David: So while we were watching Sir Rid’s not-terribly-involving introduction, my first reaction was one of blind panic – “I don’t know shit about films! Why the hell would I want to talk publicly about them?!”
Just… just try to keep that in mind while you read my ramblings and we should be fine here.
Scott: The impetus of this project (if that word isn’t too generous about this flailing effort) came off the back of Sean Witzke‘s No Star Wars. A list of 100 films that Sean considers a ‘snapshot’ of his present, personal, relationship with film. Film, like any kind of fiction, should react on a personal level, which is why there’s nothing worse than either being The Guy who does the whole “why haven’t you seen film x?”/”why don’t you like film x?” or being the one questioned by That Guy. Sure, it’s subjective, but there’s a demonstrable skill in justifying ones a opinion and not seeming like a chronic public masturbator, posting “me 2”.
Sean is a titan at this, and we have no intention to put ourselves against a guy who knows his shit, and knows it well. In the world of thinking and reacting to film, Sean is Hamlet to our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Like Stoppard’s heroes, we find ourselves defined by the absence of certain scenes. Or more correctly, certain knowledge. What we’ve done is identify certain gaps in our filmic diet that Sean has highlighted, and we’ve chosen to try and fill it. And we thought we’d document the process.
We’ve chosen to start with Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Quite an odd choice, because it lead to a short debate about which version to watch and pretty much came down to a mental coin toss. That’s not the end of it, and we will probably be revisiting the various versions in time.
Sorry about that, I got my existential robot stories crossed for a minute! But yeah, while I’d feel awkward putting Sean on a pedestal since he’s a mate and all, you’re right – he knows his shit and I (at least) don’t.
Still, that’s as good a reason to try to work shit out as I know of, so why don’t you kick this one off for us Scott?
Scott: Blade Runner was an odd one for me as, although I now count it in my favourite films, I came at it by this strange, oblique angle of being fascinated by the buzz around the film. I knew of it from a young age, but I knew I didn’t have it in me to watch it. My interest was piqued when the Director’s Cut was released, and everywhere carried a story about it, and about the debate surrounding Deckard, but even then, it was still a couple of years before that version appeared on TV, and I actually watched it. Let it wash over me is more like it. I found the tone it set pulled you in, like it’s own gravitational field. Not long after that I read a review of Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir book, and knew that I really, really wanted to read it, but that to do so would require me to watch the film a few more times. And thus my relationship with the film really began.
It was my gateway drug to Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, which now I can’t live without. What eventually drove me on to Chandler and Hammett? The answer lies here. However, as much as the film grows parallel with Gibson, and spawns off Dick in a way that barely lets you recognise the parent, you can’t ignore the fact that this thing exists as an evolutionary apex predator. A tyrannosaurid from which we get pretty awesome modern birds, but not quite the awesome seven tons of meat eating dump-truck on legs legend that was.
It’s no use comparing it to a lot of what tributes it in film most of the time. Very few science fiction films that require big visuals ever get near this level of story. Everyone’s got blood on their hands on this one, and yet everyone’s a victim. There’s a hell of a lot of moral quagmire for a mainstream Hollywood film that few others would aim for.
You can sort of feel that attitude sort of struggling to infiltrate Kingdom of Heaven or Robin Hood, but there’s always a clear line between good in bad in those. Although the bad guys usually have an attempt at having their own defensible morals, it’s usually undercut by their performances. That said, it’s probably with good reason that Ridley Scott once described this as “…my most complete and personal film…”.
David: Unlike you and Sean, I’ve never really got all that attached to Blade Runner. It’s not part of who I am, and for all that I think it’s a pretty amazing movie, I don’t normally act like that’s the case.
The only time I’ve ever had a particularly passionate relationship with the film was back when I was maybe 15 or 16, and a couple of my close friends took it upon themselves to declare that the film was, in fact, a turd. It was slow and boring and grainy and it ended with the angry robot sitting around in his pants giving a sad little speech, was the general consensus. I disagreed, but struggled to articulate why – it was a “real” film, was about the best I could offer, though what that actually meant I didn’t know.
Watching it again now, I know that the “real” quality I saw then is as arbitrary as the distinction between real people and robots in the movie, except that there’s no Voigt-Kampff test here. This kind of reality can only be defined tautologically – real movies are real movies and you know them when you see them.
Blade Runner’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, a sci-fi story done as an old fashioned noir in a still-modern cityscape, but you struggle to see the scar tissue while you’re actually watching it. It’s too good a noir, its characters all equally lost and equally guilty, and it’s too good a sci-fi film too — you can practically smell the future here, and there are damn few movies you can say that about.
Strange lights might flicker in its eyes, and it might hiss steam at awkward moments, but just talk to the thing and tell me it doesn’t have a personality of its own, you know?
Vicki: I had never seen the film in any form before, or read the source material, so I came to the film completely fresh, without any preconceptions. All I came to it knowing was that it was a Ridley Scott film, starring Harrison Ford, and that Graeme loves it.
And it was cool. It’s not the kind of film I would naturally be drawn to, but I really enjoyed it. I love how retro it is. How we’ve already moved beyond the “hi-tech” computers Deckard and Gaff use. How the special effects are so obviously practical, finding real world ways around the limits of your technology to bring your vision of the future to life.
We discussed this during the film, but I really can’t bear to think of how glossy and shiny the film would be made to look if it were to be made now, in these days of easy CGI. The dirty grittiness of it allows you to be drawn more completely into that world. It’s not a glossy Star Trek future – it’s a dirty future, with garbage, crime, poverty, suffering. The kind of future we will really see one day because humanity is as fucked up as this film shows it to be.
The most human character in the film is Rachel and I love that too. Watching the film, I knew almost by the end of her first line that she was a Replicant. But I found her the most compelling character. She, and to some degree Pris, were vulnerable in a way that none of the “human” characters were. Humans were shown to be selfish, arrogant, self-absorbed. Even Sebastian, the most compassionate human character, created a world for himself where he was King, surrounded by his robot children, who lived only to make him happy. As David says, this is a film about the nature of humanity. And I think it does this best through the characters who are persecuted for not being human. I think it is the best of Ridley Scott’s films that I have seen.
And it made me shout at the screen while watching Six Feet Under when I realised that Brenda’s mother was Zhora.
David: Part of me wants to say that Blade Runner takes place in an analogue future, and that it only seems quaint only because we’re now so used to dreaming in digital, but I’m also aware of how funny it is that “analogue” now means old-fashioned. It’s the name of a science fiction magazine you know!
If backed into a corner, I’ll stick to the line that most science fiction is actually an attempt to deal with the time it’s created in, rather than a genuine attempt to predict the future. But here’s a thing – for all that Blade Runner’s both mighty influential and very much of its time, it still doesn’t feel irrelevant. If, as Scott says, it’s a raging dino-beast, it’s one that you could easily bump into on the high street today.
This goes back to my earlier comments about the striking “realness” of the film. Watching the Final Cut was like catching up with a very strange friend from a half-remembered past, and realising how much they’d influenced the course of your life and how much they still have to talk to you about. It was overwhelming, to the extent that I’ve been reduced to breathless hyperbole here, but thankfully we still have a number of different versions of the film to watch and talk about.
So try to think of this as a beginning rather than an ending. Final Cut? Well, it might be the ultimate realisation of Ridley Scott’s vision, but there’s so much more to see here, and the rest of us are only getting started…