Thursday, June 7, 2012

THURSDAY THROWBACK: Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott's compelling science fiction opus questions what it is to be a human, and where the line is drawn between man and machine.  These questions at the heart of Blade Runner make me believe Scott's latest foray into sci-fi, Prometheus (also his only sci-fi picture since Blade Runner), shares just as much DNA with this film as it does with Alien.  Sure, there is a direct tie to the orignal Alien movie, but the philosophies may belong more to Blade Runner.  I digress.  Connections are not important when examining the scope and the marvel of Blade Runner.  Initially a maligned picture, tweaked by studio execs, retooled over and over by Scott over the years, the DVD release of Blade Runner carries with it five versions.  The original theatrical release was accompanied by a voiceover from Harrison Ford, who plays the hero Rick Deckard.  Ford has said since that he did the voiceover poorly on purpose, in hopes they would scrap it and go with Scott's initial vision.  Alas, they did not (executives are not creative for sure), and it was some years later before Scott was able to deliver his final director's cut, a breathtaking look at the future in America, a taut thriller, thoughtfully constructed and beautifully bleak.

In Los Angeles, 2019, Tyrell, a mega-corporation, has created Replicants, human clones whose lifespan has been fixed to merely a few years.  Imbedded with memories and a false history, these Replicants have been created to mine colonies outside earth.  Rick Deckard is an LA cop, a Blade Runner specializing in keeping these Replicants in check and terminating them when necessary.  The picture opens with an awe-inspiring look at a dreary and sprawling Los Angeles, drenched in rain and infused with an Asian cyber-reality.  Four Replicants have escaped an off-Earth colony and are said to be in the city.  Deckard is called in to hunt them down and destroy them before they upset the nature of this world and bring down the Tyrell Corporation.  Deckard visits the Tyrell corporation and meets the ominous Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel, the eerie bartender from The Shining), and Tyrell's "companion," Rachael, a Replicant who has no idea she is not human.

Meanwhile, the Replicants are working their way to the Tyrell Corporation.  Led by the Replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), these clones are after their creator to try and save their shortened lives.  Hauer is effective, focused, and stern as Batty, a wonderful antagonist.  There is also another Replicant, Pris (Daryl Hannah), who has arrived in Los Angeles and manipulated an architect of the Replicants.  The second act of Blade Runner is a cat-and-mouse pursuit between Deckard and the Replicants, but it is not without a deliberate pace where questions are raised and doubt creeps in regarding the existence of Deckard himself.  It is no surprise today to say that Deckard is a Replicant, but the mystery is effective in the film. 

There is action in Blade Runner, but this is far from a fast-paced sci-fi action picture.  This is a philosophical film where lines between human and Replicant are blurred until perhaps there is no more line in the end.  What makes us human?  Is it our memories?  The moral conundrum is what adds so much depth and intrigue to the picture.  The climax between Deckard and Roy Batty is a thrilling final showdown, but there are still questions to be answered in the end.  Scott's final version answers these questions in a roundabout way.

Told in noir fashion, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is a visual feast and another example of Scott's ability to create an entire world around his characters.  Look at his best films, Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and consider the universe surrounding the plot and the players.  They are magnificent and fully realized, and Blade Runner is perhaps the best example.  The film was a maligned endeavor, with cast and crew groing weary of Scott's controlling direction, and it was met with wide indifference upon its initial released.  But thanks to the director's cut, one of the first of its kind, the film has become something much bigger and more important in the history of cinema.