Tag of the Month: Visions of the Future (January 2018)

It’s January at The Movie Maestro, and since it’s a new year, it’s time for the first Tag of the Month!

What is the “Tag of the Month?”

Every month, in between my regular reviews, I will be viewing films pertaining to a certain theme, be it seasonal, holiday, or otherwise-oriented. Examples: “Twisted Xmas” for December, something romantic for February, etc.

January’s Tag: Visions of the Future

monthlytag - January 2018

Every New Years in my youth, I used to view futuristic films; pieces ranging the gamut of speculative science fiction, from the post-apocalyptic vistas of Mad Max to the dystopian metropolis of Blade Runner and beyond. This New Years, I’ll be cutting you into the fun with a series of reviews revolving around glimpses into civilization to come.

Keep a look out for the tag #FutureVisions on my Instagram and Tumblr movie reviews, and check back here for links to them every week.

The Reviews:
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Star Trek Beyond
Total Recall
Logan’s Run
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
Dune
Mad Max
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max: Fury Road
Blade Runner 2049 (more)

Happy New Years!

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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

Head Canon

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: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

warfortheplanetoftheapesreview

Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, Based on Characters Created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karen Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary

The Apes Origins Trilogy (feel free to steal that name) has to be one of the best examples of a hard reboot yet. Respecting the core tenents of the original film series while branching out to tell its own story with complex themes of inter-species relations and survival in a post-apocalyptic environment, this series of films presents a top-notch blockbuster experience. While Rise may have stumbled just a bit in its execution, I felt Dawn was near-perfect, so with War, hopes are riding quite high.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.

It’s funny that the above synopsis refers to an epic battle, because while there is a traditional military battle at the end of the film, the conflict it actually refers to is the ideological and philosophical battle between both The Colonel and Caesar, and between Caesar’s better and darker natures. Like Rise and Dawn before it, War is a very nuanced and brooding type of film, more content to let its characters suffer in a world dying with a whimper.

More than the others, War contains numerous references to the original films, including but certainly not limited to: a new strain of the Simian Flu that robs humans of their speech and motor-functions, turning them into the primitive slaves of the original series; the X-crosses that used to mark the Forbidden Zones now used to string up captured Apes by the Alpha and Omega army, itself a references to the underground mutants of the second film; Maurice’s supposed rise as the Lawgiver character; I could go on and on. Obviously, Reeves and Bomback have great love and respect for the franchise.

But more importantly, they also know how to write their own story, and War is just as much proof of their prowess as Dawn was. All of these references are skillfully folded into a narrative quest undertaken by Caesar, in which he opens up the depths of his sin and confronts every choice he has ever made in a veritable Heart of Darkness-esque film is arresting, to say the least. As he agonizes over the losses suffered to humans over the years, and his crime against his own kind with the haunting spectre of Koba, Caesar trudges on through cold Northern wastes, racing toward a final confrontation with the Kurtz of this story, played menacingly by Woody Harrelson. Along the way, Andy Serkis, Terry Notary, Steve Zahn, and Karin Konoval make tremendous use of the near-perfect motion-capture method employed by Reeves’ technical wizards, and achieve scary-good performances that are, more often than not, way too realistic to disbelieve.

As strong as the visual effects and Michael Giacchino’s classical score are, the screenplay and the acting continuously roar back into the spotlight, especially with the film’s second half, set at the Alpha and Omega base within an abandoned weapons depot on the Canadian border. Here, Caesar and the Colonel match wits and emotions as each is forced to confront their very beings in a series of scenes that rank as some of the best acted moments I’ve seen all year. And one of them isn’t even truly onscreen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that a fourth film is being prepped by 20th Century Fox. However, I feel Planet of the Apes would be better served if the franchise stopped here for now. Pretty much every loose end has been tied, and the story has already come full circle, leaving a straight remake of the original film as the only way forward. And when it comes down to it, there isn’t much point in doing so. The Apes Origin Trilogy, having begun as a nature-fights-back franchise before evolving into an uncompromising and devastating meditation on the self-destructive nature of human civilization, is over in my eyes, with its final note as beautiful as it can possibly be.

REVIEW: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

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Directed by Kazuki Omori
Written by Kazuki Omori
Starring Kosuke Toyohara, Anne Nakagawa, Megumi Odaka, Katsuhiko Sasaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya

I always wonder what the Heisei series of Godzilla films would have been like had Godzilla vs. Biollante not been a box office disappointment. The seeds were all there for an interesting science fiction franchise: a return to big-budget productions, new monster characters, a strong emphasis on high sci-fi concepts with consistent narratives. Such a shame that Toho decided to play it safe and redo the Showa series for the 90s. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy these films, but I ponder what could have been.

