Blade Runner

Blade Runner ★★★★

It was such a treat to see this on the big screen again, and to see it still looking so great in all its neon-drizzled, shadowy glory. The well attended screening was met by a spirited cheer as the title, the director, the actors and the composer’s name all shimmered past. The high spirits of the audience was no doubt a mark of genuine love for the film, but also the celebration of a community experience after months of Covid containment.

Ridley Scott serves us up a vision of derelict modernity. It’s designed from the ground up with its perpetually nocturnal, street-level black markets, through the way the roads rise up and above into a third dimension still flanked by floating advertisements promising a better life, and onwards, up and up to its sun-hazed tech-corporation skyscrapers. At ground level it’s a pervasively multicultural world in the nature of a social cauldron, left to simmer and transform as a post-truth, technologically enhanced amalgam of human desperation, where the best remedies remain alcohol fuelled amnesia. Its existential themes of loneliness hang heavy, with characters cut off from living authentic lives by the augmentation of their memories, leaving them clinging to dreams and stories of exotic animals and a past that lives only in faded photographs and computer programmes. These unreliable memories are the gold standard of meaning - the last kernel of belief left to mark out a life as one’s own.  

While all of this remains wonderful, some parts of the film have dated, or rather they remind me too painfully of my teenage years growing up around the popular culture of the 1980s. Rutger Hauer is striking in his Lycra as an indestructible proto-Terminator-type channeling the crazies of Klaus Kinski, while sauntering and dancing around the set like he’s in a godawful 80’s music video. Joanna Cassidy’s slow motion plate glass window death scene is no better. Sean Young’s style is just a bit too Addicted to Love for my liking. And Darryl Hannah’s gymnastic attack mode is risible. Her need for a run up plays a bit like the adult version of the previous year’s Indiana Jones gun meets sword skit.

Harrison Ford is much better as a tough, but vulnerable protagonist, and he does a great job by not overdoing things. His performance is built on tics and grimaces, but he doesn’t overplay the affectations. Where many of the other characters accentuate the unusual to the point of distraction, he brings out a relatable character, forced to work a job he doesn’t like, drinking to forget, tired of life, harried and hangdog in classic weary anti-hero mode. It is a shame that the script makes him a bit rapey, having him force himself on to Sean Young’s character in order to persuade her of his charms. I realise this was the normalised way of aggressive-seduction in films of the era, but it hasn’t travelled well.

Vangelis’ score is justifiably adored by many. I class myself as an admirer rather than a lover. It is certainly Dolby’s friend: a mix of deep rumble and ambient space, through which a lonely instrumental voice soulfully noodles. It fits the film perfectly, and I have no criticism of it other than it is not my cup of musical tea. But in the service of the film it succeeds in helping wrap its romanticism in a futurist sheen. It is simultaneously of this future world, while nostalgically calling us back in time with its 1980s carbon-dated breathy saxophone. 

Blade Runner simply nails its feel. It is a world of its own - a deeply imagined, beautifully rendered mix of the 1980s and the future. It is a dark tale, that manages to be deeply romantic in the grand 19th century style of fated love, and noble sacrifice. It packs a lot in, but it never feels overstuffed, and the pacing is spot on. The story leaves room for our imagination and the themes reach out to our lonely hearts. I only wish I didn’t die a little death every time it reminded me of the cultural wasteland of my teenage years. 

In my Best Music (Scores and Soundtracks) list.

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