Friday, September 21, 2007

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: My love affair with Blade Runner (director’s cut)

Part 1 of a 10-part series in which I examine my favorite films, and the reasons why I love them so.

    I've … seen things you people wouldn't believe. 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 tears ... in rain. Time ... to die.

The death-speech of Roy Batty (as played magnificently by Rutger Hauer) in the rain on the rooftop at the conclusion of Blade Runner is one of my favorite moments in all of cinema, the culmination of a film that transcends its (admittedly beautiful) sci-fi trappings to take a piercing look into the heart of the human condition. It asks, and tries to answer, the eternal questions—what does it mean to be a human? Are humans mere machines, with circuitry of flesh of blood, or are they something more?

The most obvious and immediately striking feature of Blade Runner is its visuals. At the time they were an unparalleled accomplishment in cinema, and later films like The Terminator and The Matrix show an obvious debt to Blade Runner. Director Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision seems almost cliché now, but coming as it did hard on the heels of popular films and TV shows like Star Wars, Star Trek, Lost in Space, etc.--films in which the future was portrayed as fun and/or progressive-- it was truly groundbreaking.

The replicants—artificial creations made to look, sound, and even react emotionally as humans do— provoke all sorts of uncomfortable questions. Their creator, Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation, calls them “more human than human,” and indeed their passion and will to live (due to their short “life” spans) makes them seem more alive than the real humans in the film. Because they are programmed with memories, they have personality, perspective, independent thought, and emotional reactions, though a sophisticated empathy test can betray them as replicants.

Hauer’s terrific portrayal of Batty, the “perfect” replicant, is my favorite piece of acting in Blade Runner. The parallels between Batty and Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost are intentional (witness Batty in the elevator leaving Tyrell’s apartment following the murder of his creator—those stars in the background are an obvious reference to his “fall”). And this exchange between Batty and Tyrell:

    Tyrell: What… seems to be the problem?
    Batty: Death.
    Tyrell: Death? Well, I’m afraid that’s a bit out of my jurisdiction…
    Batty: I want more life. Fucker.

…is Satan voicing his displeasure with a God that controls all the strings. Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven, indeed.

I vastly prefer the director’s cut over the theatrical release of this film. For one thing, the theatrical release is not director Ridley Scott’s vision; the studio reportedly forced the addition of a tacked-on voice over by Harrison Ford to make the film more accessible. I think it cheapens the film. The director’s cut also adds some important scenes, such as the infamous origami unicorn, which has subsequently provoked fierce debate as to whether Ford’s character Deckard is himself a replicant. The director's cut also removes the tacked-on feel-good sequence at the end of the studio release.

From a few conversations I’ve had about this move, Blade Runner seems to be one of those love it/hate it films—you either love it for its novel-as-cinema qualities, its measured pace, and its thought provoking questions, or you hate it for the same reasons.

Personally, I love Star Wars and other shoot-em-up space opera faire, but I revere Blade Runner for vastly different reasons.


Falze said...

"If you could see what I've seen with your eyes..."

Best.Movie.Ever. (probably)

Of course I just picked up another classic thanks to a B&N sale...

Here's a hint...

"River Bottom Nightmare Baaaand!"

Tamon said...

" films and TV shows like Star Wars, Star Trek, Lost in Space, etc.--films in which the future was portrayed as fun and/or progressive-- it was truly groundbreaking."

Uh. Star Wars didn't portray the future. Remember? "A long time ago..."

But everything else you say...I agree with.

Brian Murphy said...

Uh... Tamon thanks for the pedantic, needlessly needling comment. It may or may not be accurate but adds zero to the conversation and ignores the point of this post. Carry on then.