28 June 2008

Like Tears in the Rain, Blade Runner Revisited

I don't generally care for  movies like Blade Runner which probably contributes to why I love it so much. Sci Fi films to me are usually silly, tedious and ultimately empty.  Blade Runner is none of those things.  It has at its heart a compelling story with intriguing characters.  Harrison Ford in the lead role is as good if not better here than he's been before or since. His Deckard is tough as nails yet thoughtful and vulnerable. It's not just that he falls in love with a replicant, the man gets scared practically to death and he gets his butt whipped three different times. Deckard proves the adage that its better to be lucky than good. This is not your run of the mill action hero. This is a regular guy up against irregular forces. In a world of make believe, he's believable.

It would be easy enough for the surrounding characters to be mere one dimensional props for the surrounding action, but they have heart and soul, even if they are androids. Speaking of best-ever performances, Rutger Hauer is utterly fantastic as the lethal killing machine who aches only to live longer to defy the genetic mortality that will soon claim him. We are thus forced to empathize with this killer at the most basic human level.

Blade Runner is filled with wonderful set pieces; individual frames that are rich, stand-alone tableaus.  A few such moments in a movie are a gift but Blade Runner has veritably two hours of them. The set designs evoke a future that is dark and wet and crowded. Director Ridley Scott has created a kind of futuristic color film noir. Scott has always liked to use rain or dripping water as an atmospheric touch (see Alien, Black Rain, 1492 and Gladiator) but never better than here. It is a creepy future all the more so because of its seeming plausibility.

Set pieces are all well and good but a movie is more than stills and Blade Runner delivers with indelible scenes from start to finish. Whether a chase through impossibly crowded streets or the administration of a replicant test, the pacing is excellent. All of the deaths in Blade Runner (save one brutal murder done literally by hand) are operatic. Yet this does not have the effect of making the violence pretty; rather, it is often heart breaking and like so much else in the movie, evocative.

In my latest viewing of Blade Runner I kept comparing  it with another movie I admire, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.  Both are set in the future and involve police actions  that are unlike those required today. Perhaps not incidentally, both are based on stories by the late Science Fiction Writer Philip K. Dick. Minority Report is much sleeker, cleaner looking and frankly a lot more accurate in depicting the future world (Deckard uses a pay phone in Blade Runner; there are no mobiles). But it is that less glossy look of Blade Runner, the rough edges, that help make it a masterpiece.  

Both films expect the audience to ask important questions. Minority Report is very much a contemplation on government power and corruption – vital topics indeed.  But Blade Runner asks essential questions about the nature of life itself. It is an extraordinary film to discuss. It's hard to name many movies with so many strong talking points.

One of the reasons Blade Runner warrants repeat viewings is because it can be watched and admired in so many different ways. You could, for example just view it as a Sci Fi thriller. You can also try to decode some of its many complexities (there's several plot points I still haven't figured out.)  You will surely see something new each time you watch it.

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