A while ago, I saw this post on Moon in Gemini announcing The Greatest Film I’ve Never Seen Blogathon. Basically the idea was to watch a film that you’ve never seen before, but one that is typically considered great, and review it. I took a look at AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies list. Given my fondness for old Hollywood movies I’ve probably seen more of them than most of my generation. But I did take note of some of the other lists on the site. I looked through them and finally selected Blade Runner (1982) from the 100 Years 100 Thrills list to review. I chose it because I once had a friend who was obsessed by this movie and talked about it constantly, and because it’s taken on a sort of cult status, as well as the fact that it’s not usually the kind of movie I’d gravitate toward.
So what did I think of it. I’m going to give it a resounding “I don’t know.” I may not have been in the right mood to enjoy it when I watched it, but it was an interesting movie.
It’s set in Los Angeles in the year 2019. But that’s 2019 as imagined by Phillip K Dick in his 1968 novel, Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? a novel of which this film is a loose adaptation; as well as imagined by director Ridley Scott in 1982. It has no resemblance to what Los Angeles will probably look like a few months from now. In the dystopian future that this film imagines, synthetic humans known as “replicants” have been engineered by the Tyrrell Corporation to work on “off world colonies” (other planets). When a group of replicants tries to escape back to earth, a jaded cop who once specialized in “retiring” (killing) these synthetic beings (a job called a “Blade Runner”) named Rick Deckard agrees to hunt them down. At the same time, an advanced, experimental model named Rachel is making him question his own humanity as well as that of the replicants.
If all that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. We have to get used to a whole new vocabulary and it takes some time to remind ourselves what “replicants” are and what a “Blade Runner” does and what “retiring” someone actually means. Important things are happening while the viewer is still trying to understand the structure of the fictional world, which means that it’s easy to get lost in the first thirty minutes or so. But once we establish where we are and what’s going on, we can go along for the ride.
Thematically this movie is about what it means to be human. There is very little that’s natural about the imagined world of 2019. Police are everywhere, corporate power looms large. Artificial animals have replaced real ones which are extinct. This is a reason why off world migration has become so popular. In order to determine who is a replicant, an empathy test is used. Interestingly it’s the replicants who appear to show empathy and concern for one another while the humans are cold and impersonal. Implanted memories mean that it’s hard for even the characters to know if they are human or not. Of course this ambiguity extends toward the morality of how replicants are treated. Is their “retirement” like shutting down a computer or like killing a person?
All of this is happening against a very noir-ish backdrop. In fact, the movie itself is essentially about a detective solving a crime. Rick is give ample, cynical voice overs. Rachel is a chain smoking femme fatale.
It’s a very stylish movie and it combines a lot of elements and genres that I enjoy. That said, I didn’t enjoy watching this movie, and I can’t say exactly why. It’s well done with impressive visuals, a compelling scripts and a interesting setting. But ultimately I kept watching because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do, rather than what I wanted to do. As I said, I may just have been in the wrong mood for it.