Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sci-Fi September: Blade Runner (1982)

It's maybe not best for me to start my review of Blade Runner by declaring that I don't think it's a perfect movie, and don't rate it as the best sci-fi movie of all time. It's probably worse to declare that it MIGHT not even make my personal Top 10 Sci-Fi Movie list. It might, but it might not. Yet that doesn't stop me from praising the film as an amazing piece of cinema. It immerses viewers in a world that feels so realistic you can almost feel the near-constant rain dripping on your head.

Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a blade runner who must find and execute four runaway replicants. Replicants are humanoid robots, with some of the latest models being so advanced that they're getting harder and harder to differentiate from real people. The nominal leader of these runaways is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), a replicant who has spent a lot of time considering his life and what he has been privileged to see throughout the universe. The movie focuses on Deckard as he does his detective work, yet it also allows plenty of time for all of the main characters to ponder just what makes humans so unique in their efforts to live a long, fruitful life.

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick (entitled "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?"), this is sci-fi used in a way to look at our own humanity. In a world in which humans can, essentially, be built, it looks at what, if any, differences there are between life and artificial life. The script, written mainly by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, spends as much time piecing together the motivations and fears of the various central characters as it does on the standard detective aspect of the tale.

The fact that all of these ideas and moments are set in a world so detailed and realistic is due, in no small part, to director Ridley Scott, who seemed intent on delivering a cerebral, beautiful, modern classic to cinema audiences. The visuals are often sublime, the soundtrack (famously created by Vangelis) is a delight for the ears, and the central performances don't ever give any sign of the famous troubles that plagued the production; let's just say that it was a baptism by fire for Scott working on his first major American operation.

Ford is great in yet another iconic role, and he must look back on his career as one amazing stroke of good luck after another, considering how many movies that he starred in didn't seem destined for greatness. He's suitably world-weary, cynical, and also able to empathise with anyone who just wants left alone to live their life in peace. Hauer may have a lot less screentime, but he makes a lasting impression, mainly thanks to his last scene opposite Ford. Sean Young also makes a lasting impression, playing Rachael, a young woman who doesn't realise exactly what her background is. Brion James, Joanna Cassidy, and Daryl Hannah all do well as the other replicants on the loose, M. Emmet Walsh has an enjoyable small role, and Edward James Olmos breathes down Harrison Ford's neck at the most inconvenient moments. There's also a superb, moving performance from William Sanderson (the second-best in the movie, behind Hauer), playing a "toymaker" who seems to empathise more than most with the creations that he's had a very small role in helping to build.

Books have been written about Blade Runner. Well, if they haven't then they should be (but I'm pretty sure they have). It's layered, it's full of many wonderful little touches, the tech on display feels very grounded in reality, it ruminates on science and the possibility of human souls by finely mixing the two, and much more. My main problem with it, the only reason that I don't rate it as the perfect sci-fi movie so many others see, is that there are scenes that bring the whole thing grinding to a halt. Scenes that feel unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, especially when they get in the way of the momentum that is being built by the strong central strand. Of course, the fact that there are (at least) five different versions of the movie to choose from nowadays probably serves as a reminder of just how many options Scott made available to himself as he tried to capture what he'd envisioned in his mind.

Despite not quite rating it as highly as other fans, I still recommend that everyone gives this a viewing at least once. It's iconic, it's cool, and it's almost fully deserving of the reputation it has.


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