Saturday, March 23, 2013

Stubs – Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut)

Blade Runner (1982) Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Joanna Cassidy and Daryl Hannah. Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Directed by Ridley Scott. Produced by Michael Deeley. Run Time: 117 minutes. Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Action.

There are few films that seem to have more versions than Blade Runner. There are seven, count ‘em seven versions of this film. If you think George Lucas f’s around with the original Star Wars trilogy, he’s got a ways to go to catch up to Ridley Scott’s messing abouts with this film. Originally released in 1982, the version we’re reviewing dates from ten years later and shouldn’t be mistaken for the Final Cut, which Ridley Scott released in 2007 for the 25th anniversary of the film’s release.

While each version has things that make it unique, we’re going to be concentrating on the Director’s Cut only in this review. We’re not going to assume that everyone has seen it or the original or the Final or any one of the other official and unofficial versions floating out there in the ether. There is a certain mystique that surrounds this film and it is often referenced whenever SciFi gets mentioned in current culture, such as in The Big Bang Theory, when Howard tries to get Leonard interested in a “definitive cut”, which is supposed to be the Final Cut plus 8 seconds. Dialogue from the movie is even quoted in, of all things, a My Little Pony Micro-Series featuring Rainbow Dash comic.

Set in a quickly approaching 2019 Los Angeles, the story revolves around Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner, who’s job had been to track down bioengineered beings known as Replicants and “retire” them.

Los Angeles of the future.
Replicants, per this version’s prologue, are robots who are virtually identical to humans. And like all things in the future, they are made by one company, the Tyrell Corporation. The Nexus 6 models are superior in strength and agility and are at least as intelligent as their human makers. Because Replicants might develop emotions, which would be bad, they are given a very short life span of four years. They are used “Off World” as slave labor. After a mutiny by a team of Nexus 6 built for combat, Replicants are forbidden on Earth under the penalty of death. Special police units, called Blade Runners (which is never explained by the way) are tasked with killing or as the film refers to it, retiring, Replicants it finds on earth. Presumably every police force around the world has such a unit, sort of like they all have SWAT units (the movie never talks about anything outside of LA.).

Replicants from Off World.
The movie starts with a new employee at the Tyrell Corporation, Leon (Brion James), being administered the Voight-Kampff test by a Blade Runner named Holden (Morgan Paull). Leon is suspected of being one of four Replicants, the others being Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), who have come to Earth Illegally. They have tried to get into the Tyrell headquarters to meet the head man in hopes of gaining a longer life. The Voight-Kampff test is a series of unrelated questions and scenarios which are supposed to elicit a certain emotional response. Replicants won’t react the same as humans, so that’s how you can tell them apart. When Holden asks Leon about his mother, Leon kills him.

Which leads us to Deckard. He is brought by officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to meet with his former supervisor Captain Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh). Bryant wants Deckard to track down the four Replicants and retire them. He shows Deckard video of Leon killing Holden. Deckard doesn’t want to get involved, but Bryant overtly threatens him so he reluctantly agrees. (We’ll get to the problems with the writing in more detail, but it’s a very overt threat to say the least.)

Deckard is sent to Tyrell Corporation to make sure the Voight-Kampff test works on their model, Nexus-6. There he meets Tyrell’s (Joe Turkel) assistant Rachael (Sean Young) who is an experimental Replicant who, due a real person’s memory being planted into her consciousness, thinks she’s a human.

Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and Rachael (Sean Young). Talk about Coke bottle glasses.
The Replicants are on Earth hoping they can increase their normal four-year lifespan. To that end, Roy and Leon try to find someone who can connect them to Tyrell. They first try Chew (James Hong) at an eye-manufacturing lab. While he can’t help them, when he feels threatened he tells them about J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) who works closely to Tyrell and even plays chess with him.

Rachael visits Deckard in his apartment and tries to prove her humanity by showing him a family photo. But Deckard tells her that she’s a Replicant and that her memories are implants. Horrified, she runs away.
Meanwhile, Pris gains Sebastian’s confidence. Sebastian is a bit of an odd duck, who lives alone and creates his own genetic little buddies to live with him.

