Blade Runner

Blade Runner ★★½

How does one even go about explaining themselves for not loving Blade Runner? Simple answer: you don't. You just ramble on about perceived flaws and hope that your previously earned goodwill is enough for fans of the film to sigh and move on. In regards to backstory, this is my second attempt at Blade Runner, having previously watched the DC back in high school and coming away with pretty much the same result, albeit with a much more limited mindset and vocabulary. Take two, Final Cut edition.

Fluctuation of the Pupil. Involuntary Dilation of the Iris.
Let's start on a positive note: Syd Mead is a god. Anything good I have to say about Blade Runner inevitably leads back to him. His architectural sense is fascinating, and not just in the open-air shots of refinery supernovas or the design of the Tyrell Building exterior. His interiors - from Deckard's apartment, to Sebastian's warehouse, even to Zhora's dressing room - are all so overwhelmingly intriguing in detail, so rich in concept, that I have no qualms stating Mead is the real star of Blade Runner. He's the glue, bolstered by Dick's concepts, that gives the real reward of experience. Perhaps even too much - Mead puts such detail in his design that my issues with emotional connection or relation (see below) might stem from being so distracted by their beauty that the action on screen doesn't hold a candle to my interest in Mead's thought process and aesthetic sense.

But to go back to the actual picture in toto, one of my issues (minor in relation to others) is the assembled nature of the edit. Like with Days of Heaven, I found my immersion halted and even reversed at some points by discrepancies or simply unavoidable lapses in editing continuity. For example, on the first trip to Tyrell Corp., we're given a shot of Deckard (with Gaff) in the spinner, normal (or at least, established) lighting. SFX shot. The next cut is Deckard in the spinner with harsh fluorescent lighting from above (no visual clue for the lighting change). Cut to the owl sequence, cut to Rachel and Deckard's opening convo, with both speaking in mild voices, only to reveal that they are speaking from a distance of several yards, and, as Rachel approaches, no volume change in her approach. All this would be quite alright if there were some surreal elements to the film (of course, I'm sure if one considered Deckard a replicant, his hearing would be much sharper than a normal man's - although that gets into the sticky situation of whether Rachel knew all along). It's issues like this (another example is the sequence involving Batty's suspect right-ear injury and the not-quite-right sequencing of his goodbye to Pris) that pull me out of the picture and force a more critical eye on the technical elements. Understandably nitpicky, but for its acclaim, I expected perfection.

To wrap up the visual element of this, there's an issue I have that I would imagine most would consider a large part of Blade Runner's appeal: the busy-ness in a large majority of the shots. It goes back to my point about Mead's design overshadowing the action onscreen, but also further. Not only does nearly every shot contain an overwhelming amount of detail in the set design, but Los Angeles is so goddamn crowded. I'm sure for most it adds a sense of excitement and danger for Deckard to be weaving through hundreds of people trying to get a shot off, but (perhaps a testament to the costume design department) I found myself lost in the crown as well, trying to get a bead on who Scott wanted me to be watching. Every shot is just so packed full of both moving elements and carefully designed props that it pains me to say that I found myself straining to pay attention, to focus on X and Y proceeding from A to B. It's comparable to a visual assault, and soft touch - a guiding hand - would have been much appreciated.

Say 'Kiss Me'
What emotions are Blade Runner supposed to evoke? Wonder? Sorrow? Fear? Deep down, I suppose all of these apply, but are buried so deep under the visual focus of the film that they're suffocated - never given a chance to rise and carry the viewer through the events occurring on screen. My wonder of the world created is only given an outlet through inhuman vistas of Los Angeles, of machines acting like men and men acting like machines. My sorrow for Deckard and Rachel's story are hindered by lack of empathy I feel for them, and for Batty and Pris by their limited back-story. Fear of a new world is the closest I come to a real, rideable emotion through the picture, and even then, that fear is tempered by a world mainly explored visually - unlike other dystopias, LA19 is regarded simply as fact, a natural evolution of existing politics and society that I just can't completely buy given the lack of emotional exploration of its populace. I have not yet found a consistent emotional tether to pull me through Blade Runner, and that leaves me cold, and distant, and merely an observer - make me care, Ridley. Please.

