I watched Blade Runner for the first time a few weeks ago. Knowing that it’s a sci-fi cult classic, I was very interested to see if I would hold it in as high an esteem as so many other people seem to.
I’ll admit that up front, I was impressed with the movie. I watched the newly remastered copy. The effects, dark color and ambiance, and the sophisticated visual style of the film are amazing considering it was produced in 1982. Visuals are the first indication as to whether or not I will tolerate watching a film. A film that’s just plain ugly to look at won’t likely hold my attention no matter how great the plot is.
Plot. This is my none too subtle segue into what I really thought about Blade Runner.
It has taken several weeks of letting what I watched of the movie marinate in my mind, of sloughing off my first impressed impressions and allowing the full weight of the story to settle, before I could sufficiently make up my mind about my feelings about this movie.
In short, I don’t like Blade Runner and I will probably never watch it again. Let me tell you why.
I will begin by stating what is probably already obvious to many of you. Blade Runner is based on a book authored by Philip K. Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I haven’t read the book in its entirety yet, but I believe it is safe to say that the movie takes liberties with the original plot. With that said, the book may very well be far more enlightened than the film.
Blade Runner is a dystopian tale set in the future (2019 Los Angeles) where most of humanity has moved to off world colonies. Replicants (androids that are almost indistinguishable from human beings) have been created and mostly work in mines off world. It is illegal for replicants to come to Earth due to a past replicant rebellion. Replicants only have a expiration date of four years because it is determined that after that point they develop emotions and become somewhat unstable.
In the opening of Blade Runner we learn that a group of the newest model of replicants, the Nexus 6 models, have come to Earth to find their creator and to find a way to extend their lives. As this is illegal and as they are not distinguishable from the general population there is a great deal of concern with tracking them down. Deckard, a cynical and bitter blade runner (bounty hunter employed by the police) is commissioned to search for and retire (execute) three rogue replicants. He is the best in his field and a pro at administering the Voight-Kampff test which is a test that measures empathy, a trait that the Nexus 6, unlike human beings, do not possess.
Deckard meets with Tyrell, the head of the Tyrell corporation with the purpose of determining if the Voight-Kampff test is sufficient to expose this newer model. Rachel, his first test subject and control, is Tyrell’s niece. After much scrutiny, Deckard realizes Rachel is in fact a replicant. The catch is that Rachel is an experimental model and is not aware that she is a replicant. Tyrell had her programmed with a series of memories originally belonging to his real niece who I presume must be dead.
The rest of the movie follows Deckard as he investigates and eventually retires the three replicants he is in search of.
In my opinion, the bones of the story are interesting; a bunch of androids who have developed emotions and who want to live (like any other human being, right?) and who desperately struggle to find a way to do that. And on the other side, human beings who, afraid of the unstable nature of said androids, seek a way to eliminate them. Simple and smart, there are innumerable directions this story could take from seek and destroy to exploring the spiritual nature of human beings our failures and our ultimate arrogance at thinking we could recreate a creation of God and our ultimate failure. And, I do see glimpses of that deeper meaning stuck in the hidden nooks and crevices. You name it, this story can go there. But it doesn’t.
While I am typically able to overlook some flaws in books and movies, as suspension of disbelief is necessary especially in SFF, there are two flaws that stood out, and that are deal breakers for me. The treatment and portrayal of women and the utter lack of people of color in 2019 Los Angeles.
There are three women of consequence in Blade Runner, Pris and Zhora both of whom are replicants and Rachel.
Pris is described as a “pleasure model”, which alone should say enough about her. She is shown in the movie in various modes of partial dress (or undress), is considered pretty, and who I believe, also poses as a prostitute. She is attached to Roy, a fellow rogue replicant.
Zhora, is described as a super soldier type. Since landing on Earth, she has been living incognito as an exotic dancer. Right. Once Deckard manages to track her down, she leads him on a chase through the streets. She is fast and agile and deadly and dressed in what can only be described as a combat bikini and a see through raincoat.
I’m going to wander off topic here for a sec and address something that bothers me immensely about movies that seem to make a special effort to exploit the female form for entertainment. No woman with the option and in her right mind in a situation of imminent danger, such as combat, would wear clothing that would expose her to the elements or fail to support her. Take for example Ada Wong in Resident Evil. High heeled pumps, and a floor length evening gown… while being chased by and fighting zombies. Really? No doubt some idiot man’s sick fantasy, but definitely not practical, reasonable, or smart. End of diatribe.
Lastly, there is Rachel. She is different than Pris and Zhora for the obvious reasons. She’s always believed that she was human and learning that she isn’t is a blow to her sense of self. She turns to Deckard, who has been ordered to retire her but does not. I skipped the scene, but it is fairly obvious that she becomes his love interest. Whether human or replicant, Rachel is an enormous disappointment of a character. When she first appears in the movie, Rachel is a cold buttoned up character (like she stepped out of some 1950s movie with her big tight hair, huge shoulder pads and pencil skirt) with an attitude and little else in terms of emotional depth. That said, this did make her a mysterious kind of character that made me want to know more about her, especially after learning that she was a replicant. However, from that point forward she proved to be a rather stiff and emotionally fragile in a schizoid way. Much less mysterious and way more annoying.
To sum it up, the women in this movie are either half-naked replicants or wimpy weepy creeps.
Now to address the lack of people in color. Let me reiterate that this movie takes place in Los Angeles in 2019. According to the 2010 census there were 3.8 million people in LA, half of which are white, the other half are not. Why is it that all but two people (Asians at an outdoor fast food joint) in this movie were white? Deckard ran through the crowded streets of LA and not one black or hispanic face in sight. How likely is that?
I’m more upset about the women though. I’m sick to death of watching movies and reading stories where women are merely pretty, silly, place holders. Had I known, I would not have started watching. Once I realized this, I could not finish the movie.
Meh. Cult classic to some, but I’ll leave it.