Tuesday, May 03, 2016

OVP: Blade Runner (1982)

Film: Blade Runner (1982)
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Darryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos
Director: Ridley Scott
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Art Direction and Visual Effects)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Approaching a classic film is always a challenge.  Approaching a classic film that also doubles as a cult film, a picture so frequently referenced that it approaches you knowing nearly the entire film by the time you actually see it is something else entirely.  I actually dreaded in some ways finally encountering Blade Runner, a science fiction epic (arguably my favorite genre outside of detective noir, which this film also borrows from heavily), as I knew that I was either going to love it or find it lacking in so many ways, hoping that the film would give me its best but preparing for the worst.  My eventual opinion somehow landed in-between, a combination of both duly impressed but also wanting more after so much promise.

(Spoilers Ahead) For many of you the spoiler alert isn't necessary, but for the rest of you let me at least indulge for a second.  The film follows Deckard (Ford) in 2019 (the future is always disappointing when you compare it to what actually ends up happening isn't it...though if Trump gets elected maybe the apocalypse is in fact upon us).  Deckard is charged with "retiring" (killing) four different replicants (essentially advanced artificial intelligence creations) who have escaped and are now on Earth illegally, essentially hoping to have their lives extended.  Along the way, he falls in love with a replicant named Rachael (Young), who helps him retire one of the replicants that is trying to kill him.  Slowly-but-steadily the four replicants are killed by Deckard, who knows they only have a night or so to live without having some sort of technology that will extend their lives.  He ends with Roy Batty (Hauer), the leader of the robots, in a strange act actually save him, just to watch him die as his life expires.

The film combines a lot of elements of noir, and it's close enough to something that Stanley Kubrick would dream up that the film never lacks in terms of direction or suspense.  While it's clear that Hauer's Roy Batty will be the final remaining character, each of the different robots has their own personas and especially with Pris (Hannah) she's such a strong fighter that you half expect her to lay out Harrison Ford or at least run away from the contest.  The movie is spectacularly good at world-building-there's little confusion over the rules of this filmic world and everything feels authentic.  It's kind of staggering the film never had a sequel, and quite frankly a movie like this couldn't be made today without one on the docket (actually, a movie this original couldn't be made today, period, unless Christopher Nolan had stumbled across the Philip K. Dick novel and developed a penchant for it), but it gains so much by never answering some of the critical questions at the end of the picture.  The film exists unto itself, and with such distinctive characters and sets, it's easy to see why this became a cult movie classic.

My problem with the film is that the story, while complicated, never really gives us enough character to go with it.  Yes, the actors and sets are distinctive, but we never really get to know the robots enough to know what their motives are, and why they exist the way they do.  This wouldn't be a problem for the audience, except that Deckard is clearly assumed to be a robot himself, one who doesn't know it yet but is likely going to have a shut-down period in the near future.  The film is littered with hints of this, particularly the newest version of Ridley Scott's picture (this is a film with MANY different iterations).  By not exploring this a little bit more fully, we don't get to see the ways that Ford's Deckard ticks in comparison to those androids he's hunting down.  I'm fine with ambiguity in the ending (and man did Inception copy from that finale), but if you're going to leave a question that open-ended, you need to give us more from the characters (save perhaps Roy Batty) than just a truly awesome Halloween costume idea.

Those are my thoughts on this particular picture, which received two well-earned Oscar nominations (seriously-these were the exact categories this film deserved to be nominated in), but as this is a widely-celebrated cult classic I'd love to get inside of your head.  I plan on eventually seeing the film again, and while I engaged mostly at a surface-level, what a surface level to engage in-overall it's definitely a film that I'd recommend, even if I don't think I'll ever love it the way that other people did.

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