Just when I thought I’d missed it, The Laurelhurst Theater here in Portland brought Blade Runner: The Final Cut back around (I wasn’t here when it first played, and somehow, I missed the movie’s original release, though during that same time I managed to see all three original Star Wars movies as they came out). Thankfully Ridley Scott’s upgrades are subtle. He didn’t feel the need to George-Lucas it up with obvious and jarring new scenes and CGI. The changes are relatively seamless.
Watching this movie in the theater, which many of you know I’d been waiting a long time to do, made me realize some of the reasons the film works so well in the first place (The recent release of Alfonso Cuarón’s so-called “anti-Blade Runner,” Children of Men, only highlights this). Scott is not Kubrick, nor is he Spielberg, but his aesthetic is somewhere in between — closer to the former than the latter, but it definitely shares shades of both. The scenes of stilted dialog, of which Kubrick was the master, often provoked audible snickering among the crowd in attendance, but still work today because of their unblinkingly unnatural feel. If these same scenes had a Tarantino-esque, playfully natural dialog, it wouldn’t be the same movie, and its timelessness would be lost. The same can be said for the action sequences in which Rick Deckard’s hapless anti-hero status is couched and cemented (not unlike Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, which follows the filmic tradition of futuristic dystopia that Blade Runner helped establish). If not for these oddities of Scott’s direction, Blade Runner would be another I, Robot or Minority Report (What would Asimov and Dick say about those action-movie interpretations?). Because of them, it is just as powerful and haunting in 2008 as it was in 1982.
Aside from the mechanization of the plot and players, there is the mechanization of nearly everything else. Syd Mead and Ridley Scott made the streets of Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles circa 2019 incessantly writhe with life of all kinds. Everything is always wet, the environment is inescapable (It’s a lot like the Northwest most of the year), and it’s populated by the extant “lower” forms and defectives (e.g., genetic engineer J. F. Sebastian, who, ridden by a glandular disorder called Methuselah Syndrome, is chronologically twenty-five, but visibly appears closer to twice that), as the privileged have moved Off-world. As organic as all of this comes across, all forms of control are mechanized. From the robotic crosswalks to the loudspeaker advertising the Off-world colonies, it feels like a machine is ultimately in control.
Which brings us to the genetic theme that runs throughout the film, and the paradox that follows it. Genetic engineering is such an obvious overtone in this story as to be almost transparent. It is almost its own character, yet it is so there, so ensconced in the fiber of the film, that it almost goes unnoticed. It’s like wallpaper or furniture. As Eugene Thacker said in our interview a couple of years ago, “It’s pretty obvious, if one looks around, that the life sciences and biotechnology have pervaded popular culture.” When Blade Runner came out, this was not the case, but with the spread of these memes in the meantime, the movie lends itself to a new reading in 2008. Thacker adds, “It seems to now be a requirement to somehow put genetics in the stories, even if it really doesn’t make any sense.” Blade Runner is so deeply based on the ideas of biomechanics and genetic engineering that the concepts seem to disappear into the background — even as they are at the very forefront of the narrative.
Then there’s the open-ended nature of that narrative. Is Deckard a Replicant? It seems the most asked, yet least relevant question about the movie. Neither reading changes the story’s outcome or impact very much, but the nature of his character definitely leaves it open to either.
I used to have lengthy talks with my Blade Runner-obsessed professor, Peter Atterton. Atterton is a Levinasian scholar and sees Levinas‘ ethic-minded idea of the face-to-face encounter in the final battle scene between Deckard and Replicant Roy Batty, in which Batty saves Deckard and then dies himself. It’s a reading I wish Peter would finally put into a paper.
At the other end of the spectrum of interest, when Blade Runner was re-released this time, I heard rumblings of “what’s the big deal?” This movie has influenced everything from Hip-hop to advertising, not to mention countless other movies, designs, and stories. I’m obviously a longtime fan of the movie, having seen it on DVD many, many times. I have to say, seeing it again this time — finally on the big screen — cements its “classic” status in my mind. Blade Runner is truly a great movie and deserves all the accolades it has received over the twenty-five years since its original release. Special thanks to Ridley Scott for not meddling with its original vision.
If you get a chance to see this movie on the big screen, I obviously recommend taking it.
Here’s the trailer for Blade Runner: The Final Cut (runtime: 1:00):
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.