November at The Movie Maestro

Now that Halloween is long behind us, it’s time for me to refresh myself with some of my favorite films and film franchises! Until the end of November, I’ll be reviewing a wide array of entries from the Star Trek series to Indiana Jones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all just in time to read while you stuff your face with Thanksgiving turkey! Also on the plate will be a complete review of the Star Wars saga to prepare for the December 15 release of The Last Jedi.

Stay true, believers!

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Maestro’s Marathons: The Ancient Evil Halloween Marathon

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It’s that time again! The spooky, spectral time of ghosts and demons and all sorts of frightening beasts from the Beyond…it’s October!

Ancient Evil Halloween Marathon

It could be anything. An ancient monster that just won’t die. An alien infestation consuming your body. The spectre of the night encased in silent, human form. Whatever you fear, it could be anything this Halloween!
This October, The Movie Maestro brings to you 13 nights of terror as the shadows of eons past return to wreak havoc on humankind! From October 19th to the Festival of Samhain on the 31st, you will be witness to ?? films of increasing dread as the forces of pure evil from days gone by lunge for the kill!

Unlike the American Spirit Marathon, the October/Halloween event will be slightly changing with each iteration, presenting a different theme each year. This year, in light of the massive success of the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It, the theme will be Ancient Evil. Everything from alien creatures millions of years old to the Deadites of the Middle Ages, from eldritch monsters beyond our reality to the pure, ageless evil behind the eyes of Michael Myers, all of it will be coming for you!

The Picks:

Salem’s Lot
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We begin the marathon with a tale from the Master of Macabre’s past: Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Released in 1979 as a miniseries, like the better-known It, Salem’s Lot presents us with an interesting take on the vampire mythos. Taking place in King’s old standby state of Maine, the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot becomes the modern-day breeding ground for a new and vicious group of blood-suckers, led by the monstrous Kurt Barlow and his sinister assistant, the eloquent Richard Straker . This film is pulling double-duty within our marathon due to its director–the late Tobe Hooper, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Still early in his career, Hooper relishes the chance to create a foreboding atmosphere, infusing Salem’s Lot with an eeriness that persists to this day. While there is a remake with the always perfect Rutger Hauer as Barlow, I’m sticking with the original out of respect for Hooper and the grisly Nosferatu-like visage of this film’s king vampire.

The Evil Dead
Related imageAt once Sam Raimi’s debut and magnum opus of horror, Evil Dead is still enduring in several forms; comics, a Showtime TV series, a remake, and even a musical have been released alongside the two more successful sequels, and Raimi himself has become quite an eccentric and eclectic filmmaker in the decades since. For this marathon, we’ll go back to the beginning, when the demons were first unleashed and the evil in the forest was no laughing matter. Ash, played as always by the immortal Bruce Campbell, and his friends arrive at a secluded cabin in the woods for a carefree weekend away from civilization. Instead, they find a scene of slaughter, and the Necronomicon, a book of demonic spells, wrapped in flesh and inked in blood, which releases a horde of Kandarian spirits, determined to possess the kids through rape and mutilation. Phew, that was a brutal mouthful. And so is this movie, to this very day.

The Cabin in the Woods
Image result for the cabin in the woods posterWhile we’re on the subject of cabins and mutilation, let’s keep this theme rolling with Drew Goddard’s excellent deconstruction of classic horror movie tropes, The Cabin in the Woods. Co-written with Joss Whedon, Cabin explores another group of kids’ run-in with supernatural torment deep in the forest, but with a more funny twist…and a strange little Office Space-style conspiracy running in the background. Did I say Office Space? It’s more like Office Space by way of H.P. Lovecraft, we’ll just say that. I’ll also say that this is how Cabin ends up on my Ancient Evil marathon, but to say more might truly spoil the whole thing, so just pop it in and enjoy a stoner, a jock, a virgin, a slut, and whatever that other guy was stumble through a nightmare scenario of movie monsters, all controlled by two sweaty office workers who complain about their wives’ hormones.

Nosferatu the Vampyre
Image result for nosferatu the vampyre posterFrom pop culture exploitation to art-house cinema we go, with this, probably the most haunting rendition of Bram Stoker’s tale of the ultimate vampire, Dracula. King of the Undead and cursed by God Himself, Count Dracula feeds on the blood of the living to sustain his damned existence, bringing his horror to the shores of England when he sets his sights on the lovely Mina Harker. While any of the myriad versions of Dracula will do here, such as the classic 1931 production starring Bela Lugosi, one of the Hammer films starring Christopher Lee, or the Francis Ford Coppola remake with Gary Oldman, I have decided to spice things up a bit with Werner Herzog’s homage remake of Nosferatu. Not having to worry about copyright enfringement anymore, Herzog has returned much of the original Dracula characters to the fray, but with his hypnotic direction at the helm, Nosferatu the Vampyre makes for an interesting detour in our marathon.