When a mysterious UFO is seen flying over Tokyo, tensions mount as the craft lands–and the occupants reveal themselves to be time travelers from the 23rd Century. Their mission: to warn mankind that Godzilla will soon awaken and wreak havoc upon the Earth unless he is destroyed. Meanwhile, a double-threat emerges in the form of King Ghidorah, a massive, flying three-headed dragon. The suspense builds to terrifying levels as the time travelers’ sinister true objective in the present is gradually revealed, and Godzilla must wage a solo battle against those who would destroy our future.

For Godzilla’s third outing in the Heisei continuity, Toho brought back his old nemesis, King Ghidorah, but more importantly, decided to create a trilogy cycle by delving into the origin of the second Godzilla. While I could argue all day about the dramatic deficiency of this move, namely, the destruction of the mystery surrounding this Godzilla’s existence, the end result is a bit more complicated than that.

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Beginning with a UFO streaking across the skies of Tokyo, GvKG quickly sets up the Godzilla origin arc with the main players of Terasawa (Kasuke Toyohara), a non-fiction writer investigating the kaiju’s past, dinosaur expert Professor Mazaki (Katsuhiko Sasaki), and the psychic from GvB, Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka). Their investigation reveals the existence of a massive dinosaur, a survivor of the KT Extinction, on Lagos Island in 1944, saving a garrison of Japanese soldiers from an American landing party. This revelation collides with the UFO story when the craft’s occupants reveal themselves as humans from the 23rd Century, come to save Japan from the devastation Godzilla will soon bring.

While the story itself seems sound, what really fails in GvKG for me is, well, everything else. Omori’s screenwriting takes a turn for the worse in this film, with his first deficiency being in his time-travel logic. Early on, one of the ‘Futurians’ insists that an individual from one time cannot coexist with his past-self at the same time, but this assertion is clearly proven wrong at several points later on, and the consistency of time theory is way off (at one point, their actions cause already established events to happen, and at others they change events). While this isn’t too grievous of a gaffe, as time travel is a messy storytelling subject, Omori’s seeming glorification of Japanese nationalism and the Imperial Army certainly is.

Image result for godzilla vs king ghidorah stillsYes, I’m going to toss my hat into this little controversy. I do indeed recognize the argument of the old guard and Ishiro Honda that perhaps depicting the killing of American soldiers by the Godzillasaurus went a little too far, considering the context in which these men fighting for an imperialist power would go on to become the founders of the modern Japan, in the case of Shindo (Yoshio Tsuchiya). However, this is rooted in historical fact, and the theme of the country’s roots in the war have been done with relative respect even in American films such as The Wolverine and Letters from Iwo Jima. Additionally, Shindo’s arc isn’t even indicative of the typical conservative Japanese attitudes, as he ends up at the mercy of his ‘savior’ at the end, perishing in the nuclear fire of a destructive god that does not, in fact, take sides, effectively nullifying any nationalistic fervor Omori may have fostered. In short, Shindo may have thought the divine wind was at his back, but he found in his tragic fall that it never cared about him at all.

As for the visual side of things, it doesn’t fare much better. Much of the futuristic elements are hokey at best and laughable at worst, with the biggest offender being the M-11 android. With his soft, almost unintelligable voice and dopey still-face, he already obliterates the Terminator-like image I’m sure Omori wanted to convey, and that’s long before we get “the run.”

I’m sure the suitmation technique did not change at all since GvB, but the emphasis on daytime battles in this film limits the believability of the kaiju action, and doesn’t do the action scenes any favors while the special effects artists grapple with new problems introduced by the heavy new Ghidorah suits. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, Ghidorah can’t even walk anymore. This unfortunate side effect of the new suit leads to the proliferation of the Heisei series’ beam battles, which are spectacular to a child on his first viewing but to my eyes, very boring. And while the great Akira Ifukube returns to score the film, his themes are simple rehashes of old pieces, most notably the use of the King Kong vs. Godzilla theme as Ghidorah’s. Great piece, just not every original to reuse it.

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I suppose I shouldn’t be too harsh on GvKG, as it did introduce Mecha-King Ghidorah and played with the idea of Godzilla being a more elemental being, a god of destruction to his Japanese homeland. I just wish there were a better way to do it than what Omori and Tanaka came up with. For the rest of the Heisei series, the emphasis would be on monster mashes with returning Showa characters and threats, and while even those tired concepts would prove to be interesting later on in the Millennium series, they just don’t have the same power here. Sorry fellow G-fans, but Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah started the 90s downfall that led straight to Emmerich’s odd one out, and that can’t be changed with a time-travelling mothership.

