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!

Advertisements

REVIEW: Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner (2007)

dangerousdaysreview

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.

Image result for dangerous days making blade runner

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.

Image result for dangerous days making blade runner

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.

Image result for dangerous days making blade runner

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.

Related image

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.

bladerunner_opening_crawl.jpg

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: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

valerian-and-the-city-of-a-thousand-planets-58623a2ec44f2

Directed by Luc Besson
Written by Luc Besson, Based on the comic book Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell, Alain Chabat, Rutger Hauer

Luc Besson is probably one of the most risk-taking filmmakers out there today, although that declaration should come with a qualifier; his risks aren’t in innovation or narrative, style, or visual effects techniques, but in the simple fact that he always sets out to please his own violence-loving tendencies. A glance through his filmography reveals an almost Hong Kong filmmaking-esque fetishizing of martial arts, gunfights, and balls-to-the-wall action is evident, and when coupled with his unique French perspective on the camera lens it makes for at least a good time, if not always a breathtaking time. Valerian is somewhere towards the bottom part of his middle ground, breathtaking to the eyes but not so much the head and heart, but is that really a bad thing?

In the 28th century, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a team of special operatives charged with maintaining order throughout the human territories. Under assignment from the Minister of Defense (Herbie Hancock), the two embark on a mission to the astonishing city of Alpha: an ever-expanding metropolis where species from all over the universe have converged over centuries to share knowledge, intelligence and cultures with each other. There is a mystery at the center of Alpha, a dark force which threatens the peaceful existence of the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. 

Based on the popular Franco-Belgian comic book Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, Besson’s film is a very obvious labor of love by the French auteur, having grown up reading the comic since it’s beginning in the yesteryear of 1967. Financed with a combination of crowd-sourcing and his own pocket, totaling 210 million dollars, Valerian is now the most expensive independent film ever made. Not that it matters much now that the film is tanking in the box office, but I suspect Valerian will have longer legs on home video and in the streaming market, where its spiritual predecessor The Fifth Element carved out a cult following.

Related image

Valerian begins with what is now among my top-ten opening sequences of the past decade: the progression of the Alpha Space Station over two centuries, presenting all sorts of human and alien peoples joining hands with a succession of welcoming captains in mutual cooperation–and it’s set to David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Solid start. Continuing onto probably the best full-out visual effects sequence since anything seen in Avatar, we are introduced to the Pearls, a race of peaceful, nature-oriented aliens who fish magical, energy-giving pearls from the oceans, using small creatures called converters, that can replicate a hundred-fold anything they consume, to replenish the planet’s supply. But, just as quickly as we come to admire them, the Pearls’ paradise is shattered by the falling wrecks of a space fleet, and they seem to be obliterated by a war that they had no part in.

Without having actually read Valerian, I can’t say for certain that this is an accurate assessment, but from what I do know, this opening is an excellent demonstration of Christin’s humanist and liberal leanings in his writing, which comes more and more to the forefront through Cara Delevingne’s Laureline, as independent and humanist as they come, compared to her partner and superior, Major Valerian, who’s womanizing ways and adherence to protocol and law do more than infuriate his partner and the object of his desires throughout the story.

Related image

Unfortunately, with their introduction is where I start to tune out. While Delevingne’s performance is a bit wooden in places, this is all a part of the package, as a glance through the comics reveals their Golden Age Space Opera origins, ’30s dialogue and all. In fact, in many scenes, I found her to be the breath of fresh air compared to Dane DeHaan, who in this critic’s opinion, should never have been allowed near the role of Valerian. His cheap imitation at a manly comic strip hero’s voice betrays how shrimpy he looks in the role, as if he were a ten-year-old boy playing astronaut dress-up. He has absolutely no chemistry with Delevingne, and his stunted delivery during some of the most pivotal and emotional moments destroys the drama almost as much as Besson’s barely passable writing.

