Kevin: “Blade Runner” is a science fiction classic, one of the most influential movies of the last 40 years, and a film whose reputation has only grown over time. It’s also a movie that, while I respect and admire it immensely, also usually puts me to sleep faster than a Benadryl-NyQuil cocktail followed by a whisky chaser. But with the new Harrison Ford-Ryan Gosling sequel opening this weekend and perhaps answering questions that fans of the original have debated for years, I figured I’d give “Blade Runner” another watch and see if it either gave me a new appreciation for Ridley Scott’s film or at least another good night’s sleep:
I decided to go with the most recent “Final Cut” from 2007 since that is Scott’s preferred version, and thus probably the one the new “Blade Runner 2049” takes its cues from. But as is usually the case, no matter what version I have put on over the years – including the theatrical cut on crappy “pan-and-scan” VHS or later the first “Director’s Cut” on the nascent DVD format – the effect was still the same: I immediately got sucked in by the film’s amazingly dreamlike visuals and mood, which soon put me into dreamland once again since the story did nothing to grab my attention (ironically I think I fell asleep a little after the 40-minute mark, right at the same time Ford’s cop character Deckard is dozing off in his apartment).
But after a good night’s sleep I picked up where I left off, and after looking at the film with a much more critical eye than before, I think my biggest issue is that “Blade Runner” tells the least interesting version of its story. We are told in an opening text that in the future, humanlike androids known as Replicants have been created to serve as slave labor to colonize other planets. Four such Replicants escape in a bloody uprising and return to Earth to find their creator – eccentric inventor Dr. Tyrell – in order to get an extension on their four-year lifespan. But to do so they have to avoid being hunted down by Deckard, a legendary “Blade Runner” who’s an expert in taking out Replicants.
Sounds both exciting and richly layered, right? Four virtual slaves who discover their humanity and rise up against their oppressors in the name of survival, being hunted by a Javert-like cop with no pity for their circumstances. By all rights the Replicants should be the heroes – or at least the main protagonists – of “Blade Runner,” especially since Rutger Hauer’s leader Roy is a much more interesting character than Deckard. Maybe the initial investigation portion of the film would be more interesting if we actually got a proper introduction to the Replicants or saw their escape, but instead the first act fails to build any momentum since it’s just scene after scene of people talking about these compelling characters who we have yet to really see.
The fact that the film spends almost all of its time with Ford (Hauer has one scene in the first hour) would be fine if Deckard was either driven by hatred of Replicants or was a charismatic antagonist a la Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive.” Instead Deckard just robotically (spoiler alert?) goes about his job even though he doesn’t really like it, something most of us can relate to but not exactly the most compelling character trait for your protagonist. Scott’s original version of “Blade Runner” contained a tacked-on voiceover that was infamous for how bored Harrison Ford sounded while recording it, although from what I can tell that’s pretty consistent with his morose and monotone performance in the film.
(Also the talent pool for blade runners must be pretty thin since Deckard is supposedly the best, yet the Replicants consistently get the drop on him throughout the movie, and at various points each of the four could easily kill him yet he either gets saved by other people or the Replicant takes pity on him.)
Also, for a movie that has engendered much debate and analysis since it came out, the actually storyline of “Blade Runner” is pretty simple. Deckard is supposed to track down the Replicants, although his investigation has zero sense of urgency since he seems to spend more time drinking and hanging out with Sean Young in his apartment. Meanwhile the Replicants visit a guy who works for Tyrell, then later they visit another guy who works for Tyrell, then after that they kill Tyrell. That’s pretty much their entire arc in the film (also considering the cops knew the Replicants were probably heading to the Tyrell Corp. from the very beginning, why didn’t they just wait for them there?).
