After all, it's just a ride….

Blade Runner – Final Cut (2007) Reprise

br1‘Memories….you’re talking about memories‘ – We’ve been here before of course, through two generations of Voight Kampff interrogation, but I think you’ll be willing to undergo a third assault on one of my all time favourite films – it must be edging out 2001: A Space Odyssey for sheer volume of Menagerie coverage by now. When yet another big-screen revival of the SF classic was announced I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t have a great deal to say from yet another screening, yet I dutifully ambled over to the Prince Of Wales cinema this week, handed over my £8 and scrambled upstairs for another trip to the Stygian Los Angeles of November 2019. Within moments of the opening credits my laughable concerns were obliterated in the face of the masterpiece – and let’s be clear with this, that this is a masterpiece –  as the film continues to mature and evolve like the highest proponents of the craft. Given that I’ve covered the familiar ground in those previous pieces I’m not going to be retracing the old ‘did you know the original cut closed with outtakes from The Shining?‘, ‘I wonder how the film would have turned out if original cast choice Dustin Hoffman shot the Deckard role?’  or ‘did you know that William S. Burroghs optioned the name title Blade Runner from one of his stories?’ anecdata which should be perfectly clear and general knowledge to you by now, instead I’ll formulate some thoughts around  some specific themes which have gloamed like those fiery refinery belches through that future industrial smog.  It’s fair to say that this entire on-line enterprise probably wouldn’t exist without Blade Runner, it was the first film I really developed an obsessive fascination with, and would watch every day after school on an increasingly degraded VHS copy that preserved an inferior ITV pan & scan transmission. Just to dilute any concerns about my mental health I would often be reading or doing homework as it thundered away in the background, so I’d look up and pay 100% attention only to the essential sequences –  the opening crawl, the Tyrell / Batty confrontation, Zhora’s knockers, the final chase and soliloquy, and, well, yes the list goes on. I’m not exaggerating when I proclaim that I’ve seen this film well over 100 times, so it is quite difficult to divorce yourself from knowing every anecdote from every component, of being able  to predict the sequence and contour of every scene and mentally mirror the dialogue ad nauseam, but I have tried my best to approach this with a fresh 2015 perspective in order to reassess the film another eight years on from its previous generation. So c’mon now, abandon those noodles, let’s crank up some music and take the spinner for a stroll, and let me show what I’ve seen with your eyes. Or something.

deckard‘Captain Bryant toka. Me ni omae yo’ – Oh god bless you internet, there I was wondering if anyone had translated Gaff’s dialogue delivered in that future urban argot – just another small ingredient of world building which adds nourishing texture to the piece – and of course they fucking have. That urban mood of the city as a living, breathing omnipresent entity evokes noir which takes us neatly to the first area I want to explore – genre, and rather more specifically genre hybrids. The mix of neo-noir and SF in Blade Runner has simply never been bettered (yes, I’m including Godard’s overrated Alphaville in that equation), and if you disassemble the constituent parts it’s rather a strange, seemingly incongruous combination. There are plenty of SF action movies, or action-comedies, cross pollenating to horror-comedies and so forth, but taking the futurism and predictive qualities of SF and then crouching those in the mean streets of urban malaise, of crimson lipped duplicitous dames and existential dread seems like a volatile, indigestible mixture. It’s not just the 1940’s costume design influences in the film, the neon-scorched & smoke saturated streets or Rachael’s Joan Crawford influenced Mildred Pierce hairstyles and power suits, beyond the visual trappings Hampton Fancher and David Peoples script also lavishes attention on tone. World-weary gum-shoe who is constantly drunk in the film? Check. Doomed, transgressive romance with a dame shielding a host of mysteries? Check. Powerful industrialist falling prey to the criminal elements of society he is in part responsible for unleashing? triple check. Thematically these iconographic contours refract and intensify against each other in some genre generated echo chamber, with the wielding of cloaked intentions and identity within an environment of moral and social disintegration, of fate and time dictated by some personified and malignant entity, with the oriental elements even suggesting the post-war occupation of Japan which was captured in the first cycle of noirs such as Sam Fuller’s  The Crimson Kimono or House Of Bamboo.