The Mummy (1997)
Image result for the mummy 1997 posterSometimes, you just need some good, fun escapism. After the trance-like Nosferatu, why not take a moment to recuperate with Brendan Frasier as he battles it out with Imhotep, the rotting star of 1997’s The Mummy? 3000 years ago, in the empire of Egypt, Imhotep was the high priest of the dead, the chief holy power in the realm and second only to the Pharoah himself–too bad he and his lady love decided to murder him. So begins an epic, Indiana Jones-like odyssey with Frasier’s Rick O’Connell fighting alongside Rachel Weisz and others to prevent the ancient blasphemer from unleashing the power to destroy the world. While this installment is much heavier on action and adventure, it still has quite a few good scares for the more timid among us. And, let’s face it, it is miles ahead of the new Tom Cruise-starring version, so why not relive old times, when all was right with the world?

The Shining
Image result for the shining posterTime for a break from the ancient evil! Since Stephen King stories seem to be on a roll lately, let’s go back to one of the earliest hits from his bookshelf, this one by one of the greatest filmmakers of them all, Stanley Kubrick. While the menace isn’t quite ancient, it’s still pretty old–the Overlook Hotel, imbued with evil by the spirits of the dead within its walls, be they massacred Indians or axe-murdered twins. Ugh, those twins. Jack Torrence, played both frighteningly and hilariously by Jack Nicholson, is soon under the spell of these ghastly ghosts, and your only hope is….Shelly Duvall and a little kid? Well, take heart, because Shelly is tougher than she looks, and that kid has a little ability that can make or break your chances for survival. So go ahead. Kick back, relax, turn the thermostat way down, and enjoy a creepy night in at the Overlook. Now say it with me…”HEEEEEERE’S JOHNNY!!!”

The Fog
Related imageNope! Break’s not over yet! John Carpenter is a filmmaker you’ll be seeing pop up on my radar a lot, considering, you know, just how good he is. Any genre he works in, be it sci-fi, romance, action, and yes, horror, he just nails with an offbeat sense of coolness, like he can do no wrong. This time, we’ll be taking a look at one of his more dreamlike entries, a film about spooky tales on the water in the midst of the night…The Fog. The Californian town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary when paranormal activity begins to occur at a frightening rate. In the midst of the chaos comes a massive fogbank, bearing down on the town. Within are the restless spirits of a long-dead clipper ship, ready to take six lives in retaliation for a buried secret in the town’s sordid history. Did I mention this movie has Jamie Lee Curtis AND Adrienne Barbeau? For pure, high-seas ghostly terror, sit down with the original Fog.

It
Image result for it posterYou knew it was gonna end up on the list somewhere. Now the magnum opus of Stephen King flicks, Andy Muscietti’s adaptation of It has, in many eyes, supplanted the old miniseries, taking the number one spot in lists of evil, scary clowns. But It isn’t just a clown; Pennywise may be the physical face of this extraterrestrial terror, but It’s true form may just be too terrifying for we puny humans to behold. Crashing to Earth billions of years ago, It has finally awakened to feast on its favorite meals: fear and the flesh of children. It is the Eater of Worlds; the Sum-Total of Every Nightmare Ever Had; and now It will face its greatest foes: The Losers Club, a group of youngsters with foul mouths and a sense of unity that may be their only weapon to combat this Eldritch beast. While you will have to go out to your local theater this year to see it, if you haven’t yet, It is one hell of a horror film that you will not be disappointed in.

TRIPLE FEATURE: John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy
apocalypse triple feature smallReady for a long evening? Try John Carpenter’s thematic Apocalypse Trilogy, featuring three films that portray the beginning of the end of the world. Start off with the director’s bonafide classic The Thing, starring Kurt Russell as the manly MacReady as he and the other crewmen of a U.S. Antarctica base face off against an alien creature which can perfectly mimic any lifeform it reaches…even one of them. Continue with Prince of Darkness, a bizarre yet incredibly fun combination of time travel and demonic possession that pits college students and Donald Pleasance as a crusty old preacher against the literal forces of evil: Satan and the Anti-God. Close out the triple feature with In the Mouth of Madness, in which Sam Neill plays John Trent, a private investigator on the trail of missing horror novelist Sutter Cane, who’s new book may spell doom for the human race.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Image result for new nightmare posterMade as an afterthought coda to the main six films of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is actually probably the most creative of all those films. Delving heavily into metatextual territory, New Nightmare takes place in our world, starring the real-life actors who made the Nightmare series playing themselves. Heather Langenkamp is now a mother trying to put her horror movie past behind her, but when her young son begins having vivid nightmares at about the same time her husband begins work on a new Nightmare film. Soon, Freddy Krueger begins appearing in the real world–but it isn’t Freddy Krueger. As Craven himself cryptically explains, long ago a terrible demon was locked away in a story…and it will take a new one to contain him again. Featuring hellish imagery and some of the best dream-scares of the whole series, New Nightmare is a fine addition to this marathon.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Related imageTaking another detour on our list of ancient evil films, we arrive in the twisted plains of deep Texas, where the meat is much more than just tainted. A horror hallmark, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre should be on everybody’s Halloween viewing lists, even more so after the unfortunate death of Tobe Hooper. A group of teens on a pleasure trip is about to find out the Texas meaning of good eats when they encounter an unsettling hitchhiker and nasty old gas station barbecue. After some choice scares, continue on into the ominous landscape, unaware of the family of psychopaths ready to butcher them all with hammers, straight-razors, and gas-powered chainsaws like prime-angus beef. An uncompromising, gruesome, and at times amusing descent into hellish heat and the stench of the slaughter, TCM provides full-bore slasher scares with none of the camp, and even less of the blood. What? You want blood? Don’t worry; your imagination will fill in the blanks.

