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November 27, 2012

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On DVD/Blu-ray – Blade Runner (1982) 30th Anniversary Edition

by NIR SHALEV

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is now 30 years old and there’s little left to say about it. When it came out, it met with decent critical praise and very little profit. It made its money back at the international box-office but that took a long time. Fast-forward and look at where it is today.

Blade Runner tells the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a man whose occupation involved killing (or retiring, as his superiors refer to it) rogue androids that look and act exactly us. “More human than human” is Tyrell Corporation’s motto for the Nexus 6 replicant models. The only thing that sets replicants apart from us is that they lack empathy. Early in the film, Deckard meets with Tyrell’s own daughter, Rachel (Sean Young) and is tasked with running a test on her. After asking her more than 100 cross-referenced questions he reports to Tyrell, in private, that she’s in fact a replicant and is astounded to find out that she doesn’t know it. “How can it not know what it is?” asks Deckard. That’s what sets this film apart from all other science fiction tales that deal with robots and individuality.

Deckard isn’t the only lead character in the film. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is the other and the leader of the small replicant group that had mutinied against and murdered their superiors on another planet before returning to Earth. Due to the fact replicants may become sentient at one point in the future Tyrell built every model with a fail-safe device: a four year life span. Batty wants longer life and his crew of three will help him to the end.

The best line in the film comes from Rachel when she asks Deckard whether he’d ever retired a human by mistake. He flat out replies, “No”. How can one truly know these things? And why do the Nexus 6 models look and act just like us? Why not make them look mechanical and metal-based so that we could identify them more clearly in case of other future mutinies? Such questions are irrelevant because even our present time we’re developing the most complex, realistic looking robots, ones that can respond to us properly. It’s all in the name of science and progress. based on the classic Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner shows us a future that looks astonishingly complex, superfluous, and beautiful all at once.

The Los Angeles that is depicted in the film showcases buildings that are hundreds of stories tall and the surrounding architecture resembles art deco-style interior design and furniture. There are also flying cars, deranged-looking street cleaners, and the four Tyrell Corporation Towers are pyramid shaped, a la George Orwell’s 1984. The visual schemes in the film resemble neo-noir environments: all of the shadows, deranged architecture, and German Expressionistic shot compositions that are found within film noirs, but many other colors are added to the mix. Loud colors, expressive colors, neon colors. And along with the neo-noir look many of the film’s individual shots are gorgeous, painterly, and seem to belong in the renaissance-era. The painting style of Chiaroscuro stands out quite a lot.

The film is also timeless, because it takes place in a future that will never exist. The dialogue is simple and the characters speak with clarity. Essentially, Blade Runner is a talking heads film that contains grand philosophical ideologies regarding the right to take lives and what it means to replace humans with pod people. It’s also a slow-paced albeit gorgeous looking film that depicts a future in which I wish I could exist.

Blade Runner originally suffered from terrible studio involvement that forced Scott to re-edit the film, replace the ending with a much happier one (one that, ironically doesn’t make any sense), and to provide the audience with a narration spoken by Deckard. It was entirely superfluous and the film felt more like a traditional 1950s film noir than a creature all of its own. Sometime during the late 1990s a Director’s Cut was released by Scott and it was a vast improvement. It was much closer to the original product because he’d done away with the superfluous narration and had also restored the original ending (the one depicting the image of a unicorn made of origami). Audiences were then able to somewhat comprehend what the greater picture was all about.

In 2007, Warner Brothers, with great assistance by Ridley Scott had released Blade Runner: The Final Cut and it was definitely the final and original version that Scott had intended for audiences to see from the start. It came on DVD and Blu-ray, and the version that most opted for (myself included) was the Special Collector’s Briefcase Edition that came with several knickknacks and at least 10 hours worth of extras. This 30th anniversary edition is more or less a double dip except that you get the Final Cut version on Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet Disc, a different type of toy police car, and a 72-page book depicting photos and details about the film and its history.

Lawrence of Arabia is my favorite film of all time, while the rest of the list was always interchangeable. However, ever since Blade Runner came out on Blu-ray it became my second-favorite film of all time. Now there are two titles in that list that can never be moved. Blade Runner is that good of a film.

It’s not too slow as to bore audiences, it’s one of the most beautifully shot films of all time, and it’s terrifically emotional. What would do if you found out that you had only four years to live? And knowing that you were created three and a half years before, what would you do then? Imagine how Roy Batty felt when he was on another planet employed as a slave performing hard labor.

