Movie Review: Blade Runner

Deckard doesn’t really look like Harrison Ford, was one of my initial thoughts about the movie. To me, Harrison Ford is Han Solo, then Indiana Jones.

Blade Runner is a sci-fi noir based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. I’ll admit I haven’t read that particular Dick story, but my guess is it’s probably not that close to the original (though probably more so than this year’s The Adjustment Bureau was to “Adjustment Team”). Still, it has plenty going on, and does have the feel of a Dick story, which is quite an accomplishment for any adaptation. Props to directory Ridley Scott.

Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced Robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a replicant. The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them.

Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.

After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death. Special police squads – BLADE RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicants.

This was not called execution.
It was called retirement.

It’s a story that’s fairly familiar in sci-fi, but Dick was probably among the first: a group of sentient, humaniform robots are declared dangerous and must be hunted down. The bitter, retired cop who’s brought back into service is lifted from the detective story genre, but what makes Deckard different is that we never actually learn what makes him bitter, or at least brooding…it’s only hinted at a couple of times throughout the movie.

No one ever explains why replicant hunters are known as “blade runners”.

What the movie often gets praise for is its setting and atmosphere: the slums of a heavily internationalized and industrialized Los Angeles. Japanese is everywhere on the streets, and the street slang is (apparently) a mix of several different languages. This has inspired scenes in several later movies; I can definitely see how it influenced Coruscant’s underlevels in Attack of the Clones.

(One major difference from the LA I know is that it is always raining and always dark, which gives the area a more depressed feel despite the garishly-lit advertisements and flying cars.)

I was originally going to say that the movie felt heavy-handed, particularly its first-person narration. Almost all of it was unnecessary and would have been better served as dialogue, or left to the audience to figure out. However, I checked with Wikipedia, and the narration was apparently only present in the theatrical releases (warning: spoilers!). The less-inappropriate-but-still-odd “happy ending” was also only in the theatrical releases. So if you watch the “director’s cut” or “final cut” editions, I think you’ll get a much better movie.

There are certainly flaws. Dick tends to care more about exploring a premise than fleshing out characters, and Scott’s movie likewise focuses more on the noir. Thus while I did feel some sympathy for Rachel, I felt like there was more of an opportunity to explore Pris and Roy—to show either less or more than what we saw. And as much as I disliked the narration, other scenes were actually fairly confusing…though maybe that was the low-volume TV I was watching it on.

As for Deckard, I like what I think Scott was hinting at, though he leaves it deliciously unconfirmed. (Yes, that’s a weird adjective, but the whole act shows some respect for the audiences, in the same way as the ending to Inception.) I think the hinting was too heavy at one point, but that’s a personal opinion.

The climactic fight is tense, but borders on unbelievable, though we don’t exactly know what the capabilities of a replicant are. They do things that might injure a normal human, but they do get injured themselves, and they are not superhuman…just very, very good. Given the biological component of replicant manufacturing, this is justified enough to swallow.

Who should watch Blade Runner? It’s too slow for an action movie, too anemic for a romance, not “sleuth-y” enough for a mystery. But it’s a fairly good “make-you-think” movie, it’s much more honest “sci-fi noir” than I, Robot (the movie, not the book), and it does have fairly good scenery. You don’t have to be a sci-fi person to watch it and get something out of it; it’s like Gattaca in that way. Come ready to think and with enough patience to see where it’s going next…and pay attention.

This movie takes effort, but I’m glad I watched it, if only to have a bit more Philip K. Dick (and my first Ridley Scott) in my mind.

And if you can manage it, get one of the DVD releases.

Postscript (spoilers): The scene where Deckard first kisses Rachel immediately set off my creeper alarm. I mean, he keeps her from leaving, tells her what to say…he’s half way to raping her. I DON’T GET IT. Y U SUCH A CREEPER?