It Follows
Related imageNot quite a detour, It Follows occupies an interesting spot on this list, as the main monster of this film’s origin is never revealed. Nonetheless, it is an unsettling thing to experience, and why not include it on the list for that very reason? Jay is your typical teenage girl who has just experienced her first sexual encounter. Depending on the person, she may be receiving either a high-five or a stern stare, right? Who would have thought that she would instead be subjected to the fear of becoming prey when she finds herself relentlessly pursued by a supernatural entity that knows her every sin? Quickly becoming praised by critics, audiences, and horror buffs alike, this film won notoriety for its writer and director David Robert Mitchell, and has probably managed to do for sex what Jaws did for beaches. In other words, the Entity of It Follows has succeeded where Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers have failed.

DOUBLE FEATURE: Halloween / Halloween II
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Finish off the marathon with a double feature night, containing the only films that should be watched on Halloween night: John Carpenter’s seminal classic Halloween, and its direct continuation, Halloween II! Michael Myers himself may be just a 21-year-old psychopath, but the evil living behind his young eyes is as old as time itself…

And that’s all folks! Once again, feel free to switch out some of these films for others or mix-and-match the order. The point is, this is your ultimate Halloween marathon, so you do it your way!

REVIEW: The Fly (1986)

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Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by Charles Edward Pogue and David Cronenberg, Based on the Short Story by George Langelaan
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Was there any filmmaker quite like the 1980s David Cronenberg? Making a series of films that were at once grotesque and physically horrifying yet deeply intimate and human, Cronenberg brought a strange, gothic heart to the horror and thriller genres that I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered since. Right smack in the middle of all of this is The Fly, the remake of the 1958 Vincent Price hit that blows all comparisons to that work out of the water.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a brilliant but eccentric scientist attempts to woo investigative journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) by offering her a scoop on his latest research in the field of matter transportation, which against all the expectations of the scientific establishment have proved successful. Up to a point. Brundle thinks he has ironed out the last problem when he successfully transports a living creature, but when he attempts to teleport himself a fly enters one of the transmission booths, and Brundle finds he is a changed man.

I remember first seeing The Fly on late night cable, and being utterly repulsed by its extreme gore. And I still couldn’t look away. Sure, part of it was my adolescent curiosity, but even then, there was something about Cronenberg’s shocker that was more than cheap blood and goo. Since then, I’ve become a fan of Cronenberg’s work, and have always attributed that to The Fly, his most commercial and successful picture.

Much of the film’s success comes from three people: Cronenberg himself, and the two leads: Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Goldblum, a master of performance and subtlety, dives deep into some of the best work of his illustrious career. Goldblum’s Brundle is eccentric and insecure; hiding behind a boyish shyness is an altruistic need to create, and create he has, probably the most important invention of the human race: the telepod. Davis is the hot journalist who at first seems mildly amused by the young genius, only to find herself falling for him as they document his successes and failures with teleportation.

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Themselves a couple at the time, their on-screen chemistry as first scientific partners and later as lovers is wholly believable, and genuinely touching. There are times when I want to rate them as one of the ten best movie couples ever. You know what, I am going to rate them as one of the ten best movie couples ever. Which one would they be? I don’t know, but it’s up there.

And therein lies the genius of Cronenberg’s script rewrite. Charles Edward Pogue’s original draft (which is included on the excellent Fox blu-ray), is much more flowery and sweeping, playing more like the 1958 original, and places more emphasis on the scientific aspect of the film. Cronenberg aimed for a more concise narrative framed around these two doomed lovers, and in doing so, imbued this film with a bleeding heart that far outshines the scares.

But the scares exist, and while it takes awhile to get to them, they do not disappoint. The first forty minutes or so are consumed with Brundle’s attempts to correct a major flaw in the telepod–it can only teleport non-living material. His first teleportation of an animal, a baboon, results in the film’s first horrific set-piece as the poor creature is turned inside out upon reintegration. After correcting the issue, Brundle succeeds with another baboon, but soon, his idiosyncratic insecurities rear their ugly head, and he drunkenly enters the machine…not noticing the fly that has made inside with him.

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At first, the changes are positive: Brundle can perform feats of physical prowess and seems to be wired all the time. But as the film goes on, his appearance and demeanor changes, frighteningly. His body becomes sensitive to food and external stimuli; strange, insect-like hairs sprout from his back and later his face; even his personality shifts, revealing a new Seth Brundle that is dodgy, arrogant, and all-too-willing to demonstrate his abilities, to the harm of those around him.

At about the hour-mark, the film starts to take on a more familiar sci-fi edge as Seth’s body begins to deteriorate, the fly genes manifesting in cancerous legions that tear his visage apart. Major props to Chris Walas and the rest of the makeup department, who create disgustingly logical appliances that allow Goldblum to change before our eyes into a true monster but allowing him enough freedom to create a performance. Their work is honestly second only to Rob Bottin’s creations on John Carpenter’s The Thing. All through this, Veronica is forced to watch him slowly fall away into a new, terrifying form, showcasing the quiet torment that Geena Davis so effortlessly portrays.

