batty


For some reason of late I've been drawn to learning more about the genre of cyberpunk, which is odd in that although I can enjoy cyberpunk, it is not one of my favorite genres. (nor even my favorite genre that ends in punk) So in this pursuit I figured I should rewatch a movie that is generally considered the first venture of cyberpunk into the mainstream. That movie being Ridley Scott's Blade Runner which came out in 1982 (good year) and was not well received in the United States. A major part of its failure in American theaters was probably due to it being science fiction and starring Harrison Ford in the leading role, but having little to no similarities with the Star Wars movies which were, at the time, between the second and third installation. However rather then die in obscurity the movie began to get a "cult" following and was eventually revised with more of the original intention of the film some nine years later, which was the origin of the term director's cut. I first watched this movie six years ago and although I liked it for the most part, I was not especially interested or drawn to it. However I felt with my more recent (though extremely limited) inquiries into cyberpunk I should watch it again.

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction which is generally defined as taking place in a dystopic vision of earth's future rather then in the vastness and strangeness of space. Often its picture of the future is one where technology and science has advanced but society and the human condition has remained stagnant or regressed. This appears to be in answer to the utopian visions of the likes of Gene Roddenberry or the humanist evolutionary views of Arthur C. Clarke. It is looking at the future as having new and exciting toys but the same old problems. However this is not to be mistaken with works like 1984, Brave New World, or Metropolis which are perhaps fathers of a kind to cyberpunk. Cyberpunk stories take place in worlds that are noticeably not utopic and are in fact degenerate whereas the latter stories involve the darkness behind a constructed utopia. Cyberpunk pulls greatly from the styles of film noir though maybe none more so then Blade Runner itself. Its protagonists are often hackers or in some way in rebellion against society or powerful corporations (neither is the case in Blade Runner) and in typical noir fashion they are generally anti-heroes in some way or another. Another reoccuring device or explored theme is artificial life and intelligence. A more current and popular image of cyberpunk would be the Matrix series, though it draws from a few genres, and may also belong more in the postcyberpunk classification. (you aren't worth a dime as a genre until you have a post-... offspring, I guess)

Blade Runner is actually loosely based on Philip K. Dick's (seems to be the most film adapted writer, at least in the last twenty-five years or so) novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and takes some inspiration from a few of Dick's other stories. The movie shows the audience a world where artificial beings have been created that appear and reason like humans. They are called replicants and are mostly used for labor and military purposes, but when there is a bloody replicant revolt off-world, replicants are outlawed on earth. To enforce this a specialized group of cops, called blade runners, have to hunt them down and "retire" them. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a retired blade runner who is called in to try and hunt down four escaped replicants who have returned to earth for unknown purposes. The movie contains many layers of themes, but its most obvious questions involve reality, humanity, and mortality.

Deckard is obviously Scott's version of the noir hard-boiled detective as they are called. Though it is not delved into much, he appears to have gone through a rough past that has led him to his leaving his job and being alone. (I think the theatrical release refers to his having an ex-wife) He carries the I-don't-care-about-no-one attitude, and appears to be living a purposeless and empty life. However through the unfolding of the movie you come to find that there is more to him. He is hard only to cover the scars and weakness. I will admit to knowing film noir less then I know cyberpunk, (and although I just attempted to define it, I'm still really just trying to figure it out) however I don't believe the standard noir hero normally shows his brokenness. However there are a few points in the movie, especially involving the love story, where if seems Deckard reverts back to his shallow noir self, and then back again to his more human character. One could argue that it is merely the character attempting to act hard, but it doesn't feel congruent with his other self. It appears Scott attempted to appeal too strictly to the noir standards once he had already broken them. It is one thing to tell a story within a genre but it should not be at the sacrifice of the characters or the story. This may have been one of the causes of the rather famous struggles between Ford and Scott on-set. However this does not take much from the film, it just leaves for a few awkward moments of inexplicable character actions on his part, or perhaps I just don't properly get Deckard.

Perhaps the best part of the movie is not the protagonist, but the antagonist. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is the leader of the replicants who have come to earth to find answers to their questions. Batty is one of those villains that one can argue about whether or not he is a true villain. Obviously it all depends on how you define villainy, but when it comes down to Batty's motivation you find it to be strikingly human. Basically Batty has the greatest physical strength and mental prowess manufactorable, but all this is found in the maturity of a child. Under these conditions he is forced to deal with his very real mortality and he is led to extreme actions. He is a character that gets a bit of everything out of the audience. At times you fear him, at times you have sympathy for him, but at all times you aren't sure what to expect from him. There is far more to him but I'd rather people experience him with little preparation. In truth, Roy Batty would very certainly make my list of favorite villains, that is if I had a list or ever dared to venture one.

