Sunday, May 5, 2013

Underwhelming Vision Of The Future, Blade Runner (The Definitive Edition) Is More Blah Than Bang.

The Good: Vision, Concept, Moments of character
The Bad: Pacing, Mostly flat characters, Performances that are hardly noteworthy, Choppy editing, Somewhat pointless overall story
The Basics: The final cut of Blade Runner, now on Blu-Ray, presents a science fiction “classic” that is far less compelling than its die-hard fans would have the general populace believe.

Back when I was in college, there was a lot of hype about Blade Runner. It was probably because it was right around the fifteenth anniversary of the film and Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut was being cinematically released to the joy and ire of the fans. I vaguely recall watching the film on VHS and the experience was so anti-memorable that I could not even tell you which version of the film I saw at the time. After a new friend recommended Blade Runner to me, I decided to give it another chance. For that, I decided to use the latest Definitive Edition from the multi-disc Blu-Ray pack that Ridley Scott is currently assuring fans will be the last version of the film.

The newest version of Blade Runner has the film as a stark, straightforward narrative, without any voiceovers and without much in the way of real charm or thematic meaning outside its own narrative. In other words, unlike the best in science fiction, Blade Runner says little about who we are or who we might become and instead creates a dystopian future that is much harder to get into than the Ridley Scott sycophants would have the rest of us believe.

In 2019 Los Angeles, the world is dark and the skyscrapers are tall and so large that people get around in flying cars. In this world, where Earth has colonies off-world, a mega corporation (Tyrell) has built androids so realistic that they cannot be told apart from humans. To prevent humanity from being replaced or menaced by the Replicants, the androids are given a four-year lifespan, after which they automatically deactivate. Unfortunately, rebellious Replicants are fighting for their survival and four violent Replicants make it back to Earth (Los Angeles) where they begin to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation and neighborhoods where they create a (largely unseen) menace.

As a result of the imminent threat represented by the four surviving escaped Replicants, the retired Blade Runner (those sent out to manually deactivate – kill – the Replicants) Deckard is called back into service. Deckard begins to hunt the leads needed to find the four Replicants as they close in on the head of the Tyrell Corporation. In trying to understand the Replicants, Deckard visits Dr. Eldon Tyrell and discovers the doctor has built a Replicant so perfect she was not aware of her true nature. This begins to blur the lines for Deckard as he pursues the renegades and is forced to put them down.

Blade Runner is a mess. There are a number of classic science fiction works I enjoy, but Blade Runner is not one of them. First, the story is an incredibly basic one. After a pretty awesome bang of a beginning (which involves one of the escapees being interrogating and then snapping, shooting his interrogator out of the blue), the movie descends into one of the laziest investigation films of all time. Indeed, Blade Runner takes its time having Deckard get on track with his investigation that it makes Chinatown look like a focused roller coaster of a film by comparison. Because it takes so long for Deckard to get focused and commit to actually hunting down the Replicants, the film relies a great deal upon mood and setting instead of character, substance, or even plot to engage the viewer. Sadly, this fails for Ridley Scott because the film is slow and does not make an effort to immediately build to anything (even a consistent sense of mood).

In other words, once you’ve flown by the giant Coke ad in the flying car in the smoke-filled metropolis once, it’s not doing much to fly by it another three times. That’s not great cinema and it is not interesting storytelling.

On the character front, Blade Runner is filled with characters, not a single one of whom “pops.” The main antagonist, Ray Batty, is a villain who ostensibly wants nothing more than to be able to survive beyond his expiration date, which frustrates him because he has no idea when that expiration date might be (Replicants are programmed with a full range of memories, so they often have no idea where their remembered lives end and their actual lives in the real world began). Batty is a militant leader who is focused upon getting the answers he needs to survive or, barring that, revenge upon his creator. That said, he doesn’t have much that he really wants to live for. Life for the sake of living isn’t a terribly compelling characterization. Ray Batty does not seem to have any particular dreams or aspirations outside living and given how filthy and smoky the world of Blade Runner is, it is hard to take his (or his associates’) drive to survive all that seriously.

At the other end of the spectrum, Deckard is an equally unlikable protagonist, played by Harrison Ford. Ford plays Deckard with such ambivalence and stiffness that fans have wondered for the past 25 years, as one of the Replicants in the movie questions, if he is even human. Deckard has no zest, no spark of life, nothing interesting in his life and his fling with Rachael is little more than sex . . . and not even particularly interesting sex.

The result is a film that is thematically murky as the sets are smoke-obscured and a “classic” that is far less satisfying than many other engaging science fiction works from before, the same time, or since.

For other works that Ridley Scott has been involved in, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The A-Team
Matchstick Men


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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