Image result for Valerian movie stills

Oh yeah, the script. Honestly, past the mentioned opening, I’m not too impressed with the story. The comic was a space opera with heavy time travel elements, with Laureline literally having been an 11th Century French villager before being recruited into the Spatio-Temporal Service. The film makes little-to-no mention of time travel at all, presumably to streamline things for a wider audience, but that is no excuse for robbing Valerian of what could have been another major selling point besides the amazing visuals. Even worse is Besson’s handling of the romantic subplot and Commander Filitt’s (Clive Owen) motivations; while Filitt’s endgame is needlessly drawn out over ten minutes of precious climactic screentime, Valerian is established as already wanting to get into Laureline’s pants, and after only 20 minutes, is to the point of proposing to her. May I remind you this film is almost 140 minutes long?

Past these immense problems, the film starts to present some redemption. Everyone else in front of the camera does a pretty good job with their material, even when their roles amount to little more than extended cameo’s like Ethan Hawke and the great Rutger Hauer. And for once, Rihanna was actually one of the better parts of a movie.

Image result for Valerian rihanna

However, the real star of Valerian is the immense and immersive world created on screen through some of the best CGI work in a long time. Created by a unified team of ILM and Weta Digital artists, everything from the massive world of Alpha to the myriad species of alien beings are created lovingly and in textures that appear incredibly lifelike in Besson’s neon-lit style employed in this picture.

Related image

So, what is my final verdict? While the casting of Valerian himself and Besson’s writing are huge flaws that pull the film down from the potential it could have had, ultimately, it isn’t a complete waste of time. In fact, the immersive world on display and the thrilling alien action are enough to convince me to give this film another go around when it hits blu-ray. Until then, I’d say proceed with caution on a matinee or discount night at your local cinema. Wait until a more worthy independent project comes along to pay full price.

REVIEW: Blade Runner (1982)

bladerunnerreview

Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, Based on the Novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Darryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy

Ok, I’m actually scared to review this film. And the reason why is that it is my favorite. Of all time. With a special place in my heart that big, I realize how hard it is going to be to stay objective and fair, but I will try my best. But seriously, this is my favorite movie.

In the futuristic year of 2019, Los Angeles has become a dark and depressing metropolis, filled with urban decay. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an ex-cop, is a “Blade Runner,” assigned to assassinate replicants–androids that look like real human beings. When four replicants commit a bloody mutiny on an Off-World colony, Deckard is called out of retirement to track them down. As he eliminates them one by one, he soon comes across another replicant, Rachael (Sean Young), who believes herself to be human. As Deckard closes in on the leader of the replicant group (Rutger Hauer), his misgivings toward artificial intelligence makes him question his own identity in this future world, including what’s human and what’s not.

To follow up Alien, Ridley was always going to have to tackle something big. Something bold. Surprisingly, that project was supposed to be Dune. After Jodorowsky’s failed attempt, the project was held in a state of limbo until Ridley became attached. He went through three drafts on the script before leaving the project, both due to a lack of confidence and the death of his brother. The project he then settled into was the long-gestating adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which even then was considered a classic of science fiction. It was here that he, and indeed, everyone else involved, accomplished something special.

The script to Blade Runner was an ordeal to craft. Hampton Fancher had originated the project, and undeniably, one can say the film is his baby in the same way that Alien is Dan O’Bannon’s. Even in its earliest drafts, taking the form of a claustrophobic, low-budget detective thriller, the main elements of the typical film noir are present: cynical plain-clothes cop, seductive femme fatale, overbearing urban decay. But the subsequent drafts, and ultimately the final shooting script, bring to the fray the first recognizable hallmarks of cyberpunk, and a more cinematic illustration of Dick’s themes regarding dehumanization and the importance of empathy.

The Tyrell Corporation’s gigantic pyramids, stretching over the cluttered, polluted city streets below, are a testament to the absolute power they hold over the world’s citizens. Tyrell builds their own slaves, genetically-engineered replicants, thereby literally controlling the process of creating life. This god-like command over a facet of reality, used for such blatantly capitalistic ends, is the signature of the prototypical cyberpunk company, the evil business that knows and sees all.

