Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blade Runner: I don't get it.

Blade Runner…I don’t get it.
Jennifer Smith
Am I missing something? I admit, it took me three viewings of Casablanca (I saw it for the first time when I was 12) before I can sort of understand why some consider it the finest motion picture ever made. But Blade Runner? I don’t get it. Let me tell you, I have tried. My eyes have seen the original props from the film, from the Toymaker’s jacket and shirt to Harrison Ford’s original blaster, complete with its semi-translucent fiery handled grip. The Japanese Blade Runner “Dekkard” doll is beautiful, down to the last detail. The film has a rabid following of very cultured and intelligent sci-fi fans. I usually “get it” almost immediatley, I just don’t this time. So I’m wondering, am I alone? I feel somehow “wrong” for not catching on to the apparent coolness of this film, but I’m missing something here.
I tried to watch the film last night, for about the fourth time in my adult life. Mind you, I have the absolute perfect setting for film viewing. The film was projected onto a 90” screen with 5-point-one surround sound. When those Tangerine Purple (or whatever the hell that band is called) bells sounded, it was incredible. The film is a tour-de-force of design and boasts an absolutely otherworldly soundtrack. The innovation of Japanese projection ads on buildings through the rainy gloom of 2019 Los Angeles was fantastic. Rutger Hauer is both magnetic and tragic. He’s a symbol of doomed perfection, a combination of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s immortal “Spike” and a genetically engineered Billy Idol. A brilliant and compelling character.

The question is raised: is Harrison Ford the “good guy,” or is he bad? After all, he guns down helpless Joanna Cassidy in the streets, which is one of the saddest examples of violence against women I have ever seen on film. Yet in the moments where you are supposed to empathize for his character, to root for him, I felt nothing. First of all, there is absolutely no chemistry between Sean Young and Harrison Ford. None whatsoever. The tender love story that is supposed to transform a bounty hunter into a runner (so run, runner!) fizzles at the end. Why does he want to run away with Young’s chain-smoking ice queen anyway? In the scene where they first meet and he questions her, she is rude and hostile. Is that sexy? I didn’t catch the undertone of attraction there, or in any subsequent meeting.
Then, the menacing and bizarre character played by James Edward Olmos just lets them go at the end, evidenced by the foil unicorn left on Ford’s apartment entryway. Olmos knows that Ford will run with the replicant Young, but I suppose he figures that she will die soon anyway, so he allows it? And what’s with Olmos’ weird blue eyes? Is he a replicant? Did that weird Japanese guy in the freeze chamber make his eyes too?
This could have been a chase film, like Terminator on crack. A cybernetic Rutger Hauer in his prime Vs. Harrison “Han” Ford? Bring it on!! Daryl Hannah as a psychotic gymnastic “pleasure model”? Wow! Pris says to Hauer: “We’re stupid and we’ll die,” yet Hauer seems so touchingly certain that they won’t. Yet at the end in the rooftop scene, with the nail in his hand and the dove across his chest, Hauer resembles a futuristic St. Sebastian. Even if he alone lived, excepting all other replicants (including Sean Young’s wet rag with great lip gloss character) it would have made this film worth watching. If Hauer lived on, and the Blade Runner let him go because he has a realization on the rooftop that he is an executioner, and not the good guy, how great would that have been? Hauer is the good guy, and could go free. Fabulous, I would have cried and cried. Just like Somewhere in Time, right?
In the prop collecting world, much has been made about the blaster that Ford uses. What’s the big deal? The very gun that blows two huge holes in Pris does Ford absolutely no good five minutes later against Hauer? Then Ford drops it? He drops it???? Where’s the drama? Ford could have shot Hauer in the face in the hallway of the toymaker’s house in the first minute of the finale when Hauer discovers the dead Pris, for Pete’s sake! By the end of the film I was howling like Hauer does, hoping for some logic to strike this highly legendary movie. I was hoping to figure out some secret message that everyone else has already figured out that makes this movie so well loved, like those 3-D images at the mall that I have never been able to see for myself. Like the fat guy in Mallrats, I never saw the sailboat either.
Some of you may be thinking, “lighten up, woman, it’s a classic!” but I don’t care. Classics are Three Stooges shorts with Curly in them, or Return of the Living Dead on DVD. Classics are The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, when at the end Mrs. Muir’s ghost walks away into the clouds holding hands with the ghost of the Captain. Classics are Elvis in the Aloha from Hawaii special and I Remember Mama with Irene Dunne. Logan’s Run and Aliens. Xanadu and Singin’ in the Rain. Logan’s Run and the Star Trek episode “Return to Babel” where Spock’s mom slaps him in the face. These are the true classics, and no well-made Japanese doll or cleverly marketed nostalgia of a beautifully art-directed film will make me think otherwise. So there.

1 comment:

FCG said...

See, Blade Runner was released on my 16th birthday, which may have been the perfect age to see it as an incredibly poetic state of the art science fiction study of the very nature of existence, life, death, birth, infinity. And man and woman too.

I thought it was amazing. But now, I haven't watched it in about 15 years.
(One note: it was one of the first films I can recall to really show people in the future owning antiques and old stuff - like they didn't just throw everything away one New Year's Eve and design the world over as "Futuristic" the next day.