact i only bring it up as a negative (which it really isn’t) to offset anyone’s expectations of the character given the actor’s and film’s reputation in popular culture.
I continually ask myself why better examinations of the ramifications of AI’s were presented decades ago; whereas today the obsession only revolves around the dangers of these creations killing us, Blade Runner instead points the finger at us and asks if we ourselves aren’t the problem.
The powerful themes of identity and humanity are complimented by evocative production design, from visual to aural; all of which combine to make Blade Runner a quintessential Science Fiction film.
Yes, this is necessary viewing for anyone who might be a fan of the genre, and anyone who is a fan of thoughtful film in general.
It comes with my highest recommendation.
OUT OF FIVE