Skip to main content

Have you ever retired a human by mistake?

Blade Runner
(1982)

(SPOILERS) There seems to be an increasing temperament of late that it’s okay not to like Blade Runner really all that much. Which is fine; no motion picture cow should be taken as sacrosanct. Not even Citizen Kane. I can’t say I remotely agree, though. Blade Runner’s a rare picture that only improves with each viewing, even given the best attempts of Sir Ridders to undermine its ambiguities and greatest strengths. But that’s the philosophical subtext, never Scott’s strongest suit, and given the rest of his filmography, it’s almost as if he tripped into it here. Where Blade Runner truly excels, exhibiting its director’s talents par excellence, is in world-building. This is an environment beyond any he has created; the uber-influential used future is a masterpiece of texture and ambience, a profoundly melancholy dystopia that nevertheless warmly embraces the viewer in its toxic arms.


And that’s principally because a fundamental part of what the picture is, every bit as much as the visuals, is the music. Vangelis’ score is entirely transportive, entirely mood-setting. It’s impossible to think of the film and not think of its soundtrack. And it’s like nothing else, standing apart from even the rest of the composer’s catalogue. From the repeated intonation of the projected geisha billboard to the sublime Memories of Green, it’s an amazing, aurally immersive experience that invests one in the cinematic landscape like no other (except, maybe, on a different level, Morricone’s contributions to Leone’s spaghetti westerns). It may well be that not going with Vangelis for the sequel is the right move (we could end up, like The Force Awakens re John Williams, with a pale imitation of past glories), but Jóhann Jóhannson has some enormous shoes to fill.


Bryant: I’ve got four skin jobs walking the streets. I need the old Blade Runner. I need your magic.

So much has been written about Blade Runner, I thought I’d take it as read that the sum of its parts represents a work of unalloyed genius and concentrate on a few areas I consider worthy of comment, be they ongoing areas of debate or slight tarnishes to an otherwise spotless copybook (for what movie is perfect?) One of these is: just how good a Blade Runner is Rick Deckard?


I mean, apart from it being entirely intentional to portray him as unheroic (he kills two replicants, but they’re both women, and in neither case is the depiction celebratory – he shoots Zora in the back, even if she goes down in a tragically beautiful slow motion crash, and Pris is left thrashing about like a wounded animal – and Batty very pointedly comments “Proud of yourself, little man?” There’s nothing seductive about the violence in Blade Runner, in an imitative sense; only Deckard’s gun is cool, and he doesn’t do anything cool with it).


Even buying that Deckard is out of the loop, it’s baffling that he’d be entirely clueless about the Nexus 6, that it’s a model given memories, and which is apparently significantly different in appearance to the average skin job (which makes you wonder how difficult it mustn’t have been to detect them previously). He generally appears to be remarkably ill-informed about the job he’s the best there is at. The philosophical end of the spectrum seems entirely foreign to him (“How can it not know what it is?”), which again suggests that before these Nexus 6s came along his job was fairly meat and potatoes. He doesn’t seem to have met Tyrell before (you’d have thought the industry would take briefings from those who policed its faulty hardware).


We’re told in the introductory text that, following the Nexus 6 mutiny, replicants were declared illegal on Earth; does Deckard know this (in which case, why doesn’t he know about the Nexus 6s?) and how does it match up with his saying that replicants coming to Earth is unusual (if this is pre-their being banned, does it mean that off-world replicants wouldn’t want to come there, so the Blade Runners were only investigating those that were Earth-bound? Even though the introduction specifically states they were used off world?) And post banning, do non-Deckard Blade Runners mostly sit around twiddling their thumbs?


Part of the problem is the feeling Ford correctly identified when he said Deckard was a detective who didn’t do any detecting (hence the inclusion of the scales scene, and the photo analysis; I’ve seen this picture loads of times, and I’m still never quite able to follow the photo magnification moves into the mirror image. It seems like clever detective work, so I’m forced to accept it). He’s encumbered with being a receptacle for exposition he should be aware of ("Memories! You're talking about memories!"). When he asks Rachel if the Tyrell owl is a fake, her “Of course it is” only really needed a “you twat” at the end. Whether or not he’s just playing dumb, he certainly comes across that way at times.


Rick Deckard: Say kiss me.

But it’s also an interesting, interior Ford performance, inexpressive and unsympathetic; you can see why the suits got nervous and Scott agreed to add the voice over, because Deckard goes no way towards meeting the audience halfway. At the centre of the picture is a romance that operates in an entirely functional manner. There’s no chemistry between Ford and Sean Young, and no real emotional bond between their characters.


