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.

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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.

Blade Runner Week

In case you haven’t noticed, this week I will be counting down the days till the release of Blade Runner 2049 with a tribute to my favorite film of all time, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

Most of my posts will actually be on social media, including my thoughts of each version of Blade Runner, special image posts and gifsets, and other little interesting goodies. Follow the links to my Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr below.

Here, I will be making a few new posts throughout the week: a new Head Canon installment containing my personal take on the Deck-A-Rep theory, an editorial on the process of editing a film, and a special Blade Runner edition Maestro’s Picks, all leading up to my review of Blade Runner 2049. I may even get around to reviewing a couple Blade Runner fan edits.

Enjoy!

REVIEW: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

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Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Melissa Matheson
Starring Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote, Robert McNaughton, Drew Barrymore

There are a few perfect films out there, not just for me, but for most of cinema-goers. Taxi Driver. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Star Wars. It’s a Wonderful Life. Blade Runner. These films are cherished and revered, often imitated but never fully copied. Steven Spielberg, probably the most recognized filmmaker in history, has had the fortune of making not one, but several perfect films in his career, with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial probably being the best of the best.

After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas). Bringing the extraterrestrial into his suburban California house, Elliott introduces E.T., as the alien is dubbed, to his brother (Robert McNaughton) and his little sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and the children decide to keep its existence a secret. Soon, however, E.T. falls ill, resulting in government intervention and a dire situation for both Elliott and the alien.

Right away, from the strangely ominous drones over the black-screen credits, you know you’re in for something memorable. As the opening titles give way to the familiar sight of a shooting star against a calm night sky, we are treated the arrival of an alien spaceship in the woods. But unlike the at-times frightening appearance of the visitors in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these creatures are decidedly more benevolent; they waddle under the handicap of their comically-undersized legs, their hearts glow brightly to signal startlement, and their childlike curiosity of the new world before them is charming. And then the humans show up. Dark, silhouetted figures of meddling humanity who give chase to one of the visitors in particular, who misses his ride home and begins a trek down the wooded hill to find shelter on an unfamiliar planet.

So begins Spielberg’s E.T., a film that I discovered I am still absolutely in love with to this day. Like his immediately previous efforts in Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders, E.T. is a technical and storytelling marvel, with little-to-no faults to be had. Everything about this movie is just perfect. Tired of that word yet? Perfect, perfect, PERFECT!!!

Spielberg has longed dismissed the film’s ostensible genre as science fiction, and prefers to think of it as a family drama, with Elliott’s family straining under the still-fresh injury of their father leaving. It’s a theme that Spielberg often comes back to, a real part of his life that he finds therapeutic release in portraying on screen, either as part of the background or as the main focus, such as right here in E.T. Together with Close Encounters, this film is his most personal, presenting the children, Elliott, Mike, and Gertie, as struggling with the hurt of divorce and finding comfort in this diminutive creature from the stars who needs their help.

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In any film involving child actors, there’s the risk of the whole endeavor falling apart because of their inability to understand the work. That simply doesn’t happen here. Henry Thomas as Elliott is one of the greatest child performances around, as he exudes incredible chemistry with his on-screen siblings and mother as well as convincingly acting alongside the E.T. puppets. While McNaughton isn’t as large a factor, his role as the older brother Mike is still a source of much of the film’s comic relief and is such a valued member of the trio. Rounding them out is young Drew Barrymore, who doesn’t so much as act as she does truly converse with E.T. as a real being. Reportedly, at several points in production, she became convinced of E.T.’s reality, which isn’t too hard to believe considering how young she was and how good the on-set effects were.

Portrayed with a combination of various suits and animatronic puppets, E.T. is a fine example of the life a piece of latex can take on with the right design, execution, and tender love and care. From the design, evoking the old, wisened eyes of Albert Einstein, to the performance of the various instruments belaying a younger sense of wonder, E.T. is one of the best non-human characters ever realized. Such is his authenticity that, like the Yoda puppet from The Empire Strikes Back, never once do I look upon the old botanist’s face and see a high-tech gadget, but a living alien deserving of friendship.

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But E.T. isn’t the only technical marvel of the film. In what I assume was an attempt to create an ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere to the idealized suburbia of Elliott’s neighborhood, many scenes are filled with whisps of vapor, allowing the light in the nighttime scenes to really pop as well as shrouding E.T. with an air of mystique, as any alien being should have. This mist of the unknown also percolates around the adult characters, who in Spielberg fashion, are concealed in silhouette until the final act, further slamming home that this story is of children, told from their point of view. (This also places a lot of the slack onto Dee Wallace, who as the children’s mother is the only adult consistently portrayed in full.)

And let’s not forget another rousing score from the master, John Williams. Alternating between quietly beautiful themes for E.T. and Elliot, and grandiose, adventurous pieces that elevate the small town setting into a mythical quest, Williams’ has delivered another score for the ages. This is how film scores are meant to be.

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In 2002, for the film’s 20th Anniversary, Steven Spielberg decided to re-release the film in cinemas for a limited exhibition. Unfortunately, a little golem named George Lucas must have been sitting on his shoulder, because Spielberg decided to emulate the Star Wars Special Editions and significantly alter E.T., replacing almost all of the on-set puppetry with CGI, adding two unnecessary deleted scenes back into the film, and in the most asinine change, digitally alter the guns of the government agents chasing the children into walkie-talkies. This version was also released onto a special DVD set along with the original version.

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Luckily, Spielberg has changed his tune over the years. He admits that these alterations were a mistake, and in each subsequent re-release onto home video, he has left the Special Edition in the dust and focused solely on the original cut. If you still wish to view it however, track down the 2-disc DVD from 2002. I trust that’ll be the only viewing you have of it before you come to the same conclusion as Spielberg did.

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This review only came about because I finally had the pleasure of reintroducing E.T. to my video collection after it being absent for a decade. I’d almost forgotten how good of a film it is, how touching, how funny, how relatable. Even the “evil” government agent played by Peter Coyote seems to revel in the magic of E.T.’s presence on Earth during his talk with Elliott in the emergency tent. He displays a kind of childlike wonder and gratefulness to having this experience, even though he has tainted it with his government alignment. Needless to say, I was filled with that same wonder, even fistpumping the air as the kids made their escape on bicycles, with John Williams’ excellent track blaring in my living room. So many wonderful memories, so many happy tears. Thank you Steven Spielberg. It’s always nice to live that again.