Breaking Down Blade Runner
If nothing else, Blade Runner is one of the most gorgeous looking movies ever made.
It's an incredible combination of Ridley Scott's direction, Lawrence G. Paull's production design and Jorden Cronenweth's cinematography. I hope that anyone who is planning on checking out Blade Runner 2049 makes time for the original movie first, because it is a classic. I also hope that anyone checking out the original movie watches The Final Cut because it's the only version of the movie that really holds up. And it does hold up.
Blade Runner 2049 has its work cut out for it in replicating (GET IT!??) the mood and the sense of space that the original offers. It looks so modern, but not in terms of accuracy. It has aged well because the effects are convincing, and rely a lot less on CGI and more on built models and sets. We see it from the very beginning of the movie as we get our first glimpse of the Tyrell Corporation. We don't know what this place is yet, but we know it's a monstrous entity, probably just as big and powerful as Google or Facebook.
Blade Runner is a great example of a story that's built to be a movie. Think about how much information you get in a single shot through the visuals, which would take up paragraphs if not pages in a book. Look at amount of pollution that Los Angeles is drenched in (accurate), or the degree to which replicant animals and humans can mimic the real thing (not accurate yet, but we're getting there). It makes Harrison Ford's awful narration that they slapped on the original release all the more stupid and unnecessary. We get all the information we need about this world in these shots.
One little detail I loved is the way the lights in Deckard's apartment respond to his presence. They shine and dim as he moves towards them or away from them. Today, the lights in department stores and supermarkets do the same thing.
Weirdly enough, the things that feel dated about the movie to me aren't the visuals, it's the story. The scenes with Deckard and Rachel at his apartment are probably the most cringe-worthy. Their wardrobe is where the film noir homages are really on the nose. Those collars... wow. Furthermore, the sex scene plays more like a rape scene that wasn't intended to come off that way and the 80's saxophone score in it makes it all the more disturbing.
But more than those couple scenes, I wish this movie was longer. The new one clocks in around 2 hours and 47 minutes, and I wish this one had that kind of runtime. Better yet, imagine it as a True Detective style miniseries, where you can devote more screentime to the replicants Deckard is hunting down. How well do they resemble real humans once you get to know them beyond the surface level? We don't get a sense of that in the movie, especially when you have characters like Zhora who is in and out of the movie in under ten minutes. A shame when you cast someone as good as Joanna Cassidy and don't really use them. Damn good looking scene though (SPOILERS IF YOU CLICK THE RIGHT ARROW IN THE PICTURES BELOW)
If anything redeems this movie, it's the finale. Tears in rain is one of the best scenes of all time, and elevates this movie from being an interesting visual experiment to actually being a real movie. How Roy Batty manages to be both the arch-nemesis and the heart & soul of Blade Runner is an absolute feat. And the fact that Rutger Hauer never had the career that Harrison Ford did is an absolute crime.
I guess this brings us to the inevitable question, is Deckard a replicant?
I really hope not. To me, it undermines his entire story. The fact that he reevaluates his entire existence is a lot more powerful when he takes that journey on his own. Ridley Scott, forever tinkering with the movie, really wants him to be a replicant. They all have a distinctive glow in their eyes when you look closely. And for just a moment, Deckard has it too.
Hmm... let's just strike that from the record.
Check out my blog for more on cinematography, photography and grumpy Harrison Ford!