Monday, April 16, 2012

Blade Runner Hits The 30 Year Mark

Even after 30 years, Blade Runner easily finds its place as one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, director Ridley Scott found the perfect follow up to his equally classic science fiction horror film, Alien.

The film, known for being extremely dark, literally and metaphorically, paints a corporate-driven dystopian society where technological advancements come with the consequence of urban blight and decay. Los Angeles is cast in a chronically dark, hazy and rainy shroud with towering structures that blot out the sun and give the streets an ominous subterranean atmosphere.

Blade Runner questions the morality of sentient human-like bio-engineered androids.

The primary plot thread revolves around the four replicants, bio-engineered beings that are virtually identical to humans but with superior strength, agility, and variable intelligence. Among the best made are the Nexus series developed by the Tyrell Corporation, which are used for off-world physical, menial, and leisure jobs.

The most advanced models, Nexus-6, were designed well enough that the replicants began to develop their own identities and emotional responses, including the human longing for independence. It was a desire for independence that eventually led to an off-world android mutiny, which prompted replicants to be banned on Earth, The Tyrell Corporation also included a fail-safe that limits life spans to four years.

While the film never recounts the mutiny in detail, it does follow the story of six replicants who escape from their off-world jobs and return to Earth with the hope that their fail-safe can be turned off, along with the detective Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), called a Blade Runner, who is assigned to find and "retire" them. Here is the oddly constructed 1982 theatrical trailer.

In the the Final Cut edition, six replicants escape but two are killed in an electrical field (which was never filmed). The ones who make it to Earth include combat model Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), pleasure model Pris Stratton (Darryl Hannah), pleasure model (retrained as an assassin) Zhora Salome a.k.a. Luba Luft (Joanna Cassidy), and combat model/nuclear fission loader Leon Kowalski, a.k.a. Max Polokov (Brion James).

The script originally includes for only one replicant to be killed in an electrical field. And had the film not been plagued by budget constraints, the sixth would have been played by Stacey Nelkin.

Much like Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott asks what it means to be human. 

As an important subplot that lends to the film's paranoid and claustrophobic feeling, a seventh replicant, Rachel (Sean Young), who Deckard meets at the Tyrell Corporation, is a prototype Nexus-6 model without the fail-safe (or perhaps a Nexus-7 model without a preset lifespan). Initially, she doesn't know that she is a replicant because Eldon Tyrell implanted her with real memories from his niece.

Even more striking is the possibility that Deckard, despite being played as a human by Ford, is also a replicant. Much like the engineers tell Deckard about Rachel's unshared memories (Deckard recounts these memories to Rachel as evidence she is a replicant), police officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos) leaves an origami unicorn that alludes to a connection between what Gaff knows and Deckard's dreams. A unicorn is also seen in the toy-filled apartment of brain designer J.F. Sebastian.

What makes this especially compelling is that Scott has said he wanted to imply that Deckard was a Nexus-7 replicant, without giving audiences a definitive answer. But Ford never played him as a replicant, which makes it all the more convincing that he does not know. In the book, even more emphasis is also placed on Deckard's somewhat limited capacity for empathy.

In the original story the film is loosely based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Deckard encounters bounty hunters and police officers who are replicants. The question becomes, especially for replicants who do not know they are replicants, whether or not being human matters.

The legacy of Scott as the definitive master of science fiction film. 

Although Scott has directed and produced scores of great films, it was his decision to follow his underrated film The Duellists (1977) with Alien after seeing Star Wars that made his career. Ironically, although he saw real potential in large-scale effects-driven films, he always avoided animation and other CGI effects — shooting everything real when it could be shot real.

The result of this on his best work has always ensured a timeless quality. Nothing ever feels dated in Blade Runner with the one exception of its stated 2019 date. Recast today, it could easily fit a possible future for 2039. His original science fiction film, Alien (and the only one he directed), felt the same way.

His newest original film (as an indirect prequel/sequel to Alien and the only other Alien film directed by him), Prometheus, promises to deliver an equally compelling glimpse into the future. It will be released in June 2012, which is the same month that the retrofitted Blade Runner film was released 30 years ago.

Blade Runner By Ridley Scott Scores 9.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Blade Runner was a remarkable film in that it brought together the emerging talents of Scott, Ford (who was looking for a dramatic follow up to Star Wars), and Dick. Although Dick would never see the final work, he did work with David Peoples to rewrite Hampton Fancher's script until everyone was satisfied with it. He also saw some of the preliminary special effects that would help immortalize it.

Blade Runner (The Final Cut) is available on iTunes as is the hastily-made and misrepresented Blade Runner (The Director's Cut). Beyond these, Barnes & Noble has the 4-Disc Special Edition, which includes the Final Cut along with complete archival editions of 1982 U.S. and international versions (and the director's cut). Amazon carries these editions, and a special release Blade Runner (Five-Disc Complete Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray].

There is some confusion about which Blade Runner version is the best, especially because the film itself had seven installments. In our opinion, the Final Cut, which is the only version Scott had complete control over in the final product, is the best. Like the director's cut (which also removes Deckard's narration and a more hopeful epilogue), a few people prefer the theatrical cut, because it lends to the detective noir quality. Neither Ford nor Scott wanted narration in the film.

The original source material, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, can be found on iBooks. The book is also available on Amazon and it can be found at Barnes & Noble. It's not Blade Runner, but a different and more complex story (that presents an inversion of Blade Runner) in that Dick adds programable moods that humans can buy, which further blurs the lines between human and android.
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