REVIEW: Escape from New York (1981)

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Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Nick Castle
Starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins

You can’t get much cooler than John Carpenter. The self-styled rebel of the horror and sci-fi genres, Carpenter’s output from 1974 to 1994 is simply perfect, packed full of interesting and wildly entertaining films that run the gamut from cult gems to full-blown classics. Right in the middle of this period sits Escape from New York, a low-budget futuristic flick that transcends its trashy brethren thanks to thoughtful and tight set design, the reliable combo of Carpenter and Dean Cundey behind the camera, and a then-little-known actor named Kurt Russell.

In 1997, Manhattan has been transformed in the New York Maximum Security Penitentiary, where criminals are sent in life sentence. When the Air Force One crashes in Manhattan with the President of the United States (Donald Pleasance) aboard, having been traveling to a summit with other world leaders, the police commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) proposes a deal to the convicted one-eyed bank robber and war hero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). If he rescues the president and his tape in less than 23 hours, he would be granted pardon. In order to guarantee full commitment, Hauk injects a lethal capsule in his blood that will dissolve in the scheduled time. Soon, Snake is on his way into the Prison, a hellhole of humanity where once you go in, you don’t come out.

If it’s hard for you, my dear reader, to imagine New York, with its over-8 million residents and impressive business infrastructure, being walled off and transformed into a penal colony for the wrecked and crime-infested totalitarian state of America, then my friend, you only need to turn on the news.

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Good? Okay, back to the review.

What’s so great about Escape is that Carpenter’s and Nick Castle’s script is incredibly adept at getting background information across with just a glance by the characters. Just from watching the film and paying attention to dialogue, I can tell you that the United States is now more totalitarian than ever, with a nationalized and heavily militarized police force that operates like an army against the citizens, while the nation fights World War III against China and the Soviet Union with limited usage of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The crime rate has surged 400%, a surefire sign that the government is cracking down on things and acts that we’re previously non-criminal. All of this can be gleaned by inference from the smart writing and inventive production design by Joe Alves that makes the most of the limited budget, providing just enough to believe in the world without spoon-feeding.

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Opening with beautifully haunting sights of the New York Maximum Security Penitentiary provided by Roy Arbogast’s special effects crew (including matte painter James Cameron), comprising simple yet effective model work and some very crude computer simulation effects, these methods blend seamlessly with location work on Liberty Island, providing one of many ironic digs at authority Carpenter is so well known for, which further blends with the stark and bland sets of the police headquarters to create a vision of the future that is both imaginative and scarily realistic.

Into this hell world walks Snake Plissken, a former Special Forces war hero, now a captured bank robber on a one-way ticket into the Prison. At the time of filming, Kurt Russell was still a relatively little-known actor, having only the television movie Elvis as his big claim to fame. Here, he proves what a powerhouse he actually was, sinking into a pseudo-Clint Eastwood personality with such a contempt for authority and society that he must be literally threatened with impending death to save the President from the prisoners, courtesy of the microscopic charges lodged in his carotid arteries by police commissioner Bob Hauk, the legendary spaghetti western veteran Lee Van Cleef.

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By the time Snake is in the prison, we are just as enamored with him as we are the expansive St. Louis location shooting, standing in for a post-apocalyptic New York with tons upon tons of junk used as set dressing. As Snake slowly navigates the urban decay, his quietly-threatening interactions with everyone from the excitable Ernest Borgnine as the last NY cabbie and Harry Dean Stanton as the Prison’s resident engineering genius further impresses his cynical and world-weary streak of aloneness upon the screen. What I’m trying to say is, damn what a role, and a great performance to portray it.

Just as big a star as Russell on Escape is Carpenter’s direction, which by then was cemented by hits like Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and The Fog. Working with his best DP, Dean Cundey, early Carpenter films usually featured slow, methodically blocked and shot sequences, many of them single-take camera passes, punctuated by bursts of on-screen action and shock, accompanied by a gruesomely realistic violence. Escape is no exception, and while not descending into slasher film-levels of gore, it can be at times relentless, even by today’s standards. The key to tempering this violent disposition is with Carpenter’s steady metaphorical hand, favoring suspense and low-light imagery as opposed to explosions and all-out general Bayhem. And of course, an atmospheric electronic score at least partially composed by himself. Escape offers yet another of his classic themes.

