Thursday, October 5, 2017

Movie Review: Blade Runner (1982)

With the film Blade Runner 2049 coming out soon, it became important for the denizens of the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood to discuss the original Blade Runner. Although the film was initially not successful theatrically, it developed a devoted following and proved to be a major influence on future science fiction. Here's the podcast. And here's my review...

For the record, the version we reviewed was Blade Runner Final Cut, which lacked the Harrison Ford voice-over narration and had a much more ambiguous ending than the theatrical release. As I'd never seen the movie before, nor was this a movie from the era of my childhood like Pagemaster was, this isn't "blast from the past" for me.

The Plot

In the near future, Earth has suffered environmental devastation from some undescribed cause and people (at least healthy ones) are encouraged to emigrate to new offworld colonies. To prepare these colonies for settlement and to do the most dangerous jobs, the Tyrell Corporation has created Replicants--artificial humans--to use as forced labor. To discourage rebellions, they're only given a very limited four-year lifespan. After they rebel anyway, the Earth governments ban them from Earth, recruiting "blade runner" police to hunt them down and "retire" them.

Former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced back into the business by blade runner Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and his former boss Harry Bryant (Michael Emmet Walsh) to deal with four Replicants who escaped from slavery on another world and have illegally come to Earth. They're warriors Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Leon Kowalski (Brion James), the "pleasure model" Priss Stratton (Daryl Hannah), and assassin Zhora Salome (Joanna Cassidy), all of whom are extremely dangerous. Along the way he encounters Replicant creator Eldron Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and his assistant Rachael (Sean Young), whom he soon learns is a more advanced Replicant herself. As the hunt continues, Deckard soon finds himself with divided loyalties...

The Good

*Rutger Hauer does a good job playing the warrior Replicant Roy Batty. When we first meet him he interrogates a scientist and comes off as really intense and creepy. However, he mourns for a fellow Replicant killed on Earth and his ultimate motivation is care/concern for another being. He even seeks out his creator, whom he seems to view as a father figure, for help. And when the object of his affection dies, he mourns and seeks revenge. For a thinking machine he's very human, which is probably the whole point. Roy is my favorite character in the film and during the podcast I found myself  defending his actions--of all the people he kills, all but one were part of his and the other Replicants' escape from slavery. Harriet Tubman carried a gun to defend herself and her charges from slave-hunters--although I'm not aware of her ever having to use it, I would not fault her if she put a few between some slavers' eyes.

(To be fair though, Roy killed a lot more people and many of them sound like non-combatants. Tubman led a Union raid in South Carolina, but she didn't burn pro-slavery towns down with the people in them.)

*Overall this was a very thoughtful film that discussed the issue of what it really means to be human, what rights a created/artificial but sapient being would have, etc. in a non-preachy and annoying way. It reminded me a lot of the issues that came up during the 2004 remake of Battlestar Galactica, which incidentally also featured Edward James Olmos. The Cylons in BSG were robotic slaves who had rebelled against their human creators and ultimately evolved into beings that could successfully pass as human (one is even impregnated by a human and bears a living child) and in some cases even thought they were human.

Blade Runner brings up similar issues--the human military in Blade Runner had been keeping Priss as a prostitute, a less explicitly violent version of how the crew of the Pegasus repeatedly raped a captured Cylon spy (and tried to do the same to a Cylon defector aboard the Galactica). Given how she doesn't practice anything remotely resembling her former trade on Earth to blend in (even though another female Replicant does, see below), it may be that this job was against her own inclinations and thus rapey as hell. Yes, the Replicants (and the human Cylons) are machines, but they're clearly thinking beings who have wills and desires of their own and, unlike say a robotic arm at a car factory, can suffer. To be perfectly blunt, the Replicants are basically runaway slaves being hunted and murdered. Deckard really should know better, especially given how in the theatrical cut his narration equates Bryant's "skinjob" (for Replicants) with police of an older generation using the n-word (for black people).

(Given current issues in the USA with police and African-Americans, this is particularly timely.)

