Wednesday, May 12, 2010

#11 Blade Runner (1982)

"An exquisite marrying of new and old"

The second in this our week of sci-fi films depicting dystopian futures is the 1982 film Blade Runner. This film stars Harrison Ford, which should already set off some bells. This is one of those films that I had heard of, but never really felt like I had seen. In fact, I would not be reviewing this film now if it hadn’t been brought to my attention in my film class a few weeks ago. The ironic thing is, that after the first 5 minutes, I realized that not only had I seen the film before, but I had seen it several times over. Looking at it now seriously, critically ,and analytically, I found it to be excellent. In full, it is a superb combination of film noir, those hard boiled cop films of the 40s and, the rapidly emerging film genre of science fiction.

The film takes place in Los Angeles in the year 2019, and scientists have developed a robot, called a replicant, that looks and acts exactly like a human, except that the robot stronger, faster and smarter. Fear of these creatures has caused them to be banned on planet Earth. To enforce this ban, a new force was created, a force whose job it was to hunt and destroy any replicants hiding out on Earth. This force is called The Blade Runners. The viewer is sent to Los Angeles, which we discover is now a slummy wasteland, inhabited solely by those humans too poor to afford a trip to Earth’s now numerous off-world colonies. Harrison Ford is one of these humans, and was once a Blade Runner, before quitting due to psychological trauma. Ford is brought back onto the force after four replicants killed a number of people, including a veteran blade runner, and were now running rampant in the streets of Los Angeles. The rest of the film plays out like a detective film, as Ford investigates crime scenes, examines evidence, and hunts the four robot killers.

I found the acting in this film to be quite good. Harrison Ford plays a character that seems to be quite a lot like Han Solo from Star Wars. He’s smarmy and smooth talking, but ultimately knows how to get the job done. I thought the actors who played the robots also did a good job. You could really sense that they were humanoid, but ultimately lacked the emotions that set humans apart from replicants – one of the few cases in which I would say forced, or seemingly forced lines actually work very well. The directing is good, but the shots I didn’t find to be particularly striking.

This film is really interesting because it takes the character driven aspects of the hardboiled detective film noir of the 40s, and combines it with the serious science fiction films that had begun to pop up in the 70s, with Star Wars and Alien. The film feels grimy, and the character development is incredible. The characters feel so real; you even become attached to the robots. The science fiction is really quite nice as well. Though the movie never really goes into the details of what happened, the scenes of Los Angeles are very striking. The people speak a dialect that Ford in the movie describes as, “a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you.” The feeling of dystopia is ever present, and you constantly find yourself wanting to know what happened.

The other thing I really liked about this film, is that Ford’s character is weak. He is always overpowered by the replicants, even the female ones. He has to rely on his own wits and ingenuity to survive, and every one of them is an ordeal. This is primarily because the film isn’t about the action, it’s not about cool action scenes, it’s about the emotions and motivations of the characters during the fight. This is truly proven in the ending scene of the film, which, as always, I will not give away. But trust me when I say, you’ll walk away scratching your head a little bit.

This film is on the list for a number of reasons. First is its cultural impact. I know I seem to be saying this with every film, but this one had some serious cultural impact on the sci-fi genre. A lot of aspects of this film are imitated a lot in sci-fi afterwards. It also asks a lot of interesting questions, such as what constitutes a human being, and how do we know we and our memories are real (the film actually goes so far as to put the famous Descartes quote “I think therefore I am” into the film).” Finally, this film is on the list for its excellent marrying of old and new. It combines film noir and sci-fi so well. While it certainly didn’t spark a genre or a trend to the best of my knowledge, it certainly perpetuated them. This is truly an excellent film, and if you love detective films, or sci-fi (I happen to love both), then this is certainly a great film to see.

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