Thursday, October 18, 2007

Number Five: Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) [Y]

I love Harrison Ford movies that don't make me cringe. He's such a likable guy that I sometimes find myself laughing along to movies like Six Days Seven Nights and have to go listen to Unknown Pleasures to balance things out. Blade Runner is the Harrison Ford movie I can watch on a cold, dark, lonely night and still feel depressed about afterwards.

Blade Runner also gets the distinction of having the most attractive cyborgs in cinematic history--'acrobatic sexbot' was the role Daryl Hannah was born to play, although I'm more of a Sean Young kind of guy. Rutger Hauer is the big brother cyborg we never had. The cyborgs are such great villains. My sympathy for them increases as the movie goes on, and by the time Roy is breaking Rick's fingers its Roy I feel sorry for. It's funny that my entire analysis so far has been about likable characters in Blade Runner of all movies. I find it easier to identify with odd, tragic characters. It's okay if there's a happy ending but they better go through a lot of crap to get there.

These attractive cyborgs have a problem. They were built with a failsafe mechanism that will kill them after a predetermined number of years. They come to Earth searching for their designer in hopes that this failsafe can be turned off in some way. Deckard, in the process of searching for the group of replicants ends up falling in love with a different one. There is some debate over whether Deckard himself is a replicant. I'd say he probably is based upon the movie, but it doesn't really matter. The point is that you don't want to know your own fate. The replicants choose suicide over their artificial shutoff date. This may seem paradoxical on the surface but it's understandable. At least they have some control over things that way. Why doesn't Deckard pursue evidence of his own humanity if he isn't a cyborg? Again, it doesn't matter. What matters is that he can maintain the illusion of his own immortality-a necessary illusion for the functioning of society (and perhaps a hint at why the society of Blade Runner is failing). Deckard is even okay with his loved one being damned by an inferior creature's whim-as long as it isn't him. He's saving her so he doesn't have to save himself.

There are few movies that can rely completely on atmosphere with little or no discernible plot and still reach the top 5 of a Yoggoth top 10 list. Blade Runner is one of those movies. You might think that Blade Runner suffers from this defect because it has to cram an entire book onto film. You'd be wrong. I've read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Phillip K. Dick novel the movie was based on, and if anything it has less plot than Blade Runner. I would actually recommend watching the movie first to help you figure out what the book is even about. Phillip K. Dick is a 60's writer who immediately skipped ahead to the 80's in terms of sentiment and this movie reflects that. Aside from the replicants themselves there is very little futuristic technology in the movie. There are the requisite flying cars but other than that Los Angeles looks pretty much like 1982 Los Angeles, or at least like 1982 Seattle during a solar eclipse, and that's close enough. Garish neon advertisements and new genetic technologies, along with growing ecological concerns, were just as much a part of the 80's as greed and hairstyles. The corporate demagogue gets his comeuppance in Blade Runner but that's only mentioned as an aside. The actual conclusion to the film is less bombastic and more believable than most 80's endings. Deckard is just one man running from the system because he's found love. This ending would be echoed in a later 80s movie...but that's a post for another day.


herr zrbo said...

You've already mentioned that it doesn't really matter, but I thought I heard some 'confirmation' a while back that Deckard is indeed a replicant.

I saw this movie for the first time recently. I think it was a bit let down for me, maybe because I was expecting more of a plot. Your review makes me think I was looking/expecting the wrong thing from/in the movie. I need to give this film a second viewing.

yoggoth said...

My recommendation is to watch Blade Runner once, then go read about what the plot is supposed to be. Then watch it again supplying the exposition in your head.

For even more fun, read the book and try to figure out what's going on there. The two works almost make it seem like there's a 3rd source document that explains everything and that Scott and Dick were working off a copy with half the pages missing.

ninquelote said...

Reading your review of 'Blade Runner' helps me understand why you liked 'AI' so much. It also makes me want to watch both movies again with a different frame of mind.

I seem to be doing that a lot lately. When big, life changing events happen in your life, you start to look at things a little differently; less judgment and more acceptance.

Schrödinger's Penguin said...

I first watched Blade Runner during the longest Harrison Ford marathon ever (It was right after Patriot Games). I always thought Ford was a bit of an idiot, but the movie was "alright". I wasn't much a fan of the pacing, but I think I'll have to look more into the atmosphere. I guess I'm just reading too much into the plot.

yoggoth said...

You aren't 'reading too much into the plot'. You can read as much into it as you want to. The problem is that Scott doesn't give you all the little connecting scenes that most movies have. It may be more 'realistic' because of this, but it's also harder to follow. Once you've watched it once or twice you don't really miss those connecting scenes as much because you already think you know what's going on. This is probably a very bad approach for most types of film. Sci-fi films, however, often use this to their advantage. If they tried to explain everything it would just seem unrealistic and silly in 10 years. However, if you leave it up to your audience to supply the details your story will never get old. See 2001 or 12 Monkeys for similar techniques.

Ninquelote- I haven't thought of AI in a while, but ya it does fit in to the same category.
Life changing events do make you see things differently. Hell, even just aging makes you look at things a bit differently. Once you actually try to write a story or make a movie I think you have a bit more respect for the flawed projects that still have very good elements. Because you'd love it if you could even point to one of those elements in your own work!