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The Fly is a clever bait-and-switch to armchair fans of gory horror flicks. As I did years ago, I’m sure many people tuned in or bought the DVD to see the excellent makeup effects that still make me cringe, and slowly discovered the tender undercurrent of melancholy inherent in the film. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen. It certainly is not for everyone, and I wouldn’t begrudge someone from disliking it after a viewing, but for those that can weather the storm, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is a unique remake, taking only the barest premise and treating(?) us to a darkly humorous and sad meditation of disease, deformity, the perils of scientific progress and the tragedy of doomed love.

REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, Story by Hampton Fancher, Based on Characters from the Novel Do Androids Dream of Electrip Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Sylvia Hoeks

I really shouldn’t enjoy this movie at all, despite my unconditional love for the original film. Because I fully believe, nay, know, that Blade Runner is a film for whom any follow-up, be it a sequel, prequel, or remake, is completely unnecessary, I have approached this one cautiously and reservedly for over a year. I seemed to have gone through the stages of grief with this one before seeing it, and I am now in a comfortable stage of acceptance.

Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.

And now here I am, sitting in front of the computer, trying to find the words for what I just watched. I mean this in both good and bad ways, because 2049 affected me in a much different way than the original film. Much like Alien: Covenant earlier this year, I feel that it’s going to take time and multiple viewings to truly come to a conclusion regarding how much I enjoy this film.

First things first, let’s get something out of the way: I do not think 2049 surpasses the original. Not by a long shot. Anybody who thinks it does simply did not like the original, and I will stick by that observation to the death. The future world depicted in Villeneuve’s film is not as profoundly shocking as Scott’s, and the story is not as efficient or effective. This is not to say that it’s terrible; it just isn’t the same kind of simple, hard-hitting film noir that Blade Runner still is.

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2049 begins with a new adaptation of an original opening concept for the first film, no doubt a signal of Hampton Fancher’s influence, who has returned to help write this film. Officer K arrives on a futuristic farm, clad in bleak grays, with Dave Bautista taking the small role of the big replicant that K waits to retire. After he discovers a strange crate buried on the property, K returns to Los Angeles, which in the past 30 years has changed much–and also not much at all. LA is still choking with corporate product placement and diseased masses of humanity, but this time around, a lot of it seems more…clean? That might not be the right word, but many of the sets do possess a more sterile quality than their counterparts in the original, especially K’s apartment and the police station. I completely understand the reasoning behind this–30 years can do much to change architecture and style–I just miss the old retrofitted future.

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A most interesting addition to the Blade Runner mythos in this film is Ana de Armas’s Joi, K’s holographic housewife. Firmly cementing 2049 into a 21st Century evolution of the original, Joi is an interesting spin of Her‘s Samantha, a computerized companion in a world where even some of the humans are artificial.

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Speaking of artificial humans, in this film there are way more of them. In the 30 years since, human-replicant integration has taken place, to the point where replicants are now openly holding jobs on Earth among humans. There are still racial tensions that prevent replicants from fully enjoying human freedom, however, in a few nice tidbits of screenwriting by Fancher and Green. This increased acceptance of replicants into society draws neat parallels with the end of slavery and the beginnings of the civil rights movements in the United States, and poses some powerful questions about identity, segregation, and the state of humanity in a world that was already post-human decades ago.

K’s discovery eventually leads to something of an intriguing mystery that further sets 2049 apart from its predecessor. While Blade Runner is pretty straightforward in terms of its narrative, 2049 is more about mystery. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving the best parts away, but I will say that the quest undertaken by K is intriguing, even if a little predictable.

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Ryan Gosling is his usual self as K, which is to say he is absolutely brilliant. Building on the performances of both Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, Gosling combines the more subtle nuances of both to create a character as likeable. Everybody else is adequate, but not quite praise-worthy. Robin Wright and Mackenzie Davis are straight and narrow in their roles, while Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play decent villains with a few nice quirks. On the whole, however, the acting front is pretty slim compared to the original, and I would level the blame on the fact that there is no Roy Batty counterpart in the film. His character was a very important counterweight to Deckard, and without one for K, the film suffers.

One more thing on the acting: Harrison Ford. While his performance here is decidedly more subtle than it was in The Force Awakens, I don’t feel Deckard had much to contribute to the narrative. Besides one deeply unsettling and wickedly good scene between him and Leto, I could have easily done without his inclusion. This is the third iconic character of his to return, and his entrance onto the screen was greeted with chuckles in the auditorium I saw it in, and I know that scene wasn’t meant to be funny.

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Do I hate Blade Runner 2049? Absolutely not. The film is a beautiful and stark vision of a future, paved-over planet, thematically similar yet visually separated from its ancestor, and Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas more than made the experience worthwhile. Roger Deakins will for sure get an Oscar nod for his work here, and the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch comes pretty damn close to equaling Vangelis’ work. Villeneuve assembled a kickass team, and didn’t forget to raise deep and profound questions like Scott did. And yet, for all this praise, I still feel something missing. Perhaps it is just that it will never leave the shadow of Blade Runner in my eyes. But then again, what film truly could? For an unnecessary sequel, 2049 didn’t do too bad at all, and I’m sure I will love it more as time goes on.

