Blade Runner. Not So Much.

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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.

  • Andy

    So you readily admit to not finishing the movie. There may not have been many people of color on the streets of L.A., but there were other races depicted in the movie had you watched all the way through. At least two other pivotal characters – Gaff played by Edward James Olmos is certainly not white and neither is James Hong who plays Hannibal Chew.

    • khaalidah

      Yes. I admit to not finishing the movie. I missed the end, not the parts in the beginning with Gaff and Chew. Unsure though if perhaps you failed to read the entirety of this post. I mentioned that there were some Asian characters (Chew being on of them). As for Olmos I did not forget to mention him. The thing about Gaff is this, while Olmos may not be white, Gaff’s racial distinction isn’t all that clear. But lets say for the sake of argument that Gaff is not white. Chew and Gaff, as the only two nonwhite characters in a city where more than half of the population is not, certainly aren’t representative of the racial mix we ought to be seeing in a movie like Blade Runner, a movie that in nearly every other way has made a grand futuristic distinction. Not including women that is. So again, for clarification, I caught the bulk of this movie, and I saw enough to know that people of color feature a tad but certainly not enough…but hey, that’s just me. Perhaps you thought it was fine. For the record as may or may not have caught in this post my biggest issue is with the treatment of women.

      • Andy

        Sorry, but I beg to differ.  You most definitely never mentioned Graff or Olsmos in your review above. 

        Also you said and I quote “Why is it that all but two peo­ple (Asians at an out­door fast food joint) in this movie were white? ”

        Hannibal Chew was not some Asian at an outdoor food court. He was the link to the Tyrell corporation and the manufacturer of the replicants eyes. Or did you miss that while you were skimming the movie?

        I don’t have an issue with your points that woman are portrayed less than favourably, and also I don’t disagree that there are a lack of minorities in the film. I am just taking issue with the presentation of your facts. 

        • khaalidah

          Hi there.  Allow me to clarify.  I wasn’t insinuating that I mentioned Gaff.  I was simply saying that I did not forget him…and I purposely did not mention him because I found him ambiguous.
          As for Chew…ah yes.  You’re correct.  I had to go back and actually look for what you’re referring to.  I forgot about him.  That, nonetheless doesn’t change the point here.  Poor representation.
          I didn’t skim the movie.  I watched it until the last few minutes.  And I did say that I watched it a few weeks ago, therefore some things went down the drain of my poor memory, Chew being one.  On that point, I am in error.
          But the only fact that matters here is that, as this is my opinion, the lack of POC and the treatment of women in Blade Runner sucks.  And as such, I don’t think its quite as good as it is frequently hailed to be.

  • storiesbywilliams

    You didn’t like it??? And I thought we were going to be close! Hehehehe, in truth, I can see what you mean by the portrayal of women. There really wasn’t a redeeming female character in this, and the “love scene” was not as much about love as Deckard forcing himself on her and her eventually complying. Didn’t like it. As for the lack of persons of color, didn’t really think about that. I guess I overlooked these as examples of old world views, a throwback to when the film was made. I would recommend the book simply because it is starkly different, and interesting in a much different way.