blade1‘Also extraordinary things; revel in your time’ – Just seeing this on the big screen again with roughly 25% extra visual information than the pan-scan TV versions I was weened on never fails to dazzle and inspire, Ridley populating and cramming every pixel with visual information, from Syd Mead and Lawrence G. Paul’s retro-futurist production design and Jordan Cronenwith’s caliginous cinematography. The film feels timeless like many other classics, it doesn’t have the historical gradient of many of its contemporaries and isn’t a glaring product of American cinema of the 1980’s like the Schwarzenegger or Stallone testosterone traducements. Perhaps this is because the themes and queries spliced into the film at every level are timeless – what is it to be human? How long have we got on this mortal realm? Can we create artificial intelligence? If so, then what are the consequences of igniting that Promethean fire? Even the scrubbed SFX stands up to scrutiny apart from some of those cityscape mattes framed outside Deckard’s apartment, and the post-modern fashions, the cultural and social coding is decades ahead of its time unlike similar fare which operate in the slipstream of Reganomics and the cold war – The Thing, Tron,  E.T. & Turkey Shoot – just to pick a few contemporaries from 1982. It’s also not just the 1940’s inflected future which Ridley restricted his influences upon, very little mention has ever been made about the Louis XIV inspired inner sanctum of Tyrell regaled in a Midas gold sheen, or J.F. Sebastian’s apartment cluttered with La Belle Époque garbed clockwork mannequins and prototypes, nor the New Romantic baroque decadence of the West Side bar where Deckard  fatally meets Zhora. I also noted that we never even get an establishing shot of this potentially lucrative location in the sense of fashion and design textures, an oversight unheard of in todays visual language of storytelling spectacle, all of which suggests that Ridley still had some detritus from the The Duellists to shake out of his viewfinder.

br3‘We’re not computers Sebastian…we’re physical’ – For the first time seeing the film projected I felt a real, palpable emotional core with the character of Rachel, and not simply because she was one of my first and  deepest screen crushes. Her function and plight is the emotional centrifuge of the film, the rostrum of simulacra and memory orbiting her character like a slowly descending spinner, and I was actually moved by her plight rather than taking a swim in her dreamy, chameleon eyes…….oh, I’m sorry, I erm, I got a little distracted there. Like HAL in 2001 she is the only empathic character in the film – Deckard is little more than a gum-shoe cypher who drinks constantly, gets beaten up and shoots women in the back – she is the engineered creature who enjoys anything like a dramatic arc, and her and HAL’s digital constitution is one of the great ironies of these twinned films, proclaimed as ‘more human than human’ by Tyrell as the corporate mission statement. Similarly Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer portrayal as curious adult/child hybrids given their emotional immaturity, it’s just so wonderfully pitched and played in comparison to the I.AM. {BZZT} A. ROBOT. dimensions of artificial intelligence on the big screen, and I’ll bet you digital dollars to differential doughnuts that Pris was a central influence on Scarlett Johannson in Under The Skin. Speaking of influences the films programming of Ex Machina is evidence of Blade Runners continual influence over thirty years later, a cognitive take on the major scientific and cultural issues of the day, but it was also the romance scenes in Deckard’s apartment which seem to have matured with a melancholic method, apart from the ‘no’ meaning ‘yes’ aspect of the seduction scene which is kinda uncomfortable in 2015. I’m not going to labour the point about the film not existing in almost as many cuts as the replicants themselves – 1982 domestic and international cuts, 1992 directors cut, the 2007 Final Cut and the original Work-Print – but here is a comparison of the opening and closing versions of each iteration;

The lights have expired, Vangelis prismatic score swells to establish mood and atmosphere, the credits leisurely spool across the retina as the only sensory information in a darkened auditorium, acclimatizing us into this incredibly tactile world immersion that is due to commence. I don’t want to be that guy but most movies today could take a lesson in from Blade Runner in terms of patience, of not plunging straight into the action with a barely conceived title sequence (which is an art unto itself of course), of trusting the audience and securing their undivided attention. Controversially I actually prefer the original ending, even if it doesn’t make narrative sense in the abstract that all these souls would be suffering in the LA metropolis hellhole and not living out in the Eden like mountains, except isn”t that what people do in the real world? Do they live in shanty towns in South America and Africa instead of foraging for sustenance out on the wilderness? No, we are social creatures that flock together so that criticism never made sense. I am hoping to see the original cut, either domestic or European on the big screen some day (naturally I leapt at the chance of seeing the Directors Cut in 1992) but I suspect that Warner Brothers and Ridders have pulled a Lucas and removed prints from circulation. It’s just a hunch as even on my social media feeds of numerous cinephiles and critics from across the globe no-one has ever mentioned, not once in almost a decade, of going to see the original 1982 version on the big screen.