Along with the insufficient emotional handhold, and going back to the unavoidable fact of a collaged edit, there's the issue of Deckard and Batty; the nominal leads of the picture. While the FC appears to do a much better job of balancing these twins stories out, pacing-wise, there's still something to be desired, at least for me, in exploring both these characters' mindsets and motivations. By trying to justify both, and limiting the film to two hours (of which I'd imagine at least a quarter is devoted to establishing shots and conceptual parading), both feel incomplete, and essentially marginalized in regards to the visual elements of the film.

I can certainly understand the noir element of leaving your heroes and villains in the shadows, but, along with the preceding two paragraphs, there needs to be something interesting about Deckard to justify his screen time and role. Okay, he's a boozer; that's a good, relatable flaw I can get behind. But why does he drink? And he seems to like the piano - great! Give me more. No? Okay. It feels like character aspects are introduced, deemed 'acceptably developed,' and left at that. I understand that Chekov's Gun is an overused trope, but purposely avoiding it is, in my opinion, detrimental here; especially in the emotionally hand's-off way Ridley presents the characters.

Finally, Harrison Ford. I love ya, baby. You know I do. You've charmed the pants off Nazis and Nemoidians (assumedly), but what happened here? We get one fantastic smirk in Bryant's screening room and it's autopilot from there on in. I understand that there's not a whole lot of room for 'fun' in this picture, but gimme somethin', man. I don't care if you're a real human bean or not, just let me know you can be scared, or hurt, or embarrassed - anything at all. Oh, and for the record, essentially raping a robot doesn't count. Yuck.

From the Shoulder of Orion to the Tannhäuser Gate
OK, now that we've gotten the ugly stuff (my opinions, not the film itself) out of the way, let's bring it back around to the positive: the concept behind the picture. The fun stuff, if you will.

Blade Runner, while I might not worship at the film's feet, does have, at its core, an idea I can totally get behind; what it means to be human, and who makes that judgment. What makes a man? Is it emotions? Is it memory? Is it something else entirely? Batty et al are supremely sympathetic in that they never asked to be created, a trait shared by all humankind. They were brought out of the void, and hardships were forced upon them at the whim of their creators. Do they have a right to be angry, and indignant? Is their anger and indignation the same as what we name our own comparable emotions? Fundamental philosophical questions abound in Blade Runner completely apart from its visual majesty. It's these questions - if not any other aspect of the film - that will eventually lead to any positive regard I have for it.

But then, wouldn't any regard I have really be Philip K. Dick's property? His catalogue is a woeful blind spot of mine, and simply putting the above paragraph into recorded words makes me realize how shameful a purported fan of sci-fi I really am. The best sci-fi, in my opinion, is not the flashiest, is not the most bizarrely alien; it's the ones that take everyday questions and force a new perspective on them. Blade Runner is a prime example of this. It uses androids and dystopias to make me ask what makes me special - or if I even am - compared to all other instances of life of the planet and beyond. If I can give Ridley Scott any credit for this, it's for providing an introduction to Dick's worth in a two-hour package.

So yes, it turns out I am grateful for Blade Runner. I might not necessarily enjoy (or, at the very least, appreciate) the way Scott presents the elements of Mead's vision and Dick's ideas, but I am grateful for it. It's a gateway to bigger ideas and a more personal interpretation that can't be contained on a 2-dimensional screen. It's limited by its unilateral delivery and one-take realization. But that doesn't mean it has to end at the credits, and thankfully so.

A Tortoise on Its Back, Baking in the Sun
You might say that a thousand-odd words don't seem to add up to a neutral rating, and you'd be right. There's nothing 'normal' about Blade Runner. It's a film whose impact is undeniable, and that you might (read: do) enjoy it much more than I do causes a feeling of almost petulant jealousy. Perhaps, as I found with 2001, it needs more work than 2 cursory and infrequent viewings to appreciate. For now, I can agree that it is a masterpiece, just not Ridley Scott's. No - the real credit for Blade Runner is Philip K. Dick's and Syd Mead's. To me, unfortunately, it's a masterpiece of design and concept, just not execution.

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