Maestro’s Picks – Blade Runner Week

It’s time for a special Maestro’s Picks this weekend, as Blade Runner 2049 is finally out and in the world. In honor of the sequel that I’m sure nobody ever thought would happen way back in 1982, I’ve decided to share with you all my favorite links and videos from the world of Los Angeles, 2019.

I’m sure most fans will recognize this one immediately, but if you’ve never checked it out, BladeZone, the “Online Blade Runner Fan Site and Museum,” is still the cream of the crop when it comes to Blade Runner tributes online. Some of the articles may be just a bit dated, but still incredibly fascinating, ranging from all different topics on the film and its production, music, visual effects, and different versions, as well as other subjects related to the film, such as the computer game and homages.

Another great fan site, one I used to visit a lot myself, is BRmovie.com, a similar site to BladeZone. It hasn’t been updated since 2011 (it is quite amusing to see that their last news item is Ridley Scott suggesting a sequel may be in the works), but much of the material on the site is still deserving of consumption, mainly based more around essays and analysis of the film and its themes. A very expansive FAQ page is also housed on the site.

And finally, the videos. Lately a few great pieces of analysis have sprung up, no doubt in anticipation of 2049. We start with a new episode of Cinefix’s What’s the Difference? series, in which the hosts compare Blade Runner against its source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Another swell analysis of the original Blade Runner comes from Michael of Lessons from the Screenplay, who deconstructs the main pieces of film noir and looks at how Blade Runner plays with these pieces to reinvigorate and change that genre for a sci-fi setting.

Also of worthwhile watch is NerdWriter’s analysis of the film, with emphasis on its arthouse asthetic.

And finally, because I can’t get enough of his fun and wildly informative series, here’s Oliver Harper’s Review & Retrospective of Blade Runner:

Before I take my leave of you, I would like to share below three final videos. These are special, however, because they are the official prequels to Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, the first two directed by Luke Scott, and the third, a mind-blowing anime sequel to the original film, directed by Cowboy Bebop‘s Shinichiro Watanabe. Enjoy, and don’t forget to go see Blade Runner 2049, in theaters now!

REVIEW: Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007)

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Directed by Charles de Lauzirika
Featuring Interviews with Ridley Scott, Michael Deeley, Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Douglas Trumbull, David Dryer, Richard Yuricich, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Darryl Hannah, Alan Ladd Jr., Bud Yorkin, Jerry Perenchio, Lawrence G. Paull, Terry Rawlings, Guillermo Del Toro, Frank Darabont

I vividly remember speed-walking through my local Best Buy in December of 2007, anxiously hunting down the Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Gift Set of my favorite film of all time, Blade Runner. No way I was waiting until Christmas for this Holy Grail. Upon taking it home and cracking the enormous and intricate thing open, I will still dumbstruck with amazement at how expansive and beautiful the set was. Even more so was my amazement at the actual video content of the set; the pitch-perfect Final Cut, along with all the other official versions of the film, even the Workprint, and a vast treasure-trove of behind-the-scenes content, most of it contained within this, the most complete documentary on a single film I have ever seen, Dangerous Days.

The definitive three-and-a-half hour documentary about the troubled creation and enduring legacy of the science fiction classic “Blade Runner,” culled from 80 interviews and hours of never-before-seen outtakes and lost footage.

I’m not kidding when I make that proclamation; this has to be the most expansive, huge, and packed doc on the process of filmmaking that I have ever encountered. While the Alien blu-rays contained similar documentaries of comparable length, this one blows them out of the water. The sheer amount of footage actually culled from the shoot, including hours of real outtakes, and the staggering selection of interviews, totaling somewhere around 80, cements Dangerous Days as the greatest chronicle of a film’s creation ever put to disc. I usually don’t review filmmaking docs released on home video sets, but this one, I absoultely have to make an exception.

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Dangerous Days traces the creation of Blade Runner back to the very beginning with Hampton Fancher, then an impressionable young aspiring screenwriter, optioning the rights to fashion a script from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Right off the bat, Hampton proves to be a dramatic individual, lovable and crazy all the same. In a sea of informative and interesting talking heads, Hampton easily stands out from the rest.

Following the thread through the hiring of Michael Deeley and Ridley Scott, the financing deal with Jerry Perenchio and Bud Yorkin which would lead to much trouble throughout post-production, Dangerous Days is encyclopedic in its knowledge but oddly direct and fast-paced, never once feeling slow despite how long it really is. Of course, it helps that so much unused material from the film itself is used, making the doc a wonderful curiosity, being able to see so much of this footage that may have never seen the light of day again. One of my favorite sections is the segment on the visual effects, which contains as much unused shots and tests as the rest of the picture. Who had the foresight to keep all of this is beyond me, but good God, it is so beautiful to behold.

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Being an interview-driven film with no voiceover host, a lot is riding on the subjects to bring forth intelligible and intriguing stories, and absolutely none disappoint. Well, maybe Perenchio and Yorkin do, who seem at times too gracious to Ridley, as if to save face in front of the cameras, only to turn around and politely savage his process as I’m sure they did all throughout the production, or to try and defend the horrid theatrical version they themselves butchered. But everyone else is perfect. From Paul M. Sammon detailing production tidbits and alternate concepts culled from his excellent behind-the-scenes book Future Noir, to Lawrence Paull going over the process of prop and set building, to any one of the actors reminiscing about shooting (Darryl Hannah, you are so adorable), to Ridley proclaiming in his usual, frank English resolve that if you’re not with him, too bad, everything is. Just. Perfect.

