It was another dark and stormy night in Ohio, and I was about to do something I’d never done before: I was going to watch Blade Runner for the first time. I’m surprised I’ve been able to go 25 years and still know so little about it. To give you an example of how blind I was when starting it, I knew there was an owl in the movie, but I never even knew Harrison Ford was in it, let alone that it was a noir film!
It’s not that I didn’t want to see it, but instead that I was looking forward to it so much that I wanted to save it for later, like it was a fine wine that could age with time. I’ve done that with plenty of films in the past – Lawrence of Arabia is still my cellar’s top unopened shelf – which can sometimes be incredibly disappointing, but this time proved to be worth the wait. To be clear up front though, even though I’ll comment on how it stood the test of time, I never review movies on how well they do or don’t live up to hype. It’s also worth noting that I saw the “Final Cut” version of Blade Runner.
[Losing My Virginity articles are reviews written by someone who still hasn’t seen an incredibly popular movie after all these years. LMV reviews offer the perspective of a person who’s untainted by the cloud of commonness that surrounded a famous film of the past, and also show how well it has stood the test of time.]
Poor, William Gibson. Philip K. Dick got the ambitiously serious Blade Runner adaptation, and Gibson only got Johnny Mnemonic. It’s great how serious the movie takes itself, and I like how it’s even called Blade Runner, which is just a made up term for the special cops in this world, but it sticks to it and doesn’t for a second consider it not to be reality. This confidence is something many films lack, but something I’ll fight to the death is that opening your movie with a wall of backstory text may be pragmatically successful, but it’s still a copout. That being said, the opening text is pretty much the only part of the movie that lacks finesse.
Each scene feels like a carefully crafted storyboard frame coming to life in a way that creates dozens of iconic still frames that can summarize the film’s entire tone in a way that’s Kubrick levels of success. I love the constant attention to both lighting and animals’ scarcity in the future. Something less noticeable but equally as great is the soundtrack. I think a good comparison is Risky Business’s famous song, Love On A Real Train, in that sounds from both movies don’t feel like they try to be great, but by not overselling it they are. All the jazz and synthesizer sounds are incredibly simple, yet fill you with more emotion than the complex melodies we love to listen to most weeks out of the year.
While I don’t fault its widely flawed dystopian view of the future, a lot of its artistic choices made me grin. I fully realize that we’re not in 2019 yet, and also that it was less of a prediction and more of a grim warning for a possible path we don’t want to take, but the notion that we’d still be using eight inch screens and green text for all electronics in the future is something Ridley Scott probably regrets doing in both this and Alien. Its portrayal of the importance of advertising is present, and despite its false fear that corporation owners would grow to the size of nonchalantly building friggin’ ziggurats, it was still a really cool artistic decision.
Something the movie got right is casting. Harrison Ford was mostly a dull simpleton, but that’s pretty much what the role called for, which is a complaint I have with the noir genre, not this film. Why is the “someday I’ll turn my life around” mentality shameful of the high school jock who now drinks away his paychecks, but admirable for noir men just because they’re not loud mouths and wear more expensive clothes? Other than that, the villains, the police, the businessmen, the androids (“replicants”), and especially the love interest are all superbly cast. The exception to this is definitely the “scientist” who deals with insanely advanced biogenetics, but is just some seedy Chinatown dude making million dollar technology in his basement. Um, what? No. If that’s artistic license, then you’re under arrest. Show me what a futuristic lab would really look like. However, I did like its take on androids; they deserved another scene or two. Also, I still can’t believe that Pris wasn’t played by a young Lorraine Bracco!
Despite painting an immersive future world in ways that not even most modern science fiction film budgets can pull off, it still doesn’t entirely escape my common complaint about the genre. It’s something that Tron: Legacy really suffered from: feeling hollow. Unlike Tron 2, it’s certainly busy with people going about their lives, but it feels more like you’re only seeing the dark corner of this world’s poverty and middle class, while only seeing one wealth’s perception. Why completely hide the rest of the world? The easy answer is that it didn’t fit this story’s theme, or that it argues the planet’s future is completely grim and we’re not missing much, but neither of those answers sit well with me, and it’s why I love The Fifth Element so damn much for being far more bold than it needed to be. The story mentions that much of humanity has migrated off of Earth to other spots in the universe, and that only the ugliness of humanity remains on Earth. This is awesome, but it would have been great if a place outside Earth was explored even once. Not because it’s necessary, but because the best movies go far above and beyond.
I’m also going to call Blade Runner out on having a few random lines of dialogue that were flops. Some instances can be seen in the short Leon fight, as well as sporadically with J.F. Sebastian, who could have used more polishing. The climax’s speech was pretty good combined with acting that was insanely good, but I’m surprised the romantic scene isn’t (more?) iconic in the masses today. Spoiler alert from here until the end: when Deckard doesn’t allow Rachael to leave his apartment after his romantic gesture wasn’t reciprocated as planned, I was expecting yet another uncomfortable 80s film love moment that explores the gray area of a woman who maybe kinda sorta wants to make love, but that doesn’t matter because Michael Douglas is willing to rape her regardless of how she feels. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized I was seeing something unique. The idea that she doesn’t think she deserves to feel love because she’s not human – or that she’s nervous because it’s a human emotion that’s so foreign to her that she might disappoint a human by failing to accurately show the “right” emotions and reactions – is something truly spectacular. I’m really surprised that Sean Young isn’t still relevant to this day, but I’m glad I’ve now seen her in her prime. I’m also really glad that Blade Runner explored relationships between androids as well.
As for the climax, I’m sure it’s already been analyzed a million times, and that’s not enough to deter me from still doing it, but here is not the place to go in depth. I did really enjoy it though, and I like that it both showed how one human emotion an android would acquire is not wanting to be forgotten – which is such a great way to get away with the good guy living in the end – and also that it’s a social commentary on Americans who (both then and even today) still live lives dictated by fear despite having the control to change it. The ending reinforces this with “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?” I think the villain’s climax is a lot more crucial to the film’s message though, and the debates about the meaning of the ending strike me as far less important. Regardless of which ending you believe, it’s still simply about the two characters escaping their temporary fears in a way the android couple could not, yet still being bound to the same inevitable fear of death that no creature or construction can escape.