Monday, December 12, 2011

Film Review: Blade Runner

Blade Runner

Released: 1982

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford
Sean Young
Rutger Hauer

For the synopsis please read my book review.

Blade Runner is the epitome of science fiction, dystopia and cyberpunk cinema. It is considered to be the very best of it's kind, even though the director has re-released the film in three different incarnations! For this challenge I chose to watch the Director's Cut which was released in 1992, and eliminated the voice-over and other cost-cutting methods used to release the original film. I've also seen the Final Cut but I've never actually watched the original cut. I really should, bad though some people say it is, there must have been something about it that attracted such a cult following right?

The film diverges quite extensively from the book, and while I think it waters down much of the humanist and existential discussions that the book created, it does still adhere to the general feel of the book. In fact, Philip K. Dick saw only the first 20 minutes of the film and was quoted as saying, "it was my own interior world. They caught it perfectly." So for those of you who tend to run in horror when you hear a film is based on a book (especially a book as well loved and well regarded as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) don't fear, though it may cause moments of irritation, it is a fantastic film that is independent enough that it really should be judged on it's own merits.

Like the novel it's based on, Blade Runner takes place in the future (2019 to be exact) and follows protagonist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in his search to locate a group of "replicants" (androids) who jumped ship and are hiding back on Earth. The city in which Rick lives owes a great deal to the early film Metropolis, it's a mish-mash of tall skyscrapers, blimps with large video screens, a giant pyramid structure and lots of small streets crammed with people, rubbish, stalls and steaming sewer grates. Though there are flying cars and bright neon lights, this isn't the future we always imagine, it's dark and dirty and abandoned by everyone except those without the money or health to leave the planet. Down in the streets the world has merged to create a truly multicultural society. Though English is still used, there is also "city-speak," which is a language made up of half a dozen languages from across the globe. And though many people still dress as we dress today, there are the typical future clothing styles that 80s films loved to create, mainly involving lots of see-through plastic, big shoulder pads out of weird acrylic-y stuff and big, BIG hair and make-up.

Visually the film is spectacular. Cyberpunk or "future noir" utilises some of the greatest film devices ever created. In this case there is a heavy prevalence of backlit scenes without a fill light, lots and lots of cigarette smoke (or smoke from other sources), and dramatic shadowing. Though it's a colour film, it has the intensity and substance of an old black and white noir, and the storyline relies heavily on the intensity of it's visual effects to emphasise the anxiety, hopelessness and dystopian nature of the story. Even without the stellar acting and storyline and pacing, I'd happily watch this film (on mute I guess, if it didn't have all the other aspects!) over and over just to immerse myself in the world that's created.

There are hundreds of websites dedicated to discussing the intricacies of the film, and the complexity of the human/android dichotomy that is set up. I won't go into much detail because there are other people making far better statements than I could possibly attempt, and I did tackle a portion of it in the book review I did. This area is the one place where it really diversified from the original text. In the original text PKD was making a statement about sociopathic behaviour, and about the lack of humanity within the "Andys," basically emphasising that even though they were undistinguishable from humans in the visual sense, they lacked the greatest qualities in humanity, and there was no way for them to absorb or learn how to empathise, emote or understand. They were lacking, and humans, even with all their flaws, were fundamentally better. However in Blade Runner, the situation is reversed. Instead it is that the replicants are an oppressed underclass (of sorts) and because of their limited life expectancy (they have a lifespan of 4 years) they lived every minute of their life to the fullest and were forced to rebel if they wanted to experience life for longer. In Blade Runner the humans take their lives for granted, and are far more closed-off and apathetic than their repressed android friends.

So the film does really take a different path than the book, but even though it ends up with an almost polarised view it keeps to the book's central idea of humanity and the struggle against man and machine. It's a stunning film that has really stood the test of time, and proved a marker for many dystopian films that have since been released. If you haven't seen this film yet, well shame on you, but don't worry, if you see it asap I won't hold it against you!

My rating: 4.5/5


  1. Well, it's shame on me for today... However, you will be happy to know that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is officially on reserve at the library. I've seen and heard about this book way too much to ignore it any longer...

  2. Yay! I don't think you'll be disappointed, it's a really great book.



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