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My absolute favorite interview additions, however, have to be Guillermo Del Toro and Frank Darabont, who as filmmaker fans of the picture, not only show the reach and impact Blade Runner has had on people, but they also comment on their differing reactions to aspects of the film, most notably the aforementioned voiceover. While Guillermo professes love for it, Darabont wraps up in hilarious fashion my whole argument against it, with his experience watching the theatrical cut’s death of Ray Batty:

“In the middle of this beautiful crescendo, like having sex, and someone dumps cold water on you, here comes this dunderous, thudding voiceover that overexplains the whole thing. Thank you kicking this wonderful, emotional moment, right in the nuts.”

When push comes to shove, I assure you, no other documentary on a single film will ever come as close to being as complete as Dangerous Days. I know I sound like a broken record repeating that, but I honestly don’t know what else to say. If you don’t own The Final Cut of Blade Runner in some form yet or don’t watch your home video bonus features, clear out an afternoon and watch this thing. You just may become inspired to be a filmmaker after it.

“It’s a Test…”: Maestro’s Unified Deck-A-Rep Theory

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WARNING: THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR BLADE RUNNER, AND POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR BLADE RUNNER 2049.

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After a stunning and frankly disturbing flyover of the Los Angeles of 2019, the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner suddenly goes intimate, depicting a strange kind of exam being run by LAPD officer Holden (Morgan Paull) on Leon Kowalsky (Brion James), a new employee at the replicant-maker Tyrell Corporation. This exam is punctuated by the awkward Leon, who doesn’t seem to be all mentally there, so to speak. As Leon continues to interrupt with meaningless questions, Holden frustratingly asks the first question:

HOLDEN
 You're in a desert, walking along
 in the sand when....

LEON
 Is this the test now ?

HOLDEN
 Yes. You're in a desert, walking
 along in the sand when all of a sudden
 you lookdown and see a.....

LEON
 What one ?

It was a timid interruption, hardly audible.

HOLDEN
 What ?

LEON
 What desert ?

HOLDEN
 Doesn't make any difference what
 desert.. it's completely hypothetical.

LEON
 But how come I'd be there?

HOLDEN
 Maybe you're fed up, maybe you want
 to be by yourself.. who knows.
 So you look down and see a 
 tortoise. It's crawling toward
 you....

This continues for an uncomfortable minute, with Leon seemingly unable to answer the question. In a show of solidarity, Holden reassures him:

 

HOLDEN
 They're just questions, Leon.
 In answer to your query, they're
 written down for me. It's a 
 test, designed to provoke an
 emotional response.

 

In a nutshell, Holden has described the Voight-Kampff test succinctly and directly. Designed to measure empathic response to unsettling scenarios by taking in pheromones and reading involuntary body reactions, the VK Test is a Blade Runner’s most useful tool for identifying replicants, which have no real empathic response, only simulation.

Later in the film, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), our “heroic” main character and the titular Blade Runner, is recovering from a work day from hell in his apartment, where he shelters Rachel, and advanced model replicant with implanted memories that create in her mind the illusion that she is human, having lived a long, normal life that buoys her emotional development. Deckard had earlier administered a VK test on her and discovered her true nature, and in her own anguish over this shocking revelation, she has turned to him in desperation. During a rather intimate moment at this juncture in the film, Rachel rather pointedly asks Deckard of the VK test,

“Did you ever take that test yourself?”

Now, Deckard never answers, because he is fast asleep in a drunken stupor. However, several elements of the film point toward an actual answer given, and that is that Deckard is, in fact, a replicant, with the same type of memory implantation as Rachel. While this seems to be a point of contention between members of the fanbase and even the cast and crew who worked on the film, director Ridley Scott insists that this was always his intention to reveal Deckard as a replicant by the film’s end, so for the purposes of this article, I am treating this plot point as fact. Rick Deckard, replicant hunter, is a replicant himself.

What are the clues that point to this conclusion? As follows, here are the biggest and most obvious examples:

  1. The aforementioned question of Rachel’s that goes unanswered.
  2. The glow of Deckard’s eyes. At various points in the film, Scott employs a cinematic device, unseen by the characters within the film, of a dull, red glow in each of the replicant characters’ eyes. At one brief point halfway into the film, Deckard also possesses this eerie glow.
  3. Deckard’s piano is covered in old photographs, many of which are too old to be immediate relatives or acquaintances of his. Considering that Leon was shown in the film to have collected photos of strangers in order to create a fantasy of having lived a full life, this positions Deckard as a similar collector of false memories, albeit subconsciously.
  4. The unicorn. While drunk in his apartment at the beginning of the second act, Deckard is musing at his piano, wistfully daydreaming of a beautiful unicorn in the forest. This does not become important until the very end, when Deckard finds at his doorstep an origami figure, a calling card of his rival Blade Runner Gaff (Edward James Olmos). The figure is of a unicorn, suggesting that Gaff knows Deckard’s innermost thoughts as Deckard knows Rachel’s.

