Sunday, June 8, 2008

More Human than Human - Bladerunner

When you ask fans of science fiction films what their favorite 80's sci-fi is, you'll get more than half of them replying with "Bladerunner". The rest will probably say "The Empire Strikes Back", but that's another blog. What makes "Bladerunner" such a popular film for sci-fi junkies?

I got my hands on Ridely Scott's "Final Cut" of this movie. It's been cleaned up, matte lines have vanished, there is more depth to the world, and a general improvement of the visual effects. Nothing drastic like the "Special Edition" version of the Star Wars trilogy. This is more along the lines of the polishing done on the "Indiana Jones" series. In fact, if no one told me they had cleaned up the effects, I probably wouldn't have noticed. This is probably the best version of the movie I've seen (and I've seen three other versions). If you've never seen the movie, go and check it out now, then come back and read this blog.

For the rest of you, I'll reveal something that may be blasphemous, but I think is pretty true. "Bladerunner" isn't a classic sci-fi film because of it's characters. In fact most of the characters in the film are pretty flat. Don't believe me? What do we know about Deckard? Not much, and he doesn't really seem to change or evolve as the film continues. In fact one of the main reasons you can believe he is a replicant, is that he seems to steadfast in his hunt of the fugitives. He seems effected by killing them, but this emotion runs through the entire movie. Deckard is basically your typical film noir detective or hit man. He's burnt out, drinks too much but gets the job done. He falls for the dame and runs off with her at the end. Not much new there.

I think there are two things that make "Bladerunner" such a classic: the incredible and immersive world Ridley Scott creates in the movie and the basic theme of "What does it mean to be human?". Now, even after over two decades of existing, "Bladerunner" has such a distinctive look. Sure it's an 80's vision of the future, but that vision is complete in everything around the characters, from their clothing to the grime in the streets. The detail is so complete that it houses the characters and seems to exist independently from them. You never feel that you are on a soundstage, or in front of the blue screen. You feel like Scott plunked down his camera in Los Angeles 2019 and filmed.

The look of this movie has inspired countless others, but none have really managed to pull it off as completely and realistically as Scott did. The only place I've seen it equaled is in Japanese animation, especially in the cyber-punk films "Ghost in the Shell" and "Akira". If anything many directors who have envisioned a dark, grimy, urban future owe this look to Scott's team one "Bladerunner."

The final element that makes this film so memorable is the question of what it means to be human. It's not the first film to explore this. You can go back to the silent movie "Metropolis" to see one of the earliest examples. You can't forget HAL in "2001" either. Here the idea is presented for the 80's audience. Are the replicants really so bad? They are like children given great power and now , just like anyone else, they are afraid to die. They will do anything to stop it from happening. Is Deckard a hero for hunting them down? And what does it mean if he's a replicant too? This added bit of depth keeps the movie alive for new viewers.

What do you think of "Bladrunner?" Is it a classic or is it over rated? Is it a product of it's time and was topped by the likes of "The Matrix" and "Ghost in the Shell"? Did there need to be a "Final Cut" or was a previous version good enough for you?

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