Movie Review: Blade Runner

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

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Blade Runner (1982/ The Ladd Company/ Dir. Ridley Scott)

There isn’t much to say about the movie Blade Runner really. Well, there isn’t much new to say at any rate. It’s not a movie that has been ignored as a discussion point over the years, so why review it? Well, I’m going to go from the angle I went with for the recent review of Jurassic Park and compare it to the source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I’ll be honest now and say that I enjoy both the movie and the book, so I won’t attack one using the other as a bludgeon. I will say I enjoy them both in different ways, and I hope to explore that in this review. So let’s have a look at the two and hopefully get you to either read one or watch the other. As another note, there are several versions of this movie running around. Instead of picking this version or that version, I decided to review the two major versions. As well as the book, I’ve decided to review The International Cut and The Final Cut for this review. I could have done some of the others, but the review is already late as it is so let’s just go with that.

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Let’s start with the heresy first. Would you believe I like the narration from the old theatrical versions? Most of it anyway, there are a couple of spots that I don’t think can be defended, but I think that the voice over adds a bit to the story that we miss otherwise. The problem is that there isn’t enough narration for the kind of movie that we’ve got. If you’re going to have a narration, particularly one that’s meant to explain some of the more out-there aspects of your movie, then it should have a stronger presence. I can point out several places in the movie were just a few sentences would have moved the story along a little or at least explain certain things. The problem is, the narration feels like what it is, a last minute half-assed studio mandated addition. However, there are bits of it that I like, although I think the commentary after Roy Batty dies is a bit redundant like the Grand Canyon is a bit of a hole in the ground. The movie still works without the narration, but I like it anyway.

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So, with that in mind, how does the movie compare to the book? Hardly at all really. To be honest, the two are very different in terms of story. As often happens when a book is adapted, huge parts of the book are absent from the movie. The religious cult of Mercerism, and the greater importance of empathy and animal ownership that goes with it are absent from the movie entirely. While WWT isn’t actually stated to have been an event, there clearly has been some massive environmental damage done to this world. For one, it seems to rain all the time and for another the sun never shines. When I was a kid, I just thought the whole thing took place at night, like so many Film Noir that played on cable sometimes. This idea is intensified since the movie is basically making a Sci-Fi version of a Film Noir. It wasn’t until later that I clicked the idea that this was a world where the sun simply did not shine.

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If one wanted to present a clear and concise explanation for how the book and the movie are different, it would be fairly simple to say the book has a richer story but the movie has more atmosphere. I’ll point out that the movie lacks narrative strength. The book sort of makes up for all the narrative that the movie lacks by having twice as much going on than most books its length, however that’s not really a condemnation of the film. The film has more going on in any one scene than most movies can pack into their whole runtime. It would be difficult to put all of the ideas from Dick’s novel into a film without loosing a great deal of the feeling that the current film evokes. If you had a slavishly accurate version of the book, I think it might end up feeling a bit dead. We’ve had a lot of slavish adaptations in the last few years and most of them have felt pretty light weight to me. I think I’m willing to loose some of the adherence to the book if it means having a good set of performances. So while it might be lacking in some areas, the movie is a great visual and emotional experience and that shouldn’t be discounted just because the movie doesn’t tell as coherent a story as you might like.

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In the book, Deckard is a current bounty hunter, who is thinking of quitting. In the movie, Deckard is a former Blade Runner who quit after getting tired of killing. It’s not clear how Movie Deckard is paid, but in the book he’s got a small salary that’s supplemented with the bounties he gets from killing escaped Androids. I should also mention that Deckard’s wife from the book is also absent in the movie. These things greatly change the dynamic of each story. Instead of a man struggling with the day to day problems that everyone faces along with an increasingly unpleasant job, it’s a story where a guy hunts down some people in a world that he feels entirely cut off from. Actually, in many ways, it feels like the story of a robot and the man sent to hunt him. The story of Roy Batty is almost as important as Deckard, even though he gets less screen time. Of course, the book heavily involves a mostly unconnected character in the form of J.R. Isidore and eventually meets up with the androids before Deckard wipes them out… spoilers… for a forty-three year old book.

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Let’s talk about another comparison from the book to the movie. In the movie, the replicants are given a four year life span to prevent them from developing emotions. In the book, the four year lifespan is merely an unsolved problem with making biomechanical androids. The movie claims that the replicants have no emotions, but that’s clearly not true as they desire freedom and freedom is an emotion. They talk about constantly living in fear, not developing fear, but living in it. That’s always a problem with claiming a lack of emotion, it crops up in ways you never expect. The androids simply lack empathy in the book, having no understanding of other beings beyond their solipsism. This makes them far more villainous and less sympathetic to anyone reading. The movie gives us far more sympathetic replicants, who are more powerful than their novelic counterparts. As I understand it, Ridley Scott identified far more with the idea of the replicants and wanted to idealize them. This makes for an interesting dynamic that we wouldn’t have gotten in a more slavish adaptation.

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So let’s talk about a few things specific to the movie. I’m always amused now when I watch this and see Pan Am, Ma Bell and Atari so heavily product placed. Some day I want to produce a list of movies with product placement when the company went bankrupt before the time the movie is set in. The movie is a prime example of Neo-Noir, a term I find annoying but we’ll let that pass for the moment because it sort of works here. I am impressed by how the over all feel of the film remains consistent however I’m even more impressed by the little nod to Bogart’s undercover work in The Big Sleep. It’s not obvious, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about then you won’t even know what I’m referring to here. The movie is a Sci-Fi Film Noir though, make no doubt about that. It adheres to whatever definition of Film Noir you want to use and is a worthy successor to the films of the 40s and 50s rather than just a stylized copy. On another note I often wonder how much of the Asian style of the movie has to do with Executive Sir Run Run Shaw. Yes, Run Run Shaw of Shaw Brothers fame. You rarely think of something like Blade Runner when you consider the Shaw’s movies. There is a lot of Asian advertising, and writing all over this movie. I’ve never been able to decide if they thought it was cool, or exotic, or prophetic, or if Run Run Shaw thought it would be a good idea or all of the above or what.

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Now, let us deal with the final controversy. Is Deckard a replicant? Ridley Scott says he is and always was. I say bullshit. I think all the little hints and clues are just so much retconning. If looked at in a certain way, they might lead to that, but they might lead somewhere else. There are several unicorns in the movie, not just in Deckard’s dream and let us remember that the next movie Scott did was Legend, which has unicorns in it as you might remember. Gaff leaving the origami unicorn, particularly when put with the remembered comment about how Rachel won’t live makes the unicorn a symbol for her. She’s the unicorn, in that she doesn’t really exist. We already had an origami figure for Deckard, the chicken he makes in Holden’s office. Also, consider that Ford has said that he never believed his character to be a replicant, and that the reason for his performance was because he didn’t get on with Ridley Scott. So, yeah, I don’t buy it. I think it was hoped to be a more interesting, but it doesn’t work for me and never has. Still, you can decide for yourself if you get the blu-ray and watch it.

Official Score:
81 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.
9

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