Friday, June 27, 2014

Blade Runner: a love letter to the best SF film ever made


Earlier this month, Giant Freakin Robot revealed Neil DeGrasse Tyson's favorite movies. There was a lot one would expect to see on the list. There was The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes, which are three of my favorite films as well. The adaptation of Carl Sagan's Contact was probably the least surprising considering Sagan's influence on Tyson. On the more surprising side was a Michael Bay film and Deep Impact.

And then Tyson mentions Blade Runner as a runner-up: "This story was simultaneously deep and scary. But I never warmed to it the way so many lovers of the genre have. Which makes this comment more of a confession than a review." So, to recap, a Téa Leoni movie somehow made it higher on Tyson's list than Blade Runner. No amount of science can explain that.

Timothy Anderson's pulp tribute to BR

If you had asked me ten years ago I would have said my favorite science fiction film is 2001: A Space Odyssey because I grew up reading Arthur C. Clarke. When I was a kid, the movie was something I could and did watch repeatedly. Blade Runner, on the other hand, was a bit of a mystery to me growing up.

I had the original version of Blade Runner recorded off of HBO or something and maybe watched it twice. One day, when I was about ten, I was browsing the video section of Wal-mart and came across Blade Runner: The Director's Cut. My parents bought it for me. While I liked it enough to watch it numerous times over the years (rewatching movies for me is somewhat rare, so that's already high praise) it never really clicked the way 2001 did. I think, at the time, I just liked the visuals, but found the rest a little too odd, a little too alien, to win me over at that age.


So sometime during the DVD days, I saw The Final Cut at Target. By then I was old enough to purchase things with my own money (this was less than ten years ago, mind you) and it was on sale for $15. I thought what the hell, I'll give it a shot. To this day I don't know what the differences between The Director's Cut and The Final Cut are, exactly, but I've rarely enjoyed a movie so much before or since I saw The Final Cut the first time. It was a revelation.

The film looks fucking amazing. The dialogue isn't once painful to listen to. The characters—even the "bad" guys—are completely sympathetic. There's a level of cool that harkens back to the Humphrey Bogart days. As William Gibson pointed out we've never seen a futuristic city such as that one:

"But the simplest and most radical thing that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner was to put urban archaeology in every frame. It hadn’t been obvious to mainstream American science fiction that cities are like compost heaps—just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent. In Europe, that’s just life—it’s not science fiction, it’s not fantasy. But in American science fiction, the city in the future was always brand-new, every square inch of it."

In other word the city is the most prominent character of all, not to mention the only, if vague, explanation of what happened in the time between present and future.


Whatever the changes were which warranted a new edition aren't important. I think the real catalyst has little to do with the changes in the film itself and the person I became. By the time I watched The Final Cut I had read the Philip K. Dick novel the film is based on, but as much as I love PKD, I think that had little to do with my enjoyment of the film. Only every other chapter of the book is similar to the film and Ridley Scott, the director, confessed he never even read the book. Blade Runner is a living thing, something which ages like wine. The closer we get to going to Mars, the better we get at narrowing the uncanny valley in android technology, the better the film gets. It doesn't just grow on you, it grows with you.

I fear that Blade Runner can only ever be enjoyed by the most serious of moviegoers. In my younger years I just hadn't seen enough movies to realize how special the film was. I don't mean that as a criticism of casual moviegoers, I just mean that if you try to "watch" the film while babysitting or in a setting where people are free to talk, you're not going to get it. It's a film that requires the utmost attention to appreciate, a film that needs to be treated as an event rather than something to pass the time.

It is, hands down, the best science fiction film I will ever see.

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