Sunday, September 4, 2016

BLADE RUNNER (1982) - ****½

Rated R for violence
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: June 25, 1982

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is a visual feast for the eyes, with so much to take in that you will inevitably miss something. The film is immersed in its own world and more than likely contains many stories of its own. Blade Runner focuses on one such story, but it is packed into this crowded world the film has created and it is easy to lose focus on that story with so much surrounding it. That is more an attribute to the setting than it is a detriment to the story. Blade Runner is a visual film first, and a plot-driven sci-fi second.

It is the year 2019 and the setting is Los Angeles. This is no Los Angeles that we are familiar with. The buildings reach toward the sky while as giant billboards are filled with moving pictures trying to sell a product. It almost looks like Tokyo, with Asian script everywhere. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in to a meeting with his former police supervisor, Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh). Deckard was a "blade runner" back in the day, his job being to track down and "retire" replicants. Replicants are androids that resemble humans in every way, used for slave labor and combat on "off-world" colonies. Bryant informs Deckard that four replicants have escaped to Earth, where they are considered to be illegal. Bryant coerces Deckard to find and retire all four. 

Deckard meets with Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the head of the Tyrell Corporation, the creator of these replicants. He introduces Deckard to Rachael (Sean Young), who is unaware that she is what she is. She has a photo of herself as a child with her mother, but Deckard informs her that her memories are those of another person, implanted in her mind to give her a past. Meanwhile, the target of Deckard's investigation, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and his accomplices, are attempting to find a way to extend their lives, as they learn that they have a four-year lifespan and are coming to the end. This eventually leads to a scene where Roy meets his maker, so to speak, in the form of Tyrell. The conversation between the two, as Roy uses his intelligence to suggest ideas on how to extend his life, is quite cerebral, suggesting that Roy and company are more than just "bad guys"; they want to survive just like any human would want to.

One by one, Deckard takes down each, encountering Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) and then Leon (Brion James). Roy and Pris (Daryl Hannah) hide out in the home of J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), the genetic designer that helped Tyrell create the replicants. He is sympathetic to their cause, mainly because he has a genetic disorder that ages him more rapidly than others. He has also created a world in his home filled with many of his creations which greet him upon entering. This gives parts of the film a surreal quality that adds to the atmosphere. Deckard tracks them to Sebastian's home where we get the final showdown that takes us to a clichéd scene where our hero dangles from a rooftop. The action ends in a most unconventional, nonviolent manner, which is a refreshing change of course from most action scenes. 

Blade Runner is not an action film but it is a science-fiction film with a few action scenes. The film has a dramatic level to it that owes a lot to film noir. The cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth uses dark and shadowy lighting techniques while Deckard's own morality is called into question at times. The character of Rachael can be considered the "femme fatale" in which noir films of the past have incorporated. If Humphrey Bogart was placed in the future, it would look something like this. There is also a layer of paranoia present, as this future seems like a police state with spotlights constantly shining in apartment windows and the crowded streets below routinely patrolled. Ridley Scott's vision is layered with all of this. There are pacing issues at times with the story, but the audience is rewarded for their patience each time the story steps outside.

Harrison Ford gives an adequate performance as Deckard but Rutger Hauer outshines him as the replicant Roy. He is intelligent, articulate and brutally cold all in the same character. Sean Young gives a surprisingly human performance as the replicant Rachael. With these performances occupying this world that Scott has created, you get the feeling that there are many more stories that can be told in this time and place. Watching this film, with this world unfolding before our eyes, you wish you could see and hear more. 

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