Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flick of The Day: Blade Runner

In my review last week of The Adjustment Bureau, I noted the contribution that the work of Philip K. Dick has made to science fiction and to Hollywood in general. Perhaps the best film to come from his work, and also perhaps one of the best science fiction films of all time is today's flick of the day, Blade Runner, from director Ridley Scott. A critical and commercial failure on is release in 1982, it has since gone on to be highly influential and reappraised as the classic it is.
Opening with a beautiful and disturbing vision of the future, Los Angeles 2019. A dystopia in which genetically engineered robots known as replicants have become common place but are now banned from earth, forced to work on the off world colonies. We are soon introduced to Deckard, a brilliantly underplayed Harrison Ford, is a retired cop who used to work as a Blade Runner, licensed to catch and kill any replicants caught on earth. Scott's vision of Los Angeles is a dark cramped Asian city cast in almost permanent darkness with corporate advertising and its neon glow framing each shot with flying cars and at the top of this society is the Tyrell Corporation who design and build the replicants. They are designed to have short lifespans as a control however a rogue group led by Roy Batty, a brilliant Rutger Hauer have made their way to earth in search of an extension. Deckard is forced to come back on the job in search of Roy and his gang by his shady boss, the always creepy M. Emmet Walsh. Part film noir, part sci fi the film follows Deckard and his hunt for the replicants which leads to a bloody finale where he must confront the fearsome Roy.
Set to a perfectly futuristic score by Vangelis, this is a dark and yet beautiful vision of the future. A society with a junk filled culture in which advertising dominated the skyline. There are vast temple like skyscrapers which reach toward the skyline while the ground level is made up of crumbling slums of 20th Century buildings. Roy and Deckard have their final confrontation in an ornate gothic mansion in the depths of the city while neon signs for Coca Cola and TDK look down on them. This combined with a great cast make for an entertaining if dark film. Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer are justly lauded for their performances and Hauer's ad libbed soliloquy is a great final line, evoking images of the far reaches of the universe.

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die. "

The film is both awfully prescient and tellingly relevant in terms of the questions it asks about artificial intelligence. Advertising has become ever present in the intervening years and there is a deleted scene featuring technology like E-Readers. In terms of the replicants, it is not hard to feel sorry for them and their situation even the murderous Roy. They are forced to live a life that lasts but 4 years and yet have all of the emotions and needs of a real human. A pertinent question today as we move more and more toward the use of artificial intelligence.
While it performed poorly on its release, it has since come to be seen as a classic. It marries complex themes with and enjoyable detective storyline and this was perhaps too far ahead of its time for the audiences of 1982. There have been numerous versions of the film since its release as Ridley Scott has played around with it and had  it played around with by studios. Perhaps the definitive version is 2007's The Final Cut and this is the version I have reviewed as it fully realises Scott's vision of the film.

Deckard: You're reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl. 
Rachael: Is this testing whether I'm a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?

All in all, this is a really great film which anyone with even a passing interest in the genre has to see. The influence of its design and technical achievement cannot be overstated. Rutger Hauer gives the performance of a lifetime and there is a fine supporting cast including Daryl Hannah.

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