Of course, these only explain the existence of the situation, not the how or why. This is something that has plagued viewers and connoisseurs of the film for decades–if Deckard is indeed a replicant, why is he? Most viewers understand the thematic point that Scott was aiming to make, that the line between humanity and machines is a blur, even if they don’t agree with it in this instance. But what narrative purpose does the Deck-A-Rep theory, as it is known, serve? How and when was Deckard brought online, and why is he working as a Blade Runner, the very antithesis of a replicant?

Over the years, my own reading of this question has blended and melded with several other brilliant ideas on the subject from countless different viewers to form what I call the Unified Deck-A-Rep Theory. I think it more than adequately fills in the holes of Scott’s vision of a replicant Deckard, and fits nicely into the Philip K. Dick canon of troubled characters discovering their shocking true nature. Do I feel this is the end-all-be-all conclusion of the debate? Hell no. I’m just positing my own version of the behind-the-scenes events of the story, to clarify for some who cannot understand the Deck-A-Rep hypothesis.

Let’s first begin with the how: how can Deckard be a replicant? How can he not know this fact, or discover it through the supposed superhuman abilities he should possess? Obviously the first two questions are answered by the character of Rachel. She is obviously a prototype, a proof-of-concept built to demonstrate how false memories can be used to stabilize the fragile artificial personalities that replicants develop over their short lifespan, and therefore making them more controllable. This covers Deckard’s personality and memories easily; they are as fake as Rachel’s. The third is a little less apparent, but still answered neatly by the rich visual tableau of the film. When Deckard is viewing the personal files on the escaped replicants, several pieces of information on them are presented, including physical and mental level grades. While their mental levels vary across the spectrum from C to A, their physical levels are maxed out at A.

However, this doesn’t mean that all replicants possess this high level of physical ability. The fact that it is given a separate grade speaks to this, and since Rachel doesn’t exhibit any superhuman abilities throughout the story, it is easy to imagine that there are weaker models available on the market. Deckard could simply be one of these models.

In an alternative, it has been brought up that Deckard still does seem to perform remarkable feats, such as his repeated brushes with death at the hands of Zhora and Leon, and the fact that he is able to climb up the side of the Bradbury building in the rain with broken fingers and almost make the full jump between buildings that Roy accomplishes. This could also suggest that Deckard could have a slightly higher physical rating than a human, perhaps B, but still not high enough to break the illusion of humanity he is supposed to believe in.

Now that we have worked out the means by which Deckard can be a replicant, let’s examine how he could have come into being, and why he would be made in the first place.

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The opening crawl makes it very clear what replicants were designed and built for: the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets, as slave labor. This fits with the dictionary definition of a robot, an automaton which carries out tasks too tedious or too dangerous for human beings to endure. This also perfectly jives with the job of a Blade Runner. After all, isn’t hunting down and killing sentient beings, especially ones that are physically and mentally superior to humans, certainly an example of dangerous and demeaning work?

This still doesn’t explain why the LAPD has a replicant on the payroll, but a clue could be found in Rachel.  From Chief Bryant’s dialogue (“There’s a Nexus 6 over at the Tyrell Corporation…”) we can easily infer that he knows of her existence on Earth, a crime under American law. However, he doesn’t order Deckard after her until she disappears from Tyrell, and Deckard doesn’t immediately retire her after the VK test, meaning that the police department and Tyrell have some sort of shady arrangement that allows for her continued presence on-world, so long as she stays within the auspices of the pyramids. It stands to reason that there is a similar agreement between them regarding Deckard.

Rachel’s case also provides the framework for a replicant Blade Runner. Her apparent role as a secretary at Tyrell is not in the tradition of slave labor, and her memories as one of Tyrell’s nieces puts her into a position of privilege that all other replicants do not have. Deckard, on the other hand, would fit this criteria: he is forced back into the job with threats, his work is hazardous and deplorable, and he enjoys no position of privilege, other than his power to terminate other replicants. I submit that Deckard’s model is a logical next step from Rachel, a replicant forced to do dangerous and degrading work as a slave, but with his mind so altered by the implants that he believes in the work he is doing, and will never rebel. Like a cyberpunk wetdream of the worst slaveholders of the American South, Deckard represents what so many of their ilk wished their black slaves could be: completely servile and trusting of the system. At least, that’s what his existence was supposed to prove.

This is the reason for Deckard’s creation: as Phase Two of this Great Experiment. And what exactly is Phase Two? A field test, tasking the skin job with hunting down other skin jobs. After all, if you can get a slave to kill his own on command, he will most certainly do whatever you tell him, no matter what that is. The test “designed to provoke an emotional response,” as Holden put it.

Deckard is created, and held in stasis while his memories are crafted and implanted, waiting for the right opportunity to demonstrate his abilities. That opportunity comes at the start of the film, with the escape of Roy Batty’s group from the Off-World colonies. Preparations are quickly made. As Holden is sent to the hospital with a smoking hole in his back, Bryant and his department are given instructions on how to converse with the Deckard model, Rachel is brought back online for her role, and Blade Runner Gaff is assigned to shadow Deckard, watching his every move to ensure compliance with the main objective.

