Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Film Review: Blade Runner

I saw the final director's cut of Blade Runner last weekend.  I was not impressed.  Perhaps it was because I had been expecting too much.  Old things that have been heavily praised, hyped, and/or copied rarely live up to their billing and are very unlikely to connect with the newer generation.

The entire intellectual content of the movie was "It is a bad thing to make artificial people and then enslave and murder them."  I already knew that.  The movie spends over two hours attempting, and largely failing, to drive this point home with imagery and emotional manipulation.

The setting, plot, and characters were so flawed and illogical that I could not take the movie seriously.  This does not happen because they got the technology and trends wrong, although there is plenty of that.  It just fails basic storytelling.  For example, in the Dark Evil Future, it is always raining and there are always random piles of trash burning in the streets and gutters.  I exaggerate a little, but the fact remains that nothing makes sense.

Despite the fact that the Replicants are completely artificial, with a scratch-built genome and eyeballs grown in lab tanks, the only way to tell them from humans is with psychological questioning.  Apparently there is no physical, chemical, or genetic evidence at all that someone was grown in a tank less than 4 years ago instead of living for 40 years.  This is ridiculous and inexcusable.  Carbon-14 dating, a common analytical technology for decades before that movie came out, could tell the difference in the age of cells, even if they looked identical to humans in every way.  And they would not.  There would be hundreds of ways to tell them apart with simple tests, even if someone tried to make them as human-like as possible.

The artificial snakes, on the other hand, have serial numbers on every scale that you can see under a microscope.

And why do they make them so human-like?  They are banned on Earth and only used in space, where they have very little contact with people.  There is no need to make them look so much like normal humans.  It would take very little effort to make them with distinguishing marks, like being bald with a massive birthmark on their face.  It would also take very little effort to implant each one with a tracking device.

The method of policing is also ridiculous.  How does the government react to the presence of four dangerous terrorists in a major metropolitan area?  They send one guy after them, one guy with no body armor, no backup, no radio or other communication devices, one handgun, and no discernible combat skills.  They do not broadcast the faces of the replicants and ask the citizens to turn them in.  They do not do any kind of roadblocks or checks.  They do not let the local cops know that there is a problem, or even inform them that a Blade Runner has a mission in the area.  They do not give him any support.

And he needs the support.  Harrison Ford's character is amazingly incompetent.  He may be good at interviewing and investigating, but he does not know the first thing about fighting.  Every single one of the replicants beats him up, even the dumb ones that are not trained as fighters.  Watching him go after the replicants is like watching one of the lab techs from CSI trying to act like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

The scene where he chases down a replicant with a gun through a crowded street is ridiculous.  Nobody reacts to him at all, despite the fact that he is waving a gun around and occasionally firing it.  Not even the cops react.  They just stand around.  If they knew who he was, they would be helping him.  If they did not know who he was, they would be telling him to stop and drop the gun, or just shooting him for being a madman with a gun.

Now, let me list some of the things that they got wrong about the future.  This might be excusable, but the trends were already in place in 1982 if you cared to think about them.  There are flying cars and space exploration and advanced genetic engineering and bioengineering and buildings that would be impossible with today's structural materials, but there is no evidence of computers or mobile phones aside from a couple bits of specialized gear.  The methods of forensic investigation are shockingly primitive, with cops handling the evidence with bare hands and not bothering to take pictures of the scene.  The head of a major corporation has huge ugly glasses instead of contact lenses.

It was a vision of the future based on a 1960's novel, and this vision was already obsolete when the film came out.


Irina Popov said...

Richard, you killed the movie. Usually when I watch a SF I need to tell myself that it's just an artist's impression of the future. Then I can truly enjoy the movie as it was meant to be - not plausible, but cathartic.
Did you see Ghost in the Shell? There would be a lot to criticize about that one, too.

NotanEster said...

hold on- one thing: C-14 dating is only applicable to dead things that have stopped taking in carbon. If a live replicant and a live human both eat and live in the same places on earth (ignoring that the movie is not on earth), they are likely to have identical carbon levels even with 20 year age differences. Also, C-14 is still not that precise & I would not rely on it for dating singular years, or even within several decades.

Anyway, pretty scathing review here. :P I enjoyed Blade Runner myself, though I'm not sure I saw the Director's cut. I don't think I knew it was that famous when I first watched it... I was on a Harrison Ford movie kick at the time. The continuous rain and oddities didn't bother me- I guess I took them in stride as being part of the 'atmosphere.' Nothing so different from a dog-scientist and cat-captain sailing on mysteriously oxygenated paths in space in Treasure Island really.

Alleged Wisdom said...

I have seen Ghost in the Shell. The original movie was okay, slightly better than Blade Runner. The anime series is much better than both of them, the best anime I have ever seen. They explore a lot of different themes, the characters are well-developed, and the plots make sense.

You are right about carbon dating. I must have been thinking of something else.

I am fine with fantasy as long as it announces itself as fantasy. That was not meant to be a big complaint.

What I have a problem with is people doing things that do not make any sense. The actions of the people must make have some kind of logic, given their character, knowledge, motivations, and constraints. People should definitely not do senseless things just to provide an interesting image or message.

I have an even bigger problem with entire societies that are portrayed as doing fundamentally senseless things. There is absolutely no conceivable scientific, economic, or anthropological reason for replicants to be manufactured and handled as they are in Blade Runner.

Irina Popov said...

Well, I think that Ghost in the Shell, the movie was far better than the anime series. I remember I had a problem with cyborgs looking so very much like humans :) Like anyone needed Robocop to look fleshy :)
I got over it, anyway.