Blade Runner (1982)

There’s a lot that can be said about Blade Runner. “No shit!” you’re probably thinking, as it’s been voted one of the best films of all time on multiple occasions. That being said, it’s clearly a highly discussed film. It’s not nearly as close to the “source material”, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, as I thought it would be. In fact it’s barely related at all, when you think about it.

From the beginning, as such, I was forced to take it as a totally separate entity. The experience was none the less strikingly similar to reading the book: mildly frustrating, and ending with a strange sensation of being let down. Granted, keep in mind, this is purely in regards to plot. Visually it’s a stunning piece of artistry, there’s no denying or questioning that.

In the end, for me, the film didn’t pick up on what I thought were the strongest points of the book, the aspects that Dick undoubtedly put in place as a teaser, that were never flushed out. The fact that there was no exploration of Mercerism, or any commentary on the future of religion (which was one of those points dangled in front of the reader of Androids and never flushed out by Dick) was surprisingly frustrating. Evidently, neither Ridley Scott nor David Webb Peoples, one of the screenwriters, had ever actually read Dick’s novel. This makes a lot of sense, given the total lack of continuity.

Maybe I did myself a disservice by reading the book first (though I didn’t really have much choice, as I read the novel for a summer course). I’m still on the fence about it. As it stands as an adaptation, I stress all visual aspects of the film aside, it’s terrible. One really winds up having barely anything at all to do with the other, which is frustrating. Actually, just about as frustrating as reading the conclusion of Dick’s book was.

Visually, it’s beyond a masterpiece. The models used for Tyrell’s tower, and the opening sequence with the flaming smoke stacks, are a true work of art. The way they used forced perspective to render the opening sequence (this is from the Director’s cut, by the by) was flawlessly done. The costume design, set design, makeup, and set dressing are all nothing short of perfection.

It’s surprising just how ahead of its time it was. All things considered, any film about the future is always the future version of itself, by virtue of the fact that we can only imagine what it might be like from where we stand in time. It’s clear from the beginning that the film was made in the 80s, but one of the biggest giveaways of this is probably the overuse of synth, which Scott seemed to be very fond of at the time (he did the same thing with Legend (1985)). You wouldn’t guess that it was made in 1982, though. Late 80s, easily, but it has a tonal quality to it that seems so ahead of early 80s film making.

Scott must be commended for his attention to detail, something all film makers should aspire to perfect. Unfortunately it seems that this art is going by the wayside these days, with greater significance placed on CGI and post-production editing. It’s so frustrating to watch a film today that really should take such detail into consideration, but that opts for the digital alternative.

Thanks to Scott’s layering, as he calls it, there is unparalelled detail in this universe, making it as believable as, say, the world in the Bourne Identity. You believe that the world you’re being welcomed into is authentic, that it exists. This should be what all film makers strive to accomplish, as the ultimate goal for any film maker is to facilitate the leap of faith the audience must take to become wholly submersed in the world put before them. Scott does this, in spades.

All this being said, in conclusion, I’m not as huge a fan of this as most people I know. Plot wise I find it frustrating, given that I’ve read the material it’s loosely based on. I expected more from it, in that sense. Perhaps, like I said before, I cheated myself out of the real experience of the film by reading the book first. Who knows.

Considering the film as its own distinct entity, it’s beautiful, a true masterpiece. The detail taken to create this universe is something to truly behold, it’s absolutely breathtaking. The set pieces were masterfully constructed, and the costumes were perfectly designed. It is truly a work of art.

And so I’ll probably forever consider it as two beasts: the visual stallion, a powerhouse of artistry, and the shlocky attempt to adapt the original material. Scott never intended to make anything other than pure entertainment, and it shows. It’s stupid to think that if it wasn’t entertainment the only other option would be an esoteric work, and I honestly think that such an assumption was Scott’s biggest mistake with the film.

This post was originally published on my tumblr on September 5, 2011.