And thus, Deckard is brought online and let out into the city, with his false memories giving no indication that he was literally born yesterday. While he exhibits aspects of defiance toward authority and hard feelings toward the department, I submit that this is intentional; another hurdle for the replicant to clear to prove just how reliable it can be in its current task. He is quickly approached by Gaff, (whose position as liaison to a machine explains his dislike of Deckard in the ultimate example of robots supplanting humans in the workforce) taken to the station and recruited, and brought up to speed on the Nexus 6 models. Some have expressed confusion regarding this scene, wondering why he wouldn’t already have this knowledge as a former Blade Runner, but again, I submit that this is perfectly in keeping with the illogical realities of Dick’s work. To Bryant and Gaff, this is another aspect of the test–to present the replicant with a situation that should break the illusion of its humanity and see how it responds.

Evidently, Deckard responded well, because he is off to the next trial: his first VK test of a replicant. Not just any replicant, however, but Rachel, one with implants like his. This presents another hurdle for Deckard to clear, which is pushed further when Rachel seeks him out to persuade him she is actually human. Again, he passes perfectly, and continues on mission, retiring Zhora in short order.

Here is where things get interesting. We are led to believe that Deckard is a veteran Blade Runner, with many kills under his belt. So why then does Zhora’s death affect him so deeply, reducing him to a wimpering mess as he orders a bottle of Tsing Tao? Quite simply, it’s because this is his actual first kill. He may remember other retirements before this point, but he never actually committed them, so this emotional response that he can’t quite understand is actually his brain reacting to murder for the first time in its short life. This reading even halfway explains the rape-y vibes of the so-called love scene between Deckard and Rachel: Deckard has no real experience with love, so his replicant brain interprets this a forceful act.

Now, while this is going on, Roy Batty obviously has his own plans, which unbeknownst to the department and Tyrell, are to gain access to Eldon Tyrell himself in an attempt to prolong his life and that of Pris. His plan succeeds, but only as far as seeing the old man. Upon being told that there is no way to save himself, Roy murders Tyrell and escapes, sending the department and the corporation into the chaos heard on Deckard’s CB radio on his trip to the Bradbury building. Tyrell’s death was certainly not a part of the plan, but for whatever reason, Bryant decides to continue with the trial run, dispatching Deckard to finish the job, with Gaff close behind, watching. This explains why Gaff had Deckard’s weapon after he dropped it, and why he never helped him. Again, all part of the test.

When Deckard is finished, soaking on the roof next to the deceased Roy, Gaff decides to give one final taunt: “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?” He knows that Rachel is hiding with him. Deckard hurriedly and fearfully returns home, thinking that Gaff has retired her. Finding Rachel unharmed, Deckard decides to run away with her, thereby failing the entire test–despite accomplishing so much, he is still willing to run.

So Gaff leaves a final calling card, a last-ditch attempt to break the humanoid, or perhaps a show of solidarity by letting them go–this is up to the reader. Gaff places a unicorn origami at Deckard’s doorstep, a real-world echo of Deckard’s daydream at the piano, revealing not just Deckard’s true nature, but Gaff’s. An added layer can be applied to this adversarial relationship between the two of them: what if Deckard’s memories are actually Gaff’s, who was forced to retire as an active duty Blade Runner in favor of a skin job because of an injury that forced him to rely on his dandy little cane?

In either case, now knowing the truth, Deckard turns and enters the elevator with Rachel, and the screen goes black, leaving us in the dark about his final actions. Did he suddenly decide to fulfill his purpose and retire Rachel? Or did he indeed run, either rejecting the truth or embracing it in a flight from those who would retire him?

And that is the Unified Deck-A-Rep theory. I hope I’ve been able to clear up the more hazy parts of Ridley’s vision, and I certainly hope that some of you who could not accept the replicant Deckard have been encouraged to at least be open to the possibility. I feel that Blade Runner 2049 will certainly render this theory moot, considering Deckard is still alive thirty years later, but we shall see.

Blade Runner is an incredible and beautiful piece of cinematic vision that challenges the viewer on multiple levels. It breathes new technologically-tinged life into the unsavory and traumatic memories of the human race’s long relationship with dehumanizing and enslaving itself, and in the process raises some deep philosophical and spiritual questions on just what makes a human being, well, a human being. It is a film that for all its achievements and faults still divides people down lines of thought that spark meaningful discussion, an activity sorely needed in today’s world, and no more divisive is the Deck-A-Rep theory.

While I clearly have chosen my side in this debate, I also encourage you not to necessarily drop your own view in favor of mind, but simply to listen and entertain, just as I surely will yours on this matter. It is the question that is more important, not this long-winded but fun answer. What makes Deckard, or any of us, what we are? Are we any better than the automated reflex machines of Dick’s conception, or are we just that? This is the soul of the Deck-A-Rep theory, and why it persists to this day.

“It really doesn’t matter even, that you would be able to say whether or not, ‘Harrison is a replicant.’ It doesn’t really matter. That’s how strong this film is, because it always tells the same story. You can’t destroy this movie.” – Rutger Hauer
“I often get asked whether I think Harrison is a replicant, but I think, you’ve got to make up your own mind. That’s what’s intended with the film. It’s your choice.” – Terry Rawlings
“To my mind, the only correct and proper answer [to Deckard being a replicant] is, maybe.” – Paul M. Sammon.