Wednesday, December 19, 2007

cutting through philosophy

They have released yet another version of Blade Runner. Apparently it's now the "Ultimate Version" least until someone else needs to make a profit. You gotta love the modern DVD market.

Blade Runner is a Ridley Scott film, and I have always had mixed feelings about that man's work. While the movies can be beautiful to look at and are magnificently constructed, they are usually emotionally cold and sterile. In many ways, his films are affect-free, almost a parody of bad academic views. If they weren't so damn evocative as a rule, I would generally hate his work. As is, I often can't look away, even though I get really angry as I think of them afterward.

Blade Runner is a great case in point. The premise is staggering: a cop/bounty hunter who specializes in killing androids, with the potential for the requisite "what does it mean to be alive?" philosophical questions. The vision of the future--nasty, raining, class-divided, dark, ecologically wasted--is refreshing in light of the "gee wiz" future of Star Wars. The visuals are stunning. And there are great moments of depth, with the real highlight coming from Rutger Hauer's dying android Batty: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." It's chilling to watch, perhaps one of the finest moments of cinema in the last 25 years.

But the movie has some real problems. First off, while no one can dispute the power of Harrison Ford, he gives a remarkably lethargic performance here. Hell, Rutger Hauer, veteran of over 100 B movies, acts Ford's ass right off the screen, particularly in his death scene (the home of the above quote). Maybe Ford was trying to underplay it, but it doesn't work for me.

I kind of doubt, however, that it was an acting decision. To me, Ford's underplayed performance points to more a philosophical problem with the movie. In an admittedly cool Wired interview, Scott says: "the hero, or antihero, finally gets his butt kicked by the so-called bad guy — who turns out not to be a bad guy. That's what's interesting about the movie, right? Otherwise it's all down to bad guys and good guys, which is really boring."

In other words, what is interesting about the movie is that there's no moral center. Wee. Does the film suggest an alternative? Some other way of looking at morality, humanity, or any number of other issues? Not to my eyes, and not from what I gather from the Scott interview. "We've moved beyond good and evil" is a fascinating statement, and it is one which I think has great merit, but unless you complete the equation and try to make sense of the world, it's the same reductive nonsense that a lot of bad postmodernists spout...and it just is not enough.

Later in the same interview, Scott admits to never reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Phillip K. Dick novel that Blade Runner was "based" upon. This somehow doesn't surprise me in the least, because there are very few similarities between the two. I experienced the Dick novel before I saw the Scott movie, and I was absolutely blown away by the philosophical depth of the story. In the novel, it wasn't just "bounty hunter battles robots"; instead, the novel had great stake in matters of life, spirituality, characters, and much more. The novel was a ride of both emotions and philosophy. Ultimately, the film leaves us with style...which is nice, but it's not life-altering.

I'm not saying that none of this exists in the movie, but it's very much overwhelmed by the sheen of Scott's production. This is a shame, because the novel is entirely adaptable...and I think it would still make one hell of a flick. But Scott found the book too "dense" and instead went for a neat design.

Actually, this reminds me of a whole bunch of bad theory articles I've encountered in my coursework...except that they didn't have Darryl Hannah in a bodysuit and bad makeup.

1 comment:

themikedubose said...

Incidentally, Slate has another take on Blade Runner I'm not the only hater in the house.