NEW RELEASES FOR NOVEMBER 27, 2012

The Apparition

Lawless (Helen’s review)

Men in Black 3

ParaNorman

Sparkle

Step Up Revolution


19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 26 2012

    Nir, a quesion I’ve always asked is:

    The robots in the film actually “do” have more empathy / humanity than our own hero. My favorite dialouge exchange comes towards the end when Batty taunts Deckard about being the “good guy.”

  2. Dec 26 2012

    I see it as only a matter of time. The replicants are built with a four-year lifespan and during those four years they subconsciously learn to integrate with society and the surrounding culture; they learn to appear like others and they develop instinctual “feelings”. As in, they learn when to smile, when to frown, etc (which is why they’re virtually indistinguishable from normal humans). And again, that aspect is programmed to be a part of their “subconscious”. When Deckard is asked to come to the police headquarters he smirks and complies, because he’s been programmed to smirk like that. Using implanted memories in collaboration with his programming, his character smirks.

    Take Dexter Morgan (the book series and TV show character): he’s a psychopath who lacks empathy but surrounded by others, he learns how to “appear normal”. I find that the replicants are programmed to be just like that. In Roy Batty’s case, with time he becomes sentient and develops a sense of fear, due to the gained knowledge of his oncoming death. And with it comes the emotion of anger, because he finds out that death cannot be prevented for replicants. At the end he cries (although it rains) and accepts his fate.

    I love the idea that a replicant meets his maker and then has to sit there and listen to his maker explain why he can’t help him to live longer.

    So to answer your question, I believe that Batty and his crew show more emotions than Deckard because they’re older than he is and because they’re aware that they’re replicants who are soon going to die. They’d become sentient, self aware, and they fear death; Deckard is still in the dark. He’s been programmed to be a regular guy who finds his life and job to be almost entirely ordinary, and lives one day at a time.

    I especially love the look on Deckard’s face, during the film’s final shot when he sees the origami unicorn on the floor. He understands that he’s a replicant and a couple of tears form in his tear ducts. It’s a beautiful and melancholic moment.

  3. Dec 27 2012

    I dislike that the second (third?) director’s cut of BLADE RUNNER pushes the “Deckard is a Replicant” interpretation almost as much as I detest the interpretation for its own sake. In the original director’s cut and the theatrical release version (for all the latter’s many flaws) that reading of the film was available but not demanded, a narrative openness that allows far more emotional power and thematic richness than the closed loop ending of the (final?) cut.

    Allow Deckard to be human and the film is a profound exploration of what it means to be human. The man who has lost touch with what it is to be alive, to love and be loved, and to be part of society offers a multifaceted contrast with the Replicants and especially Batty, who though inhuman are yet far closer to all those essential points of humanity, through their loving interactions with each other and their acute consciousness of their own mortality, than he is and probably has ever been. The transcendent irony that the man is first given life by the machine (given life literally and figuratively) and then affirmatively chooses to live (to run: movement = life) to protect the “life” of another machine, is revealed as the real story of the film and its ultimate meaning.

    If Deckard is a replicant too then the ending is a cheap “gotcha” but then they’re all just robots playing at programmed emotion so whatever.

    * the “?”s are mild sarcasm, not a query

  4. Dec 27 2012

    Or…they’re robots who actually develop sentient feelings, not manufactured ones. Who gain souls through their own free will / choices and overcome their inherent manufactured ones. After all, what are robots but another generated human being made from the equivalent of human hands (placing makind in the realm of God).

    What essentially happens here is that Batty gains a soul and becomes a Christ figure (dove and nails) through the compassion that he shows Decakrd at the end of the film. The replicants are more human than our own protagonist, and even if he is a replicant, what does it ultimately matter? For all intents and purposes, these replicants are 4 year olds in a regular human body manufactured by human hands. When it really comes down to it, the only difference between the two beings is their mortality rate. Memories, the soul, perspective, all of these questions apply to the replicants just as much as they might apply to a regular human being. Where do I get my defintion from? Is it from dreams, memories (pictures), comradeship? Can I exist as a loner? Does Deckard find his humanity through Rachel? Is Rachel more human than Deckard is even if she is manufactured? I would say so.

    What ultimately makes a man / woman has much more to do with one’s own inward actions and intentions than with the physical makeup of a body. The villians of the piece are, as you said, “more human than human.” And that’s the irony.

