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.