Wednesday, October 24, 2007


"Gosh, you've really got some nice toys here."

Once again I have cause for gratitude for living in NYC, as NYC is apparently one of only two cities to have gotten full-out screenings on big screens of the (probably and hopefully last) Final Director’s Cut of BLADE RUNNER, which is coming out in a big old multi-DVD package in December. They've done a final digital clean up, erasing little problematic bits, like visible wires holding up supposedly airborned police cars, etc. They even added Joanna Cassidy's face to the body of the stuntperson who runs through all those big sheets of candy glass, and it actually works. I was worried that there'd be even more serious tinkering with the story, but no, Ridley Scott hasn't done to his magnum opus what George Lucas did to his. So BLADE RUNNER is back, its visual and sonic beauty undimmed and even enhanced, and its problems still unresolved and in some ways even magnified.

1. BLADE RUNNER really is something from a purely technical standpoint. It is one of the most gorgeously made films ever. And it really really really can only be appreciated on a BIG FUCKING SCREEN. DVDs of this film are a waste of DVDs. It is like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or BRAZIL or 2001 or BARRY LYNDON in that regard. This cleaned up version looks great, sounds great, and is just a joy to behold, especially in these days of hand-held camera quick cut nonsense. And the recent big-screen engagement at the Ziegfeld is a marvel: crystal clear digital projection, great sound, goodness gracious me and mine, just an ecstatic orgy of sight and sound and gorgeousness and gorgeosity made cinema.

2. BLADE RUNNER is not a very good movie in pretty much every other way. Harrison Ford's performance is lackluster to say the least, he seems completely lost, veering from existential despair in one scene to low-comedy mugging in the next, and not in a good way. The character remains enough of a cipher for the director to be able to claim, 25 years after the fact, that he isn’t even a human being. The story is pretty well dumbed down from Philip K. Dick's remarkable novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, replacing Dick's satiric edge with a world-weary noir aesthetic that was really horribly cloying when the film was burdened with a tiresome narration.

3. It struck me this time that the movie's attitude toward women is not particularly positive. They are either replicants or repulsive. The only two (apparently) human women with speaking roles in the film are an aged Asian woman who gives Deckard information about snake scales and a thickset woman with an eyepatch who sells Deckard a bottle after he retires Zora. The three female leads are all replicants, all three of them are murderers, all three of them are used rather degradingly for sexual purposes. Zora is a performer in a sleazy nightclub whose routine involves a snake (“watch her take the pleasures of the serpent that once corrupted man!”), Pris is referred to as a standard pleasure model for military recreation. Rachael starts the film as a bold, confident woman, but her self-realization as a replicant is combined with a chilling descent into mechanization: she is finally turned into a sex toy with no will of her own. She can't even speak for herself during that really hideous rape scene (I’m afraid it can’t really be called anything else) and in her final appearance as she and Deckard run off into the elevator. Now this could be part of the point about the woeful way in which the replicants are treated, purely as things, but it never really comes across as the point, somehow.

4. Ridley Scott has gone on the record claiming that Deckard is a replicant, that he was always a replicant. And there are assorted little clues scattered throughout the film, to be fair, but they have always felt more like an attempt to draw a parallel between Deckard and the replicants he is hunting, more as an attempt to add some moral ambiguity to the story. There is one little clue that sticks out like a sore thumb, a waking vision that Deckard has of a unicorn, which is apparently intended as a piece of installed memory in Deckard's artificial memory banks, and I'm sorry but it is just plain bullshit. If Deckard is a replicant, Scott should have shot something somewhere to indicate this just a little more clearly than he does.

And anyway, if Deckard is a replicant the whole film goes out the window. It is like having Victor Fleming say that Dorothy is a witch, that she was always a witch. Actually, no, that really makes more sense, as Glinda seems to recognize some kind of magical powers in Dorothy ("Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"). Bottom Line: If Deckard is a replicant, Mr. Scott might have made it into an actual part of the film itself, not something that one can only recognize by reading an article in the New York Times 25 years after the film is released.

So what is the thrill of BLADE RUNNER? Well, for me it is purely the visuals and the soundtrack. I don’t “prefer” technique to story or emotion, by any means, but I’ll admit to being fairly susceptible to the seductions of pretty pictures on a big screen, and to needing some time to overcome the initial “whoa!” factor. My father pointed out to me many many many years ago that I am a sucker for spectacle, and I can’t entirely disagree. I’ll get carried away by the pretty pictures, I’ll admit it. I don’t think I’m as bad as I used to be about it. I could see through the pretty pictures in drivel like BARTON FINK and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY to the gaping empty derivative disasters that they are when they were first released. I still watch HUDSUCKER sometimes when it is on, just to look at the prettiness, and there is a lot of it, but the film is a train wreck. I’ll see a movie for the technique alone, hey, why not, but I ain’t going to pretend even for a moment that a film like BLADE RUNNER, as radiantly gorgeous as it is, is anywhere near a 2001 or LAWRENCE or NASHVILLE or or or or or or or, and could never be a RULES OF THE GAME or a 400 BLOWS or IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.