Of course an obvious dilemma I have with this and other stories that explore humanity through artificial intelligence is that I am a dualist. If one is a materialist and believes that all that exists is physical matter then artificial intelligence is a very real possibility and certainly merits philisophical discussion. As a dualist however, believing in both body and soul, the idea that a computer could have personal identity and be an emotive creature does not really have merit. It does not rob these stories of their relevance to both theories though, in that it explores what it is to be human. Understanding the definitions and the words involved give you the means to build and discuss ideas. In Blade Runner three main characters explore humanity through three seperate conditions and points of view. Not believing that a replicant as they exist in the movie is truly possible does not hinder me from pondering what qualities the replicants have that would or would not make them human and thereby pursuing and inquiring as to the qualities of humanity. As with most true science fiction, Blade Runner discusses and explores philisophical ideas under speculative circumstances, however it does this without the sacrifice of character development as many works I have seen do.

Another thing of note is some of the background work of the movie; art direction, music, and the like. Vangelis, the composer of Blade Runner's score, is not exactly the type of music towards which I am drawn. The electronic music feels dated at times due to its style being mostly prevalent in the 80's, however at points the blending of jazz and electronic music is very fitting for the futuristic-noir setting for the movie. I don't want to speak too much about it because I am not a fitting musical critic and I know speaking ill of Vangelis in some settings merits being drawn and quartered. The setting and cityscape I found very interesting with its variance; the grand pyramids of the corporate world, the dark and dirty yet neon glowing streets, and the delapidated Bradbury apartments broken and unkempt. (my favorite set) There was the film noir consistent use of smoke to create black and white contrasts with the lighting. I don't consider myself of any value at judging cinematography but in my ignorance, the realization at how striking some of the shots of the film were, exemplified either great artsmanship to convey it to my untrained eye, or a poor showing of said skill displayed in the lack of subtlety. I'll let greater minds then mine discuss that. As for costumes, a lot of them are right out of a 40's noir movie with a few twists, and many of them are great. However one will always stand out in my mind because it becomes the focus of a very dramatic slow-motion moment where you are left wondering, "what were they thinking with that costume?" There are definitely parts of the movie that are left dated, which is often the case when people stuck in another time period try and speculate as to the styles of the future and to fit it with their themes. However Blade Runner stands up a lot better then I remember first thinking it did in regards to its age.

Two other notes before I end my utterly too long meanderings. The director's cut is the better edition by quite a bit in my estimation. Anytime the movie makers are forced to add in a voice-over to baby the audience through the movie, it takes away the audiences' questions. If the movie can't show you then a voice telling you what you are seeing isn't going to help the movie. Studios feel that a movie cannot leave things to the imagination because the audience is too dumb, which unfortunately is too often true but is exactly because we are so spoon-fed. Let the mind work through what it is seeing and do not give it a handicap. A very big rule for storytelling right now is show don't tell, however it is always the fear of the artist (but more so the money-grubbers) that the audience won't get it. Secondly there is a question that can arise from viewing the movie that is famously discussed. I don't wish to give things away to those who haven't seen it, so I am probably going to make little to no sense (figure I shouldn't change now) to both the initiated and the non-. A few years ago, I think it was supposed to be the 20th anniversary of the movie, Ridley Scott came out with his answer for the question. Though others involved in making the movie sided against him. My stance after watching the movie with this more prevalent in my mind was that the movie is far stronger and more interesting when you disregard how Scott answers the big question. I think it hinders the movie greatly otherwise. Knowing how Philip K. Dick stories tend to go, I'll bet that Scott's answer for the question comes from there, however as the movie is presented I don't think the framework is there to justify it reasonably or thematically. Three cheers for being vague!

Overall I enjoyed the film a great deal more then my first viewing. I was left with a lot more then I've written here but tried (haha) to keep it brief. It is definitely up there in any ranking of movies I'd attempt, but still far short of my favorite film of which I am still (and will always be, I'd assume) in pursuit. It is not a movie I would recommend to everyone. It is in no way an action movie, but its also not your ordinary drama. I will guarantee nothing if you decide to see this movie due to my finding it fascinating. If you like it then you can credit me, otherwise...

(2007 is supposed to see an even newer edition of the movie in theaters and on dvd)

If you have read this far, I applaud your strength and courage (though somewhat question your reason) and apologize for this assault on pleasurable reading. However to keep up with the title of my blog I will have to venture through many a dangerous treks. Next up, botany! (I went a little overboard on the paranthetical references, don't you think?)

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