movie film review | chris tookey

Blade Runner

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  Blade Runner Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
8.50 /10
Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer , Sean Young
Full Cast >

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Released: 1982
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 118


A futuristic private eye (Harrison Ford) tracks down rebellious androids.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Blade Runner is now widely considered to be a classic, but on release it received miserable reviews - mainly protesting about how miserable it was - and recovered only half its production costs of $30 million.
One reason it failed on first release was that it confounded too many expectations. In 1982, audiences and critics expected Harrison Ford to be the action-hero he had been in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They were unprepared for him to be morally ambivalent. Variety complained that "The villain here is so intriguing and charismatic that one almost comes to prefer him to the more stolid hero." But that, of course, was the film-makers’ intention.
The film also confused people by being very different from the book on which it is based, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Where Dick's Earth is underpopulated, Scott's is teeming with low-life; where Dick's replicants are evil, Scott's are sympathetic; where Dick's story ends with the hero realizing that he himself is a replicant, Scott leaves the question open.
Audiences were unprepared, too, for the film's darkness of tone. A happy ending was imposed by Warner Brothers after disastrous previews - but that, as critics remarked at the time, seemed to belong to a different picture. Similarly, the last-minute addition of a Chandleresque voice-over (put in for the sake of clarity) was widely perceived as extraneous. The happy ending and narration have both vanished from the director's cut, and the film becomes all the more consistent - and no less clear - for their absence.
Critics and audiences alike were repelled by the film's vision of the future as a slum. More than any other Sci-Fi film, Blade Runner emphasises the noise, lack of privacy and commercialism of the future, not to mention the gulf between the rich - living offworld or in hubristically vast buildings - and the poor, dwelling like rats in a sewer. In Blade Runner, the rich care so little about the world that they have turned it into an inhospitable ghetto. This point may have looked far-fetched in 1982: ten years on, you can walk around many inner cities (if you dare) and watch the vision becoming a reality.
Many were confused by the genre of the piece. The sombre, rain-drenched mood evokes film noir, but the film keeps subverting noir expectations. The leading lady, Rachael, appears at first to be a straightforward femme fatale (Joan Crawford would kill for those shoulder-pads) but she turns out to be the opposite: she saves our hero from death and gives him something to live for... herself.
Nor is the hero, despite his 40s trenchcoat, a conventional Bogart or Cagney-figure. He's flawed like one - a loner at odds with society - and he ends up finding a lingering nobility within himself. But the choice of William S. Burroughs's phrase "Blade Runner" as the film's title is a tip-off that he's more like a Burroughs anti-hero, at the mercy of mind-controlling forces and perhaps even programmed by them. One result of Scott's re-editing job is that, by the end, Deckard is unsure if he is himself a replicant. Certainly, his arch-rival seems able to see the fantasies inside his head.
A few feminist critics have tried to dismiss the film by placing it within the Dirty Harry genre, as a woman-hating exploitation movie.They point to scenes like the one where Deckard pursues a fetishistically clad female replicant and shoots her dead: "That she falls among store dummies is indicative of the film's sexual politics” (Leighton Grist, The Movie Book of Film Noir, 1992).
Such criticisms totally miss the ironic point: which is that most of the females in this film are not women but replicants, built by men to serve their needs. Deckard's shooting of the first female replicant is meant to be shocking: it's a first indication that he is not a straightforward hero. The audience is surprised to find itself rooting for her to escape. The juxtaposition of her with the dummies is meant to signify not that she is the same as them, but that she is very different.
The film is far from a conventional law-and-order thriller, with Deckard defending the male-dominated status quo: indeed, it emphasises his insignificance and impotence in a city of towering, flame-spurting phallic symbols.
Nor is the film a straightforward SF monster movie. True, there are overtones of Frankenstein in the way Rutger Hauer's replicant destroys his creator, but the film's accusation is not that the creator meddled with nature, but that he failed to do so in a sensitive or sympathetic way. The film is far from anti-scientific: it captures more than any other movie a love of technology - which is why it has become so much more pertinent over the past decade, when so many more of us have become dependent upon machines and computers. The scene where Hauer allows Ford to live is, as the critic Danny Peary has written, "the ultimate gesture in the SF cinema between machine and man. It gives hope that we can live in harmony."
As for lack of characterisation, the point about the people in Blade Runner (even the hero) is that they are dehumanised: therefore, the sets and outfits have to tell you more than the characters themselves are capable of doing. For example, Deckard's boss neither says nor does anything particularly evil, and yet he emanates it. The reason is that Scott has placed his HQ in Los Angeles' Union Station, an extravagant piece of neo-fascist architecture, and kits him out like Rod Steiger in In The Heat of the Night. Implanted subconsciously in the audience's mind is the perception that this movie is partly about racism.
The deliberate echoes of Fritz Lang's M and Metropolis in the design should have been, but weren't, enough to alert critics to the film's true genre: this is, above all, an expressionist drama. We witness the confusion of the city, the sudden elation of being above it all, the lack of privacy, the crude commercialism, the need to scrape a living; but these are not visual gimmicks or set dressing - they reflect what is happening inside the hero's mind.
This is not to say that the plotting is faultless. The script is confused over whether Deckard has to hunt down four replicants or five (one replicant disappeared during a final re-write, but no one seems to have told Deckard's boss). And, dramatic though the opening scene of a replicator-detector test is, it's gratuitous: presumably the Tyrell Corporation can recognize its own replicants visually, so why bother testing in such an elaborate way? Fortunately, such doubts arise only after the event. The opening scene still works dramatically, for it's full of suspense and sets up the central conflict: between men who act like androids and androids who feel like men.
Blade Runner is worth reseeing, preferably on a big screen and in Ridley Scott’s revised version - not because the director's cut is very different from the original, but because it bears watching without the preconceptions almost everyone had in 1982. Of all the films ever released, it seems to me the most critically misunderstood. Cool and detached though the film is, it does have a heart. It's one of the few movies in any genre which communicates how it feels to be oppressed, and it's steeped in the anguished knowledge that we are all going to die. Like most good whines, it has improved with age.

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