The pivotal scene of “rough love” is admitted by all concerned to have been misjudged, where Deckard gives the woman what she doesn’t know she wants, forcibly (alternatively, and thematically, it might be seen to work; he treats the replicant like everyone else treats replicants, as a subordinate, a slave, to be done with whatever he so wishes, to behave like a pleasure model, à la Pris). Michael Deely suggested it had lost something in the edit, and Scott copped to the harshness in the way it was pushed probably being his fault, commenting that it was one of the least successful scenes, and that more words were needed. Katherine Haber said it “lacked tenderness” and didn’t come out the way it was meant to. Hampton Fancher observed that “Harrison turned it mean”, and he certainly has a bestial look on his face during the scene that says the opposite to Vangelis’ accompaniment.


I always felt Young was the picture’s weak spot, in a similar manner to Kim Greist in Brazil. Now I’m not so sure. I think it’s more a problem of Rachel being an entirely functional plot point; she doesn’t exist in her own right, unlike the other replicants. He reason to be is to reflect off Deckard. So, while Scott composes her and comports her stunningly, there’s no real emotional component, and no real insight into why either she or Deckard are supposed to feel what they feel towards each other.


Even this is justified to some extent by what is regarded as the picture’s greatest strength, that the nominal human relationship is far less resonant that the ones between the replicants, in particular Roy’s feelings for Pris. The parallel unfolding and insights regarding these two at JF Sebastian’s digs are affecting and involving in a way Deckard and Rachel simply aren’t, complete with the weird, skewed, domestic scenes between the trio, calculatedly manipulating the tragic Sebastian, but not in an entirely dispassionate manner.


And Hauer is just magnificent, in the way he holds himself, in the pauses and inflections (Scott called him naturally theatrical, in a positive way, and he’s quite right), the lingering dialogue; it’s this kind of element, the willingness to present non-naturalism in a natural way, that Scott has very much lost.


Roy Batty: Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.

Of course, Batty and Pris are slaves who know they’re slaves; Deckard isn’t even aware of his inner processes. Whether or not he’s a replicant, he’s entirely a prisoner of his milieu (“If you’re not cop, you’re little people”). Even Tyrell is a slave, at least in the unfilmed conception of his character, where Batty kills his replicant, as seen, and then travels to the top of the building to find the real corpse of his designer in a sarcophagus (“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker”). The only free agent is enterprise itself (“Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell”, Tyrell informs Deckard).


Rachel: Did you ever take the test yourself?

But the abiding point about Deckard’s is he/isn’t he a replicant status is one that Scott has rather beaten into the ground with his active insistence on a definite (and affirmative) answer. As Hampton Fancher commented in the Dangerous Days making of documentary “I don’t think anything should show Deckard’s a replicant. If you think that, you’re already wrong. It’s just a question mark is what’s interesting” Which is exactly it.


The intimations from Villeneuve that this aspect will be honoured, and Fancher being the writer of the screenplay, at least suggested Blade Runner 2049 won’t get stuck on elucidating this point in tiresomely Scott-like fashion (see him botching the space jockey in Prometheus for further evidence). But we’ll have to see. Sequels often talk a good talk and fail to deliver.


Aspects like Deckard’s glowing red eyes or deleted dialogue (“You’ve done a man’s job sir. But are you sure you are a man?”), and even the all-important unicorn addition run the danger of incrementally underlining the point too much. I’ve always been sceptical about the need for the unicorn, even though the Gaf’s origami is meaningless without it; it strays into leading by the nose.


Indeed, I admire the passion with which Frank Darabont holds forth his own take, that Deckard’s dream is merely a result of “thinking about her implanted memories”, which is very much extra-diegetic, but has its own acceptable logic. I agree with Fancher, that the idea should be there, but it should equally have no definite answer. Scott’s “You don’t get it, you’re a moron” summation is exactly why he’s become such a banal filmmaker since… well, it started when Legend went belly-up, sadly (Sebastian's toys display a level of incidental playfulness the director just can't replicate when he goes all out for humorous characters in his next movie).


Darabont over-states his case, but winningly so, and I think he’s absolutely spot-on when he says “The story really only works if Deckard is human. The entire theme, which is very sophisticated, unravels”; it’s a journey of a man rediscovering his humanity, and it takes those who are not human to show him. Sure, have the ambiguity, but that’s intellectual ambiguity. The emotional resonance is divested from the film if his status is black-and-white. As Peoples says, though, the picture isn’t answering the question, it’s asking it; it’s only the blundering Sir Ridders who’s divesting it of mystique (as he is also doing to his Alien origins).


