Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why Haven't I Seen That?: BLADE RUNNER

Welcome to a new segment on this site called "Why Haven't I Seen That?", a series where we talk about a must-see or iconic movie that we have never seen...until now. And in this inaugural entry of this series, I was to start with probably one of the biggest cinematic holes in my knowledge that I only just filled a few days ago, the sci-fi classic, and Ridley Scott's magnum opus, Blade Runner.

 As someone who is an avid fan of sci-fi, as someone who loves noir in all its forms, as someone who loves the films of Ridley Scott, and really, as someone who loves cinema in general, it's really kind of embarrassing that I hadn't seen Blade Runner yet. And embarrassingly, I'd had the Ultimate Collection Blu-ray for at least a month before finally watching it, thanks to school taking up most of my free time. When I finally did see it, I had a profound experience with it, regardless of the fact that I had chosen to start with what most people see as the inferior theatrical version. It didn't immediately happen, but it was more in reading about it, listening to its music, pulling up the clip of Roy Battey's final speech on YouTube, that it really started clicking with me just how unbelievably complex, profound, and just straight up how good of a movie it was.

A short plot synopsis for those who are unfamiliar with the movie (though I would assume that's a relatively small number of you): In the near future, of 2019 (movie was made in 1982), humanity has created replicants, androids who look, sound, and act identical to humans. After acts of violence from the replicants in response to their enslavement and use on other worlds, replicants are banned on Earth, and a special police force, called Blade Runners, are charged with eliminating any replicants on Earth. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a retired Blade Runner brought back into service to hunt down four escaped and especially dangerous replicants, led by one named Roy Battey, played by Rutger Hauer, the most dangerous of them all. The story is neo-noir at its finest. To that end, the film also features a love interest, a replicant who is unaware that she is a replicant, named Rachel, played by Sean Young. It's a relatively simple set-up despite the complex backstory, and it's the perfect stage for a story that's about more than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, it touches on more topics than I can really recap here. It's impossible to make a story about androids without the question of "man vs. machine" coming up, but Blade Runner goes deeper into that. The setting, Los Angeles in 2019, is a starkly inhuman setting. Advertisements on blimps talk about starting over in extraterrestrial off-world colonies, and it's no surprise why people would be fleeing to new homes among the stars. 2019 L.A. is dirty, it's dark, it's rainy, and it gives off a cold, black air. Giant neon signs and Jumbotron-style screens betray the cold, mechanical nature of this city. The man vs. machine conflict is suddenly much blurrier seeing how cold and inhuman people are, as well as the city they live in. Yet, the city has a strange beauty to it, as do the replicants. Ironically, the replicants seem to act more humanely to each other than the people do. And that's all without even getting into the question of Deckard's own humanity. I plan on doing later articles on the different cuts of Blade Runner, which is where this point about Deckard comes up, and since I watched the Theatrical Version, I'll save that discussion for a later date, but to be brief, the film even questions if its protagonist is really even human, both figuratively and literally.

Speaking of Deckard, the cast is mostly phenomenal. Ford is often criticized as being somewhat wooden in the movie, but it's not something I really agree with, or more accurately, I don't think "wooden" is really the right term. Deckard is a very world-weary character, and that's basically what I would use to describe him. Ford feels like a character who has seen a lot in his life, and carries himself with that attitude. Think Humphry Bogart if he was drained, if he was exhausted, and if he'd been beaten down one time too many. Sean Young turns in a similar performance, though I would in some regard call her performance wooden. In some regards, it's excusable since she's supposed to be a replicant. Her often expressionless face can be used to say how she looks so obviously like a robot, and yet she doesn't know what she really is. Appropriately enough, as the film goes by, she begins to take more human features. She wears less make-up, she lets her hair down, and starts emoting far more once she finds out who she is. By the end of the movie, you can see warmth in her face. Many of the other actors fit their roles well, in particular, the replicants and the head of the Tyrell Corporation, the company who created replicants. Many of the replicants look so human, so inviting, whereas the head of the Tyrell Corp. often looks more robotic than his creations.

The star of the show, though, is Rutger Hauer, especially as the film enters the third act. Hauer can seemingly dance that fine line between madness and crippling vulnerability that epitomizes Battey. It's hard to believe that the man who delivers that chilling line about what it's like to live in fear, saying "that's what it is to be a slave", is the same man who will deliver the heartbreaking monologue that ends the film. In easily the best scene of the film, Battey boils the tragedy of the replicant and of humanity into a single phrase. "All those moments will be lost in time. Like tears in rain." It's the best moment of the film, and it's probably one of my favorite endings to any movie I've seen in a long time. It sticks with me, thanks especially to the brilliant score provided by composer, Vangelis. Both in that scene, and in the film in general, the score strikes a profound balance between the humanity and the cold machine, and just how intertwined they are.

Blade Runner is easily a masterpiece. It's a movie that has ideas far bigger than itself, ideas of zoology, ideas of identity, ideas of humanity, and intertwines them all together with a style that films today are still trying to imitate. The aesthetic is perhaps the most striking part of the movie, but it's the humanity and the ideas under that steel skin that makes the movie so compelling. It's the movie that proved that sci-fi could ask deep and involved questions, it's the movie that epitomized cyberpunk for generations, and it's the movie that introduced the film world to the works of Phillip K. Dick, who wrote the novel that Blade Runner was adapted from. It's a film I plan on watching several more times, both for my own pleasure and to write more about it. It's a movie that I can only really scratch the surface of, and that's why I love it, and that's why I'm a bit ashamed I hadn't seen it up until now. If you haven't seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and give it a watch. It is unquestionably one of the masterpieces of cinema, and a movie you should not miss.

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