Friday, August 19, 2011

Blade Runner: Coming Around Again

This is gonna be a pretty geeky blog. I advise those who've never seen Blade Runner to skip it, for two reasons. One, I'm likely to let fly big spoilers, and, two, I kinda doubt most of what I write will make much sense if you haven't seen the film. That said...Blade Runner is a modern classic, and a fantastic Sci-Fi Noir. True Sci-Fi, full of ideas and concepts, and not just about blowing crap up.

There's a truly, truly excellent 5-Disk Collector's Edition that gives you the Original Theatrical cut, the Workprint cut, the Director's Cut and the Final Cut all in one package, along with what is one of the best making-of documentaries I've ever seen. Very, very much worth it.

So, here goes...

I have a friend that likes to bemoan the "Hollywood Recyclery," and how all we seem to see are sequels, "reboots" and remakes. It's a fair jab, but it also leads to a rather negative way of looking at things that MIGHT, just MIGHT, be good.

I don't think anyone expected The Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be any good, yet...A lot of people seem to think it's quite good. Including my anti-remake friend. (I am dying to see it, but haven't had the chance yet.) I've always said, I'm game for any project, emerging from any source, if it's made with some sense of artistic merit. If the people making it have some stake in giving a new spin to the concept, above and beyond a paycheck.

So, I'm not anti-revisiting older concepts. Not at all.

Yet the news that Sir Ridley Scott is signed (which, granted, doesn't mean it'll actually happen) to revisit at least the world of his 1982 film, Blade Runner, doesn't really make me jump up and down. It's not that I think the original material doesn't offer lots of places and ideas to explore, because it sure as shooting does. It was deep, dark, and Scott's original film was filled with an ambiguity that was like catnip.

The ORIGINAL film.

Scott has mucked around with this film a lot. Some of it warranted, when the workprint version was released, I was very happy. Excising the voice-over narration (no matter how much that was a nod to the Noir style that the film obviously was designed that both Scott and star Harrison Ford loathed, and re-inserting more violent moments to make the "retirement" of the Replicants hurt a bit more, the workprint represented the film Scott was working toward. I loved it.

Problem is, the "Deckard is a Replicant" crowd got more and more pervasive, and, while I feel like that concept is obviously there, as subtext, in the theatrical and workprint versions (the "Replicant eye glow" seen on Deckard is awesome, subtle, and plants the seed) , Scott suddenly felt the need to add more and more to this subtext, until it almost upends the concept.

I think the concept of the film comes down to the Tyrell Corporation marketing line: "More Human Than Human." The question of how "human" Deckard is is central to the whole enterprise. Notice, I said "the question."

Me, I'm of the belief that Deckard is human, but desensitized and dehumanized by the world he lives in, 2015 Los Angeles. The Replicants are "more human than human" because they actually feel things, they love life, and strive, constantly, to hold onto it. With only four years to experience, well, anything...they push themselves to enjoy, experience, to live as much as they can. The Deckard we meet at the beginning of the film is a shell of a person, lost and empty. When, in the final reel, he runs with Rachel, it's a man learning to embrace life and take whatever joy he can from it, no matter how short-lived.

You can take all of that, and make it mean almost the same thing if Deckard is, in fact, a Replicant. Yet, I also feel it begins to strip away more and more of the society within the film having any humanity, whatsoever. There's an deleted scene where we discover that Tyrell, the head of the robotics corporation that builds the Replicants, is, in fact, a Replicant. There's a point, if you follow all of this stuff to the endpoint, where you begin to wonder "is ANYONE on Earth not a Replicant?" Which might make a fine film, but I'd also argue it's a vastly different film from what Blade Runner is.

If you go that way, I also tend to wonder about Gaff (Edward James Olmos), rival Blade Runner. Much of the Decakrd as Replicant theory makes use of the "being a Blade Runner, an executioner, is a horrible job, so they give it to Replicants" idea. Makes sense, actually...but why then is Gaff clearly NOT a Replicant?

I can go on and on about this, but I think I've made the point. So, I'll beg off.

Either interpretation is valid, and it has fueled many an on-line, and late night geek-fest, debates. The brilliance of the film was that it was constructed in such a way that Deckard's nature was ambivalent, but, either way, the story means the same thing. Live life, man...because you never know how much of it you have.

So, what do we care is Deckard is a Replicant? If you swing either way, you're gonna make some of your fanbase question your concept. The original release version, and the workprint, walked the fine line beautifully.

Then Ridley got unicorn happy...

Through his 1992 "Director's Cut" and 2007 "Final Cut," Ridley has moved the "Deckard is a Replicant" concept further and further from subtext to text. I'm a defender of a filmmaker's right to tinker with his work, but where George Lucas, with all of his endless tinkering, tends to just throw extra (and, ultimately, unneeded) stuff on top of what's there, Ridley seems to have been pointedly working to demystify Blade Runner. I'd argue the mystery, the ambiguity, is at the core of what the damn film is about.

Most of this revolves around a vision/memory Deckard has of a unicorn (which looks quite like an outtake from Scott's Legend), and then Gaff leaves a origami unicorn for him as he's sneaking Rachel (oh, yeah...also a Replicant) out of his apartment. The inference is "I've seen your memories."

Ok, but where the hell did a memory of a unicorn come from? I mean, really, here's a guy who lives in an urban wasteland, where most animals are extinct (except doves, apparently...he heh). Even if they're implanted memories...a unicorn? Why on Earth would you implant a memory of a mythological creature?


What worries me most about Ridley Scott returning to Blade Runner, in any form, even if it isn't a sequel or prequel, and I'm not alone, is that he seems hell-bent to make everyone damn straight sure that Deckard is a Replicant. Not stopping to think that maybe the idea that he MIGHT be, the question, was part of what made the movie so compelling in the first place. Believe me, there weren't many of us who cared, at all, in 1982. The film was a bomb, with a capital B, but the cult of the film grew from that...the questions it raised.

Whatever film may, or may not, come out of this, I will see. I love the property too much to not check in, and form my own opinion. However...even with the director who brought it all together to start with, I just think this is a story better left alone.

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