Deckard tracks Zhora down to a strip club where she works and retires her after a struggle and a chase. He is told by Bryant to add Rachael to his retire list, since she’s disappeared from Tyrell Corporation. Deckard sees Rachael in a crowd, but before he can do anything is attacked by Leon. Rachael kills Leon with Deckard’s gun and the two of them go back to his apartment and later become intimate.

Zhora in her failed attempt to escape the Blade Runner.
Roy arrives at Sebastian’s apartment and informs Pris that the other Replicants have been killed. Sebastian, whose own aging is accelerated, sympathizes with the Replicants’ plight and helps Roy to gain access to Tyrell’s penthouse. Roy asks Tyrell for more life, but Tyrell tells him it’s impossible. Roy monologues to Tyrell, kisses him and then kills him, thus sealing his own fate.

Sebastian at home with Pris and friend.
Deckard is ambushed by Pris in Sebastian’s apartment, but manages to kill her just as Roy returns. The two fight it out, but Roy is too strong for Deckard. But Roy saves Deckard when it appears he’s going to fall to his death. Roy then gives a monologue about his memories about to be lost and dies in front of Deckard. Just then, Gaff arrives and makes some veiled reference to Rachael.

Deckard returns to his apartment and finds Rachael asleep in his bed. As they leave, Deckard finds a small unicorn made by origami-making Gaff as a calling card.

After watching this version of the film, I had seen the original when it was out in theaters, I have to wonder what all the fuss is about. This is a very slow paced, poorly written, poorly acted mess. The special effects are all right for the time, but the film is so dark that the imperfections are somewhat hidden. And the future, while a dystopian nightmare, is not all that advanced technically. All right so there are building sized billboards and flying cars, but did the futurist never think we’d get beyond green screen computer monitors?

The film is set in Los Angeles, but there is very little recognizable as LA. We see exterior shots of the Million Dollar Theater, a bit of the Grand Central Market sign and some exteriors of the Bradbury Building and exteriors that are reminiscent of the Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House. And that’s it. No iconic shots of say City Hall or the Hollywood sign or even the ocean. Oh, we see the massive rows of smoke stacks breathing fire into the night sky and the pyramid-like Tyrell Corp. building, but nothing that is currently here. Why set it in LA and then not use LA as the setting?
The Tyrell Building coming soon to LA?
Blade Runner has been called an Action film and even Future Noir. Frankly, there is more action in a 30 second commercial and as far as Noir, labeling this that gives a bad name to Noir. Yes, this has many of the elements of the “subgenre”, the dark atmosphere, the lone wolf cop, the femme fatale Replicant (if you want to stretch it), but it’s sort of like saying a painting of a woman smiling is the Mona Lisa.

The acting is very stiff. I don’t really ever think Harrison Ford is engaged as Deckard. He seems to be reading the lines and going through the motions, but I don’t get a sense he had any real convictions for the part.

Harrison Ford in Warner Brothers' Blade Runner
Harrison Ford as Deckard. (Once a Blade Runner always a Blade Runner)
While I’m not a big fan of Edward James Olmos, he seems to be underutilized in this version at least. He only has a handful of dialogue lines, when they’re not in Japanese, and his character really doesn’t add much to the story. Again, maybe in one of the other six versions Gaff is an integral part of the plot, but in the Director’s Cut I get the feeling we’re watching what are leftovers that, try as they might, couldn’t be eliminated.

Edward James Olmos as the Japanese talking Gaff.
Rutger Hauer’s character has some of the oddest motivations. Why would Batty kill Tyrell, the only person that could possibly give him what he wants and save the one person, Deckard, who has been tasked with killing him? And Brion James’ Leon is one of those characters whose days are numbered as soon as you see him. He’s supposed to be menacing, but we already know he has a short shelf life.