    The film explores the concept of humanity in the realm of the soul / subconcious / will. It goes deeper than merely contrasting physical makeups.

  5. Dec 27 2012

    @Aaron: What we have here is an unbridgeable philosophical disagreement. Nor do I agree even remotely that Batty is a Christ figure.

    As to whether it matters if Deckard is a Replicant or not: Deckard is squarely at the center of the narrative and a reading that strips him of his humanity- humanity unique in its nature and intrinsic, impossible to acquire or “replicate”- diminishes the film terribly.

  6. Dec 27 2012

    Helen, as for my personal beliefs, I sincerely believe that mankind will never replicate man, nor should they. I don’t believe the soul is able to be replicated, but that’s what makes this film so interesting me.

    As for Batty becoming a Christ figure. I’ve always thought the nail through the hand, and the dove that flies to the sky must mean something. At his death, Batty is able to relenquish his own ego in order to save the life of an enemy. I wouldn’t paint him as a Christ figure throughout the film, not until the end at least. His journey is one in which he falls tremendously (murder and all that), to eventually be lifted up through acceptance and the ability to see the common human traits that him and Deckard share (replicant or not).

  7. Dec 28 2012

    I notice that one of you inserts religious symbols into the film and that the other views it as purely philosophical. I, too prefer the philosophy on paper approach. And as for the nails and doves: I can see your symbolism, Aaron, but I find that Batty was situated on a downtown building’s roof, hence the dove (or pigeon), and he’d thrust a nail into his hand as to inflict pain enough to temporarily cease from shutting down completely. But that’s just me.

    I hate the theatrical cut of the film. I hate it’s narration track, which was added by the producers in he last second because they didn’t understand the film and forced Scott to explain it to everyone, also incidentally changing the ending entirely; I hate that the producers had asked for the unicorn dream and unicorn origami to be removed; and I hate that Deckard gets into a car with Rachael in the end, and that they both just drive off into the distance (using extra footage taken from Kubrick’s The Shining.

    I find that Deckard being a human as a statement is boring. If that’s the case, then all you have is film that’s about a man whose job it is to retire rogue replicants and that then he does so. He falls in love with a replicant and they run away together. The end. To me that idea is sad because it’s average. The scene where Deckard asks Tyrell, “How can it not know what it is?”, regarding Rachael, the scene where Deckard explains to Rachael that she’s a replicant but then tries to cover it up as a joke, and the scene where Rachael asks Deckard if he’d ever retired a human by mistake are what make the final scene in the film a great big blow to the audience, because this whole time Deckard had never once looked in the mirror and asked himself who he really is.

    Humans always do that and replicants don’t ever seem to. They just live one day at a time and do their jobs. And the Nexus 6 models have a four-year lifespan built in specifically because any of them can develop feelings over time, and with feelings comes rebellion.

    Take a look at George Orwell’s “1984” and even the film Equilibrium: Big Brother suppresses the emotions of his people and treats them like a collective because without emotions and acting as a team they lack individuality, and therefore they cannot strike back. No one stands out of line and no one thinks for themselves. And if they do, they are killed.

    Tyrell, a man, built the Nexus 6 to be the closest thing to mankind, to be virtually indistinguishable from us, aside from the lack of empathy, because that way they always do what they’re told without question and they’re a great feat of engineering. Which begs the question: why make them look like us and not merely like metal-based robots?

    It’s paradoxic, I know. But Deckard must be a replicant because a) it strikes up a conversation about what it truly means to be human and b) because that’s what Ridley Scott and the film’s screenwriter had always intended.

  8. Dec 28 2012

    @Aaron: In Christian iconography the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. In and out of Christianity it’s a symbol of peace. In context of the scene, the dove may represent Batty’s death (ie the spirit taking flight imagery), or Deckard’s physical and spiritual rebirth, or the grace in that moment of shared experience between them, or the ultimate peace that comes with death, or some combination of any or all. It’s a beautiful and multifaceted symbol.

    Batty is a futuristic Frankenstein’s monster. The parallels- to Shelley’s creation, not Hollywood’s- are unmistakable: the hubristic act of creation, the existential preoccupations, the killings for self-interest and for no reason, the obsessive bond with its creator, the bitter rejection of mortality (the point of the nail in the hand). He inspires at once pity and horror.