br4‘Are you for real?’ – Must we reassess the great question that has raged for years – is Deckard a replicant? My current status with this perennial question is succinct and to the point – who cares? It doesn’t fucking matter, and no matter what Ridders said in that interview the question must and should remain opaque, uncertain and undefinable like the very notion of consciousness and moral authority probed in the movie. Does it benefit to have a clear-cut explanation of  what the monolith ‘means’, of the final shot in Haneke’s Hidden and all the queries that raises, or what ‘Rosebud’ really refers to in Kane? The beauty and strength of these inquiries on an artistic and cognitive level lies in the mind of the beholder, as you experience, digest and mull over the work in alignment with your experiences and ideology. Once an artist releases his or her creation into the cultural market then they lose any intellectual authority over that work, other than their specific intentions which are usually fascinating and instructive, but can chain the work to a single interpretation of meanings and mediations. I’m not saying that Deckard’s status isn’t an interesting query to pose and consider when thinking about the text, especially when considering some specific moments in the film (so why does Bryant have to explain to Deckard, a Blade Runner with numerous years experience exactly what a Nexus-6 is? Other than the scene being a clunky screenwriting exercise in audience exposition of course) although the sequel is guaranteed to focus on this question with diminishing and discordant results. It’s these uncertainties, these intangible signifiers that also bleed into the animal extinction and environmental catastrophe of movie world 2019. The notion that the vast majority of animal life has been exterminated is front and center in PKD’s source text but embroidered into the DNA of the film without oblique reference, no character ever wields clumsy dialogue stating ‘of course all animal life has been rendered extinct since the atomic wars of the late 1990’s’, instead it is just another factor of the world which raises the temperature of the artificial and evolutionary, of science advancing to the status of replacing but not regenerating, an ideal which is as prophetic in 1982 as it remains today.

br5Wow,…you’ve got some….really nice toys here’ – The tender streak of blood that Roy brushes across Pris’s cheek as he gives a final kiss, mirroring the drops of blood spiraling from Deckard’s wounds into his neat vodka after the encounter with Leon. The mannequin sitting at the bar with a bottle of J&B during the final chase scene (1:42) which I had not noticed in the aforementioned 100 viewings which could be another piece of evidence of Deckard as  an artificial alcoholic construction, you can’t see it well in that poor quality clip but it is there, yet more proof that further viewings can still yield intellectual treasures. The fact that Pris and Roy’s incept date seen in the opening of the film are a mere nine and eight months away) which I’m sure some cinephiles will be celebrating on-line, in the most otaku levels of fandom. The deleted scene which is so strongly reminiscent of the look and design of Alien that you’ve got to conclude that they operate in the same universe, perhaps with Weyland Yutani and the Tyrell corporation as warring competitors who in true cyberpunk fashion have supplanted government and civil society as the organizing forces of culture and capitalism across the colonized systems – if anyone from  the Villeneuve camp is reading this then yes I am available for script duties. The fact that this exists and is now my favored background writing inspiration. So finally, once again, the finale. It’s not just the speech, the now iconic addition to the greatest soliloquies of all time speech, no for me it’s the whole sequence from Deckard entering Sebastian’s apartment through to the smash-cut ending which is up there with the greatest sequences ever committed to polyethylene nitrate.  The pacing and texture is perfectly engineered, it is exciting and saturated with apprehension, giving us more vital yet abstract elements of the abandoned, saturated cityscape interiors suffering in almost abstract decay – just like Batty. Most importantly it has the emotional pay-off, the villain of the piece becoming transformed through mercy and expressing more humanity than all the other characters in the film combined – not bad for some dumb skin-job. It’s these tensions of story and theme that elevate Blade Runner to masterpiece status powered by its revolutionary visual conceptions, soundtrack and atmosphere, the extraordinarily prescient social, architectural and design predictions, a future world on-screen which straddles the immense landmarks of Lang’s Metropolis through to Kubrick’s 2001. The influence remains overwhelming as the themes evolve with each passing year – isn’t this wonderful – like Gaff’s closing ambiguous statement ‘it’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?’;

One response

  1. Pingback: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Teaser Trailer | Minty's Menagerie

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