Monday, September 15, 2014

Blade Runner (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott                                     Writer: Hampton Fancher & David Peoples
Film Score: Vangelis                                      Cinematography: Jordan Cronenweth
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos

This is one of those instances--and there are getting to be quite a few now--where the director’s cut just doesn’t work. Blade Runner, in its original theatrical release, was a terrific sci-fi noir film complete with first person narration by Harrison Ford, a cigarette-smoking femme fatale in Sean Young, and even a neo-noir film score by Vangelis. Scott went back to the film later and attempted to turn it into a science-fiction action thriller and in the process gutted everything that was great about the film. In Ridley Scott’s new cut Ford walks around like a zombie and the audience has no idea what he’s thinking. And even though there wasn’t a lot of voiceover to remove, it does make a significant difference in the way that the film is perceived by the audience, especially with his change to the ending. While many people, including the director, want to believe that the changes made to the film imply that Ford’s character is not what the audience thinks he is, the discussions Ford had with Scott on the set at the time of filming and the implication of the original theatrical cut, I believe, are definitive.

The film opens with text telling the audience that early in the twenty-first century genetic androids called Replicants were created to provide labor off planet. But when they rebelled the androids were outlawed and policemen called blade runners were called on to terminate any still on the planet. The visuals open on a futuristic version of Los Angeles in the year 2019. Flying cars dot the sky above the city and buildings like circuit boards fill the land. In one of the buildings Brion James is interrogated by Morgan Paull and winds up killing him, confirming that he’s a Replicant. Next, M. Emmet Walsh has Harrison Ford brought in by Edward James Olmos to go after a group of Replicans that have recently landed on Earth. But Ford has been out of the business for a while and goes to the corporate headquarters where the Replicants are made. There he meets the head scientist, Joe Turkel, and his latest model, Sean Young, who has been implanted with memories in order to keep her from discovering she’s an android. After that, Ford begins tracking James in the hopes that he will lead him to the ringleader of the group, Rutger Hauer.

Hauer’s goal is simple. Replicants have a four-year life span and he needs to get to Turkel in order to extend that. Meanwhile Young has run away after Ford cruelly proved to her that she is, in fact, a Replicant. Harrison Ford had just come off of a hugely successful project in The Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while there are certain stylistic similarities in his performance here, it also looks forward to his mature period that really begins with Witness. Sean Young is the other lead in the cast and she does a very good job playing the Replicant who desires to live as a human. It’s unfortunate that the rest of her career never lived up to this early promise. Rutger Hauer has always considered this his best film, and for obvious reasons. He really has an outstanding performance, icy and cold, and yet emotionally innocent. The rest of the cast has fairly small roles, including a very odd one by James Edward Olmos as another blade runner who would like Ford to retire, and M. Emmet Walsh whose racist cop is difficult to judge in terms of his trustworthiness.

Ridley Scott’s vision is an interesting one. The film is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, but the title is taken from a different novel, The Bladerunner by Alan E. Nourse. He begins with the idea that most of the wealthy have left the Earth, leaving L.A. to Asians and Hispanics and those who live in the expensive high-rise buildings above the decay. In fact, Ford takes the job to go after the Replicants in part because Walsh reminds him that if he’s not a cop he’ll be nothing. The philosophical underpinning of the film is the whole question of what it means to be human. There are those who argue that the Replicants are every bit as human as the real thing, but it’s an argument that lacks persuasion. The four-year life span, the lack of emotional depth, and the fact that they have no real life, actually works against the idea. Much more interesting to consider is how humans live their lives in a way that makes them less than human, in a sense wasting what they have been given. In the end, assessing Blade Runner accurately depends upon the version. The original theatrical version from 1982, apparently only available on videotape from that year--I got mine on eBay--is a terrific film. The director’s cut, on the other hand, I really couldn’t recommend.

No comments:

Post a Comment