I also revisited the original (well the original international) cut on this occasion of watching The Final Cut, something I hadn’t done in a quarter of a century; I think the last time was probably a cinema screening (the first time I’d seen it projected) about a year before I saw the then new “Director’s” cut on the big screen. I have to admit, the DC never seemed like a night-and-day thing, the way all the reviews raved about it at the time. I was far more wowed by being able to get the proper soundtrack, having previously had to make do with a pale imitation.


And, looking at the deleted scenes, unless there’s a whole raft of stuff that didn’t end up on the DVD release, there isn’t really that much thematic content that’s missing from the picture. Alternate versions of scenes with extraneous and unnecessary dialogue, but only a few scenes that add real value. And even with those, one can see why they were excised, as they pin down details where a sense of it all is more appropriate. 


So, the visits to Holden are interesting, but being told the replicants “aren’t just a bunch of muscle miners any more, they’re no different to your or me” further undermines the case of Deckard being particularly good at his job; if the replicants were that easy to spot, presumably anyone could do it. The scene where Bryant and Gaffe are observing the second Deckard-Holden conversation is my favourite though, with Gaffe giving the answers his boss wants to hear (“I spit on metaphysics, sir”), even though that too is ultimately reinforcing a point that can be readily discerned (the replicants are looking for God).


Deckard: Replicants weren’t supposed to have feelings. Neither were Blade Runners. What the hell was happening to me?

I never thought the original voiceover was something awful, probably because it was the only version I knew (Del Toro – “I love that voiceover!”) Even now, revisiting it, I don’t find it that intrusive (on the other hand, watching some of the deleted scenes, it becomes a barrage of unnecessary, indigestible over-enunciation). It isn’t like there isn’t clunky dialogue in the movie itself (“Talk about beauty and the beast. She’s both” is a line that could easily have come courtesy of the writer of the narration). I mean, it’s ripe, sure, but there isn’t even that much of it.


It’s only the ending, as Darabont attests, that grates horribly, from the forehead slapping obviousness of “I don’t know why he saved my life” to the logical, thematic and visual atrocity that is the final, beautiful unsullied landscape of The Shining footage, and the comfort blanket of Rachel having no termination date (“I didn’t know how long we’d have together. Who does?”) If anything, the version of the voiceover Scott had in the pipe was even worse (“I watched him die all night It was a long, slow thing. He never whimpered, he never quit…”)


Now, though, I’m so familiar with the Director’s and Final Cuts that it does seem entirely unnecessary. Divested of it, the world and its themes are allowed to breathe, as is the aural depth. It’s actually understandable, given the admissions of repeat viewings being necessary to really appreciate the merits of the picture, that its reception was frosty. That said, you had The Film Year Book calling it an “intriguing mix of high tech and low pulp” and recognising its awards merit even if came up short (BAFTAs aside). Pauline Kael’s review recognised its visual prowess, but felt it fell short elsewhere (which is much as Darabont voiced, although he caveats that it was around the third time he saw it that its depths were revealed; the brilliance of the scale disguised what it did with the story).


You actually can’t argue with Kael’s criticisms of Scott’s approach (or indeed logic holes, such as why Leon needs a Voight Kampf test if visual records of him are held), but it would be interesting to learn if she modified her opinion on repeat viewing, if she ever watched it again. I love her take on Hauer, though (“a shoo-in for this year’s Klaus Kinski Scenery-Chewing Award”), even if I entirely disagree that his “gaga performance” is all wrong. But Kael, in succinctly summing up the picture’s narrative defects, also highlights that in the wholeness of it all – which, admittedly, she doesn’t fall for – they don’t matter; it’s simply that her first viewing, as pertinent as her criticisms are, isn’t the whole story.


Some of Scott’s tweaks on The Final Cut are, like the things Roy Batty has done, questionable (the added gore seems deaf to a picture that trod that line just about right, and if “I want more life, father” is thematically more resonant than “fucker”, you can never unhear the latter in that scene), but in the balance of things it is seamless and sensitive.


I have to laugh at some of Sir Ridders’ pronouncements, though (“My danger is I tend to get very cerebral” he noted when discussing how his sensibility was closer to Fancher’s than Peoples’. Contrast this with Dick’s observation that Scott’s take on replicants was the opposite of his, in which the replicants were less than human and reflected Deckard’s lost humanity; “he regarded that as an intellectual idea, and he was not interested in making an esoteric film”), since they’re at variance with everything he’s put on screen for the past 20 years. But in Blade Runner you can actually suspend disbelief that Scott’s a very cerebral guy, if only you ignore his relentless, post-operative voiceover.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.