At its core, Escape is more than thrills and action; it actually joins a prestigious and well-hidden group of radical libertarian examples of American cinema, where authority and government are no less than the ultimate evil, but the heroes are not collectivist idols or even nice guys. Snake is the ultimate individualist hero, caring only for his own neck but displaying a sensible streak of survival, neither aggressive or sadistic. As he makes his journey from one Inferno into another, we see the two nemeses of libertarianism: the rampant state, controlling everything through fear and business, and the immoral anarchy of New York, where human beings are reduced to animals, flocking to another Che Guevara-style revolutionary in the Duke at best, and cannibalizing each other at worst.

Through this reading, which is most certainly the intent of the filmmakers given their past statements on the film and their own personal politics, Escape most certainly deserves to be looked at as more than a simple B-movie. In a way, it might turn out to be prophetic, if the British Trump at the head of the country in this film is any indication. So if you have, pop it in and enjoy. If you don’t, well get going on the hunt for it, because I promise that even on the lightest, entertainment-driven level of viewing, Escape from New York will not disappoint.

Just, for the love of God, stay away from Escape from L.A.

Fan Edit Review: Derelict

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Original Films Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, Prometheus written by Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof
Fan Edit by JobWillins
Category: FanMix

Not all fan edits exist to simply extend a film or fix some perceived problem with its story or pacing. Sometimes, an editor wants to make a work of art. An interesting mix of elements from different films can be combined to create an incredibly unique experience, and that is just what JobWillins has done here with Derelict, a combination of Prometheus and Alien.

Obviously, it isn’t as easy as sticking both films together at the ends and calling it a day. JobWillins’ vision calls for a marrying of both films’ stories, shifting back and forth between each film. This creates a unique dual narrative structure that increases the mystery element in each film and heightens the dread surrounding each cast of characters.

Roughly 30 or so minutes of Prometheus has been cut and replaced with an hour of Alien, staggered at varying intervals according to how well each scene fits. Beginning with David aboard the Prometheus, Derelict aims for maximum ambiguity: without the beginning of time opening or the Isle of Skye scene, the voyage and David’s role in it become a mystery, one that only heightens when the ship reaches its destination, only for the film to jump 30 years later to the Nostromo.

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The unknown elements of Alien gain even more of a sinister edge with this approach. The repeated beacon that calls the Nostromo is now implied to have something to do with the Prometheus mission. The derelict vessel becomes an even bigger enigma once the Juggernaut is revealed. David and Ash become even more intrinsically linked. All of these new revelations aren’t specifically stated by the edit, just implied by the new ordering.

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The best bits of this edit are in how the films transition into each other. The touchdown of the Prometheus cuts directly to the Nostromo’s rocky landing from inside the cockpit. Shaw, Holloway, and David’s escape from the storm cuts directly to Dallas and Lambert with Kane at the Nostromo airlock. An excellent montage of Weyland’s group entering the Engineer pyramid plays over Ash’s speech on the perfection of the Alien. And don’t get me started on how tense the new, combined climax is. With each cut of three decades, this edit’s legitimacy as FanEdit.org’s Fan Edit of the Month gets more and more solidified.

As mentioned before, large swaths of both films have been cut. Dropped is most of Prometheus‘ first act, sadly losing some of the better character moments between Shaw, Holloway, and Vickers (poor Vickers suffers the most from the cutting). Gone too is some of Alien‘s better bits of banter between Brett and Parker and some of the third act scares, but it’s all in the name of creating a pacing that fits in both stories effectively without turning the project into a 4-hour monstrosity. Two deleted scenes from Prometheus are also used.

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Video and sound are presented at the internet standard of 15 mbps, at 720p resolution with a 2-channel soundtrack. Presented in high contrast black-and-white to cover the obvious differences between the films’ visual styles, Derelict does a great job at emphasizing Ridley Scott’s use of light and shadow. Sound is dynamic enough for a stereo mix and quite adequate.

Derelict is an example of the talent that exists outside the Hollywood system. Taking two films separated by 32 years and combining them into a single, flowing story is not an easy feat, let alone making it a unique and entertaining venture when both films have been pored over to death. JobWillins makes the project look easy-peasy. Highly recommended.

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HOW TO GET IT:
Derelict has been taken from Vimeo’s public listings, however, it still exists as an unlisted video. If you have a Tumblr account, hop on and follow @JobWillins. On his blog there he has the video link posted along with the password required to watch. Enjoy!