NOTE: for the places I post this that won’t automatically make it clear, this is a review of Ridley’s 2007 “Final Cut.”
Where the hell do you start reviewing a film like Blade Runner? Essays and papers–hell, books–have been written on the subject already, most likely far better than whatever I sit here and churn out. It’s a bona-fide cult classic that has hit a level of respectability that may or may not be pulling it out into a more straightforward “classic” bracket, without any modifiers suggesting it is for a particular, hardcore, ultra-geeky audience.
I’m a big Ridley Scott fan. I’m not a blind one, I hated Hannibal and had issues with Gladiator. However, I most certainly defended him–with those admissions–when someone I knew sneered as I purchased The Duellists. The man is an artist, and for all that he speaks exactly like his more style-based brother Tony, and comes off as sort of goofy in the process–it’s easy to see the skill, eye and talent hiding behind that strange speech pattern he holds. He often works on his own cinematography, and his films are all beautiful, whatever other flaws they may have.
Blade Runner is most definitely NOT the exception to this rule–he was apparently once questioned by the studio as to why the film had to be so dark (in a literal sense) and why it had to be raining all of the time. “It’s a noir,” he allegedly responded with incredulity. And it is. It’s neo-noir in a sense that Polanski’s Chinatown is not. That film was a noir filmed decades after the heyday of the genre, while Blade Runner is an updating and even precognitive view of the genre. It is set a bit over decade from now, and it has flying cars and incredible technology–but, much like Ridley’s own Alien, it does not bear that mark of utopian or idealized future. Trash litters the street with that comfortably filthy sense of haphazard disposal, rather than the occasionally creepy variety that shows that someone carefully placed each empty cup and wrapper for maximum effect–here they may well have been specifically placed, but if so it was to achieve the appearance of NOT being placed, but tossed. The film IS dark, and it IS always raining–but through this we see, first of all, gouts of flame from towers in the middle of the city, and throughout the rest, glowing, blinking, shifting and animated ads and neon lights, constantly and without exception, they fill each and every exterior scene, and even many interior scenes. Lights constantly flash, blink, rotate and fill the screen, a city that truly never sleeps, as we are inundated with this, even in Deckard’s–whoops, did I forget to mention plot or anything?–apartment with the blinds down (though not shut).
So, backtracking: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner. He executes–excuse me, “retires”–replicants, fantastically accurate humanoid androids, because they were outlawed on earth after a revolt. He is picked up by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and taken to Bryant (the omnipresent M. Emmet Walsh) where he is assigned the “retirement” of a group of “skinjobs” (Bryant’s slang for replicants) who have hijacked a spacecraft and returned to earth to seek out their creator, Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). The four–Roy Batty (Rutget Hauer), Leon Kowalski (Brion James), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), and Pris (Darryl Hannah)–separate and begin to seek multiple avenues of forestalling their inevitable, programmed deaths. Zhora simply takes a job as a stripper, Leon as unskilled worker, Pris pursuing genetic designer J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) and Roy aggressively pursuing audience with Tyrell himself. The film is essentially a meditation on what it means to be living, what makes one human, morality, responsibility and the fleeting nature of existence.
Deckard is a tired man, in true noir fashion, essentially a futuristic private eye who has worn himself down with a job that he is not entirely comfortable with and in fact ones to quit, but who is dragged back in for one last job. Gaff is a slick, snakelike cop who dresses almost like a pimp, with almost scaly clothing, a cane and a hat at all times, as well as a “soul patch” style goatee and two very light eyes, which, in addition to Olmos’ acting skill, give the impression of constant vigilance, but the kind that belies predatory instinct–a sort of lazy awareness, and the aura of being able to take you down at a moment’s notice, but feeling no need to show this ability. Bryant is the unsubtly prejudiced blue-collar man, who does not realize how offensive the things he says are to the people he’s talking to, nor how reprehensible Deckard’s job is to him. Walsh has always been good at this role, and this is no exception. The four replicants are all interesting variant–Leon is a tightly wound psychopath with a disturbingly dark sense of humour, as seen when he and Roy “interview” Hannibal Chew (James Hong), who designs eyes for the Tyrell companies replicants. Zhora is an independent being, the least interested in pursuing their origins, but just as intensely protective of her own life and existence as the others. Pris is somewhat childlike, but vaguely sexual as she interacts with Sebastian, who is truly childlike, suffering “Methuselah syndrome,” which causes him to age more rapidly than his 25 years, but lives with the animate toys he has designed and created, playing chess remotely with Tyrell. Roy, of them all, is almost the least sane. In some ways he is the most, but it’s obvious throughout that he is clinging desperately to whatever sanity he does have left, and trying like mad to figure out how to prolong his existence. When he finally begins to wind down, he first ramps upward in terms of uncontrolled behaviour, then finally calms to show that much of this was simply to express to Deckard the way it is that he feels in all his life, and the experience he has of life itself.
Everything that followed this film in sci fi, despite its initial box office failure, blatantly steals from it. The set design is unbelievable, with the Tyrell building looking simultaneously like a monstrous and impenetrable future construction and a natural iteration of corporate headquarters as they actually exist. In fact, the entire world and environment strikes that balance perfectly–seeming both like a distant and remote future and like a familiar and believable extension of the real one. This is a similarity it shares again with Alien, an industrial nightmare of a future, people shoulder to shoulder at almost all times, parts of town abandoned and dilapidated, parts overfull with people and buildings and vehicles, and that everpresent light.
The last thing, which I can’t leave alone, is Vangelis unbelievable score for the film. It’s a subtle, subdued sort of score, rarely rising above a synthetic hum and bleat, almost all notes holding for a lengthy duration, perfectly underscoring the dark, bleak tone of the film and managing to fill it with the same feeling as a classic noir, but again mixed with that perfect futuristic tone. A saxophone is used, but tastefully, during a scene of romance between Deckard and Rachael (Sean Young), but it never gets overbearing or intrusive. It’s rare that I immediately wish to pursue a score, but this is a definite example.
OK, OK, one other thing–the costuming. Holy cow. From Deckard’s huge collar on his trenchcoat, perfectly framing his head and both making him seem withdrawn and sullen and puffed out like a frilled lizard, as if he’s simultaneously shrugging and threatening, to the clear plastic raincoats and other clothing, on down to the fantastic design for Rachael, seemingly a perfect noir female, with a visual design that brings everything up from a small point to an exaggerated width at the top–first her dress with padded and widened shoulders, then her hair, drawn up into two massive curls like ocean waves, widening from her small chin. The way it draws your eye is fascinating, and manages to perfectly convey her vulnerable and naive character.
Jeez, just see the damn movie.