    Why Batty saves Deckard is a mystery. Compassion seems to me unlikely as a reason as it’s entirely out of character. Perhaps he wanted a witness to his death. Deckard in the end is also the last living witness to his life. Batty’s character is complex enough to believe he might have appreciated the irony in the prey bestowing life on the hunter. The theatrical release narration says something along the lines of seeing all life as precious at the moment of his own death, which is also a plausible interpretation.

  9. Dec 29 2012

    It’s also possible that Batty had learned the meaning of compassion as he’d become sentient. He understand the notion of personal death and therefore, what it truly means to take a life. Maybe Batty,while thinking back on all the people that he’d murdered and seeing how pointless it all is, realized that Deckard didn’t need to die because he’s not really a threat and because he has the power to save, because he understand its meaning.

    I hadn’t truly sat down and thought about Batty all that much because he’s terrifically complex. I’d have to rewatch the film one day and only focus on Batty. :O)

  10. Dec 29 2012

    Clarity at the moment of death is a persuasive argument, but I’m not persuaded that he was motivated by compassion. Sebastian weighs too heavily against it. Because he’s a complex character the reason is finally unknowable and I like that.

  11. Dec 29 2012

    How does Sebastian fit in?

  12. Dec 29 2012

    @Nir: His grisly end at Roy’s hands shortly before the final confrontation with Deckard, although he wasn’t a threat and had been an ally.

  13. Dec 29 2012

    I don’t think that Batty had his revelation yet. He was sort of on a role, he was angry. He was even disappointed that he’s wanted to kill Tyrell. I find that once his body had begun to shut down, while chasing Deckard around is when he began to let it all sink in.

  14. Dec 29 2012

    “I don’t think that Batty had his revelation yet.”

    Clearly not. ;-)

  15. Dec 29 2012

    lol

    It’s an amazing feat of misdirection, eh? We watch as Deckard tracks down the replicants and, one by one disposes of them. But Batty is the guy that we really should have been paying attention to the whole time. Man, Rutger Hauer is awesome!

  16. Dec 29 2012

    Oh yes he is!

    Hauer credits Batty’s choice as an impulse, as just something he automatically did for no reason at all. Strangely enough, I don’t think Hauer quite understood his own character (Source from Official Blade Runner book).

    Originally, I don’t think Hauer was going to kill Sebastian (Book again), and Tyrell was actually in a life preserving compartment on the upper floor of the building.

    What strikes me as compassion, Helen, is that Batty says this to Deckard: “So you see what it’s like to live in fear, don’t you?” It seems to be a move towards empathy, a recognition that mankind experiences the same emotion that Batty has been feeling throughout his whole predicament. If you look at his eyes, a moment of recognition seems to flood over him.

    I don’t believe Empathy to be completely devoid in Batty, as his love for Pris is made clear after Deckard kills her. I’ve always found the moment where he mourns her to be both disturbing and very touching.

    @Helen

    I’ve never thought about the Frankenstein allusion. Nice catch. But then there’s also the fact that Batty quotes Dante during the moment he kills the “eye man.” “Fiery the Angels fell…” The angels would of course be the replicants falling for heaven i.e. the colonies. So Batty could for all purposes be a satanic figure rising again.

    Then there’s also the Edenic imagery used in the strip club. Snake, apples, fruit. I believe the announcer actually introduces Zhora using an allusion to the Garden of Eden story. Plus, the bullet marks through her back resemble clipped wings.

    I don’t remember us ever seeing Batty kill Sebastian, and that’s one of the things I wish the film had explored in greater detail.

    I’ve always thought the dove symbolized Batty’s soul’s depature into blue sky (peace) rather than the surrounding muck that makes up the city streets.

  17. Dec 30 2012

    A dove usually symbolizes peace so it’s also possible that it’s Batty saying, “I’m done here. No more killing and no more life for me. I have done and learned all that I could in this body and now it’s time to shut down, having experienced everything there is to life, which is far more that the average human being gets to experience.”

    Again, so many different interpretations of the same damn character…

    And the original novel, which has absolutely nothing to with the eventual film, is also a masterpiece. How weird is it that in the novel, Batty falls for the cliched, “door bell rings – Batty looks though the peephole – Deckard shoots him n the face”, and in the film… well, we all saw the film. :O)

  18. Dec 31 2012

    In the original novel, the androids never gain any sense of empathy / humanity. It’s Deckard who loses his along the way. In the film, he gains his back. Strange, that.

  19. Dec 31 2012

    Like I said, the film and novel are both brilliant and are both polar opposites. :O)

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