I will say it is interesting looking at “Blade Runner” now and seeing some obvious parallels with Scott’s “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant,” as all three films concern androids – as well as “Engineers” – grappling with what it means to be human and seeking out their “makers.” Ironically, while such themes are pounded into the viewer with a sledgehammer in Scott’s later two movies, they pretty much take a backseat to the uninvolving investigation aspect in “Blade Runner.” But unfortunately as he did with his two “Alien” follow-ups, Scott has made sure to destroy whatever sense of mystery or ambiguity his earlier film had by definitively answering the biggest issue of contention among the movie’s fans: is Deckard himself a Replicant?
And according to Ridley Scott, the answer is absolutely yes. While the original theatrical cut was so ambiguous that I didn’t even realize there was any doubt he was human (for one thing, the main reason for having a Replicant chase after his fellow Replicants would be because he is just as strong as they are, yet Deckard is constantly getting his ass handed to him by even Darryl Hannah for god’s sake). But if you don’t catch allusions to unicorns and shit in the Final Cut, Scott also gives Deckard the same glow in his eyes that also appears in the eyes of each of the known Replicants at various points in the film. Of course, just in case you didn’t get the hint, Scott has just flatly said in interviews that Deckard is a Replicant.
(Kind of like how Darren Arronofsky couldn’t even wait a few weeks after “mother!” was released before basically saying in every interview, “I want to make sure before they see it that everyone is aware that this movie is a very subtle and incredibly brilliant retelling of the Bible, with Javier Bardem as God and Jennifer Lawrence as Mother Nature and …” I love it when stupid filmmakers assume we are all as stupid as they are).
Anyway, so where does “Blade Runner” leave us going into “Blade Runner 2049”? Honestly I have no idea, I’ve been avoiding the reviews, and even then the filmmakers have been very insistent on keeping the plot a secret. The fact that old man Ford has returned would kind of go against the idea that Deckard is a Replicant due to their four-year lifespan. Although at one point in “Blade Runner,” Tyrell tells Roy that there are a few experimental procedures that could increase the life expectancy of a Replicant, but which would also create a deadly virus in the process. I have no idea if that will factor into the sequel, but it may not be a coincidence considering how much of a dystopian wasteland the world of “Blade Runner 2049” looks like in the commercials compared to the original.
Either way, while again “Blade Runner” is a film I admire more than I enjoy (I think Ford summed up my feelings in an interview once when he called it a “spectacular” film that “didn’t move me”), Scott at least deserves credit for creating a world that people want to revisit nearly 40 years later, even if it is with a different director at the helm. Plus while our resident “Blade Runner” superfan Mike (who actually owns five different DVDs of the film) has been too busy on his honeymoon to weigh in yet, I’m sure after seeing the sequel he’ll have some things to say in defense of the original as well.
Although if nothing else I’d like to see if this interestingly named company, briefly seen in the background of “Blade Runner,” is still in business in 2049:
Post Script: Almost forgot one more thing I wanted to add about “Blade Runner.” I know it is lazy and obvious to make jokes about outdated technology in “futuristic” movies (ha ha, people in 1958 didn’t anticipate Facebook!), but one thing that always bugs me in sci-fi movies is the fact that while apparently flying cars and teleportation were seen as viable advancements by like 2007, filmmakers apparently never questioned that people in the future would still be reading newspapers 100 years from now. Deckard is introduced reading the kind of old-school paper you could still use to cover your head in the rain:
Which I guess at least tracks with the fact that “Blade Runner” takes place four years after “Back to the Future Part II,” in which the dead-tree version of USA Today (Hill Valley Edition) is still the number one news source in America:
While by the time of “Minority Report,” newspapers were still apparently printed on paper but somehow could get visual TV-like breaking updates, because I guess they had computer chips in them or something:
So do daily papers in this future cost $300 an edition? After you’re done do you just throw this paper with all this technology in the trash can? Or do you keep it as your permanent news reading device? I just always found it weird that with all the thought and brainstorming over future advancements done in movies like this, the idea of reading news on a tablet never entered people’s minds.
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