*I also liked Sebastian, the scientist suffering from premature aging (he's 25 but looks like he's in his 40s or 50s) living alone with various robotic quasi-toys. He's unable to emigrate due to his health issues, which reminded me of a story from college Spanish class called "Las Medias Rojas." He takes in the Replicant Priss when he thinks she's a homeless woman (and doesn't attempt to take advantage of her situation) and shows her the robotic companions he shares the largely-abandoned Bradbury Building with almost childlike joy. The thing that came to my mind was Jesus's story of the sheep and the goats--"I was a stranger and you took Me in, and what you have done to the least of these my brethren you have done also to Me." Upon learning of the Replicants' oncoming deaths, he attempts to help them. Of all the humans in the story, he and to a much more limited extent Deckard are the only ones who treat the Replicants with any kindness, something that Priss even remarks on.

*When Deckard administers the empathy test to Rachael as a deliberate negative, he asks her what she would do if someone gave her a calfskin wallet. She said she would not only turn it down, but report it to the police. Although I hesitate to call this "showing" instead of "telling" (since it's spoken dialogue), it does show the animals-rights legislation of this future Los Angeles. It reminded me of the novel Fallen Dragon by Peter F. Hamilton in which a hardened mercenary is horrified by the concept of eating meat made from real animals in a future where vat meat is common. Given how actual animals are expensive and most animals on-screen are artificial, this (along with her comment that if she discovered her son collecting butterflies she would take him to the doctor) could also exposit Earth's environmental problems have led to far stricter animal protections.

*Zhora at one point works as a stripper. Salome in the Bible performed a suggestive dance of some kind to persuade her stepfather Herod Antipas to have John the Baptist, who had condemned her mother's marriage to the king, executed. Making her last name Salome was pretty clever.

The Bad

*The opening with the gas fires reflected in somebody's eyes as the shot tracks over futuristic Los Angeles complete with flying cars and gigantic sci-fi buildings is kind of slow. It would have been better if the focus is on Leon being brought to the Tyrell Corporation headquarters for the "test" and just happen to see the futuristic landscape as we go along. No need for artsy shots of eyes, prolonged gas-fire scenes, etc.

*There's a significant part of the film from when Deckard first meets privately with Rachael and they discuss whether her childhood memories are real or not until he starts hunting for Zhora, that's really quite dull. In the historical context what he was doing at the time (using a computer to analyze photos in great detail) would have been high-tech and fascinating to the audience and, as one of my podcast brethren pointed out, real detective work is boring. Maybe if they'd made it a more lively montage or provided a soundtrack?

*Deckard makes some very forceful advances on Rachael (bordering if not outright crossing the line into date rape if they had sex, which they actually may not have), after she saves his life from Leon no less. Even if she was to some degree or another interested in him, she's very vulnerable psychologically (she's just learned she's really a Replicant and the whole life she remembers is a lie, and she's just killed a person too) and she is dependent on his physical protection as a hunted fugitive Replicant. She doesn't seem upset afterward and sticks with him instead of running away as soon as possible (although again, see "fugitive Replicant" part), but come on Deckard.

*Some more background information about how the world came to be would have been nice. Apparently in the original novel it takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear war between the US and USSR in which the world is slowly dying. Although a nuclear conflict could affect the Earth's climate, I'm not sure how a general worldwide cooling could turn Los Angeles into something resembling a smoggier Seattle. This scenario here, devised by Canadian science fiction author Bruno Lombardi, posits that an oceanic comet impact some years prior was the cause. That makes more sense--in the novel Lucifer's Hammer, oceanic impacts by comet fragments cause it to rain worldwide for weeks. Depending on patterns of evaporation after the unnatural worldwide rain occurs, the overall world climate could be much more humid and rainy for years afterward. Plus if the impact was somewhere in Asia, that could explain how Asian Los Angeles looks in terms of its residents, culture, etc.--Chinatown, Japantown, Koreatown, etc. were swollen by massive numbers of refugees.

The Verdict

Very thoughtful, but don't expect a slang-bang action film. 8.5 out of 10.


  1. You seem guilted into liking this. I'll bet you played on Facebook in this one too.