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The flawed genius behind the 'Bladerunner' myth
By Steve Palopoli
Watching the "Final Cut" of Blade Runner on the big screen last year convinced me to get the four-disc DVD set that includes not only this latest incarnation, but all three of the previous theatrical versions. There's a lot of detail-oriented behind-the-scenes material that makes a good companion piece to Paul M. Sammon's exhaustive book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. This is a movie people can go a little nuts over.
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Not that I don't understand that; I mean, I got the freakin' four-disc set, for chrissakes. I can bring diplomacy to any argument about the theatrical cut vs. the director's cut--I am the Jimmy Carter of Blade Runner. C'mon, it's the best of both worlds. In the original, there's the balance of throwback noir and sleek postmodernism, with the unfairly hated narration adding to the film's cramped, claustrophobic feel. In contrast, the director's cut is like a piece of fine art, its quiet moments creating an almost Zen atmosphere that, when contrasted to the urban chaos, makes you understand what everyone who's abandoned Earth is searching for off-world.
But enough of why Blade Runner is one of the best science-fiction movies of all time. Yes, it was misunderstood and neglected 25 years ago, but now it's more than gotten its due. Watching the Final Cut, it occurred to me that what's important now about Blade Runner is how it sucks. Because I don't know if you've watched it lately, but any movie that can be as flawed as this one is in the story department and still blow your mind really has to be the best. Some of this is nit-picking, but hey, just like a person, this is what happens when you get in a committed relationship with a movie. You see it for what it truly is, and you have to decide if you still love it. The script's flaws are just bizarre. In the novel it's based on, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, there's an explanation of how android slavery works, but in the movie it's a complete mystery. How could any off-world settler possibly keep these cold-blooded killers down without locking them up 24/7? They are (unlike in the novel) incredibly powerful and physically and mentally superior to humans. You get the feeling they would have been ruling the colonies within minutes. That doesn't mean they couldn't have been slaves, of course, but some explanation and a little less emphasis on the "more human than human" superpowers would have helped.
The beginning of the film trips all over itself: the opening narration says Blade Runners (as a job) began after the creation of Nexus 6 androids, and yet Walsh has to explain to Deckard what a Nexus 6 is. Also, for some reason Tyrell has never seen a Voight-Kamff test and doesn't know much about how it works. Most of this is completely different from the book, which, while infinitely weirder than the movie with its empathy boxes, cult of Mercerism and fake police stations, makes a lot more sense. For instance, in the book not only does Rosen (the Tyrell of the novel) know about the Voight-Kamff test, he is actively looking for ways to beat it, to make his androids better and better.
The movie's Leon stuff I don't get, either. The fact that they have to send a tester out to find him is ridiculous. Immediately afterward, we're shown that information about all the escaped androids--photos, names, complete descriptions--is fully available. Leon is not wearing a disguise--and isn't even using a fake name!--and yet the tester, who would surely have access to all of this information, doesn't recognize him, even as he calls him "Leon" over and over again. There's plenty more, like the thematic letdown of Deckard being a replicant (Scott believes he is, and used Gaff's unicorn figure to prove it in the director's cut). However cool an idea that might be, the movie's examination of "human nature" has no point if Deckard is not giving up his humanity to be a cold-blooded killer while Batty is transcending his replicant nature by sparing him. Perhaps the reason we don't often notice Blade Runner's story flaws is that it stuns us with the most incredible science-fiction landscape ever put onscreen. The visuals have not lost a fraction of their power even decades later. This is one film that backs up what lovers of auteur theory have been saying for years: on any given film, the director is God. After creating all of these versions to definitely deliver Blade Runner, Scott can finally rest.
CULT LEADER is a weekly column about the state of cult movies and offbeat corners of pop culture. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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