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, Replicant.
Sean Young may not be a great actress, but she’s not given really all that much to do here. She moves with all the grace of a robot, but we’re not supposed to see it, are we? Joanna Cassidy takes a shower, shows some tit, throws Deckard against the wall and then runs off in one of the oddest wardrobe choices ever in films only to get gunned down.
Sean Young as Rachael. Replicant and Tyrell's Assistant.
The chase scenes are shot in such a way that it is very difficult to follow. When Deckard is chasing down Zhora she is constantly running through what appear to be store front display windows. Is there really any way that would keep happening? Everything is shot so dark that it’s hard to tell what’s going on sometimes.

Any review of the Director's Cut should not neglect the use of the Unicorn. Some have used its appearance in this movie, first as a flash in a dream and later as an oragami figure that Gaff leaves for Deckard, as a sign that Deckard is a Replicant. I'm not sure how the mythical beast which usually symbolizes magic and miracles fits into this SciFi film, but I'm wondering if perhaps we're trying too hard to find meaning where none may exist. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar and sometimes a unicorn is used to make you think there is some deeper meaning.
Deep meaning, it's there for the finding.
Which leads me to the writing. I have to say I was very unimpressed with the screenplay. The dialogue is sort of like a stream of words thrown together that are supposed to sound good, but in the end don’t really mean much.

As an example, this is an excerpt from the screenplay where Bryant convinces Deckard to hunt down the Replicants:

                  You know the score, pal.  When
                  you're not a cop, you're little

                  Forgot there for a minute about
                  the little people.  No choices
                  I guess.

                  No choice, pal.

What the hell does that mean? If Deckard knew the “score” and doesn’t want to be one of the “little people”, why did he retire from the police force in the first place? We’re never given a good reason why Deckard retired. He tells Rachael that he never mistakenly shot a human when hunting down a Repllicant, which might have been a real motivator to quit and not want to get sucked back in. He simply retired as far as we know when he was in his thirties. Talk about a cushy public sector pension plan.

Now there is a bit of science, real or fake, that the film has to deal with. Explaining the Replicants is taken care of in an expository printed prologue. Other than that, the film has to deal with certain explanations, but they end up sounding like gobbledygook. Here Tyrell explains the Voight-Kampff test:

                               TYRELL (os)
                  Is this to be an empathy test?
                  Capillary dilation of the so-called
                  blush response.. fluctuation of the
                  pupil involuntary dilation of
                  the iris......
Did you really understand what he was talking about? These all sound like words that mean something, but strung together I’m not sure what it means, except there is some reaction in the eye to emotional questions.

A lot has been made of Batty’s soliloquy at the end of the film, the so-called “Tears in the Rain” speech. Some have even called it “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history”. As written in the script it appears as:

                  I've seen things...(long pause)
                  seen things you little people
                  wouldn't believe... Attack ships
                  on fire off the shoulder of Orion
                  bright as magnesium... I rode on
                  the back decks of a blinker and
                  watched c-beams glitter in the dark
                  near the Tanhauser Gate. (pause)
                  all those moments... they'll be gone.
Hauer himself described this as having no bearing on the rest of the movie. So he apparently rewrote and he improvised some of the final speech, so we’re left with:

                  I've seen things you people
                  wouldn't believe (laughs)Attack ships
                  on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I
                  watched c-beams glitter in the dark
                  near the Tanhauser Gate. All those
                  moments will be lost in time, 
                  like (coughs)tears in rain. Time to die.

An improvement over the original script, but really, the most moving soliloquy in cinematic history? Batty has memories and when he dies, his unique memories go with him. Well, guess that’s what happens to everyone, their unique memories die with them, too. That’s the bitch about life. I don’t think Batty provides any real insight into that. Maybe I might have thought more of it, but I was bored by that point in the movie. Time for movie to end.

The pacing of the movie is slow as molasses on a cold day. Even with a less than two hour run time, the film seems long. But I don’t think there is really enough in the movie to say it could be condensed and work better. It sort of is what it is. Edit it as much as you like and you can’t make more of it than what is already there.

Now I went into watching this film with open eyes. I remembered that it wasn’t as great as it gets made out to be, but I didn’t remember Blade Runner being so bad.

Blade Runner (Director's Cut) is available as part of a collection at the WB Shop:

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