Image result for tyrell corporation

Translating this disturbing vision of our future from the page was a selection of the greatest filmic minds in production and visual effects. Douglas Trumbull’s miniature work is still breathtaking, and even stands the test of time against CGI. The opening shot of the ‘Hades’ landscape is just one incredible example among many of just how convincing Blade Runner still looks. Everything feels big and heavy, the exact words you want to describe a piece of plastic and wood only a few feet tall on set. The production design under Laurence Paull and David Snyder is just as beautiful, capturing perfectly the detailed artwork of Syd Mead and really pushing the idea that this is not a backlot set, but a full world, retrofitted and built over several times as the waste of decades piled over top of it. Ridley Scott has a reputation for getting the maximum amount of detail possible out of a single shot, but he has people like Paull, Snyder, and Trumbull to thank for that.

I would be remiss not to mention the equally-vital contribution made by cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, who was already revered in the industry as a cinematic savant, a true artist with light and photography. One just needs to look at Deckard’s apartment at night, awash with the xenon spotlights of a passing ad blimp, or the surreal photography of Tyrell’s office, to truly get a sense of the mastery Cronenweth brought to the project.

But it’s not just the sights, it’s the sounds. I recently was able to catch a viewing of Blade Runner on a big screen in Cleveland, and what struck me the most was how incredible the mix still is. City scenes are a cacophony of chaos, with multiple overlapping street signs, car engines, wall advertisements, and the choking masses of humanity assaulting your ears in the best way possible. All that was missing was an ozone and sewer smell, and I would have been totally convinced I was actually there. And then you add Vangelis’ unique and penetrating score, and you have a sonic experience that I don’t think will ever be satisfactorily matched.

Image result for roy battyAs much as the visual and aural aspect of Blade Runner is praised, one has to acknowledge what many critics and viewers have seen as shortcomings, mainly the characters themselves. While Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty and Sean Young’s Rachael are praised, Ford’s performance is usually singled out. He manages to inject his rugged charm as best as he can into the role, but one could get the sense that he is emotionally closed-off, that he is but an observer to a string of terrific luck in his mission to ‘retire’ the replicants. This is a legitimate argument, but I find myself coming to his defense. Deckard was never meant to be the dashing rogue like Han Solo or Indiana Jones, and any creepy overtones to his relationship with Rachael are there for a reason. I’m afraid I can’t say too much if you haven’t seen the film, but I will just say that Deckard isn’t all
that he seems either…

And this usually leads to detractors of Ridley Scott himself, and the direction he took the film with regards to the nature of the replicants and Deckard himself. Without giving away too much, I will say that Ridley’s treatment and view of the replicants is diametrically opposed to Dick’s. While Dick portrays the androids of his novel as being undeniably less-than-human creatures whose own survival instinct trumps all other concerns, to the point that there is no empathy or care shown for any other beings, Ridley Scott quipped to Dick’s face that they were “supermen who couldn’t fly.” The replicants are stronger, faster, and most importantly in Batty’s case, smarter than even Image result for rick deckardthe humans who designed them. It isn’t their fault that they are murderous once sentient; after all, they only had four years to live and grow mentally. What 4-year-old wouldn’t end up using an adult body and genius knowledge-base to commit acts we would find as heinous? This allows the film to engender sympathy for the replicants as well as the human players, and it opens the door for the surprising climax, and Rutger Hauer’s finest moment as an actor: the famous “tears in rain” soliloquy.

When it comes to alternative versions of films, Blade Runner probably takes the award in sheer numbers. No less than 6 versions were theatrically released, five of which are readily available on video disc. The American and International theatrical versions are almost identical, save for a few more seconds of extreme violence in the International
cut. Both contain a heavily-reviled voice-over narration by Ford and a tacked-on “happy
Image result for blade runner 5 discending,” depicting a lush, forested region outside of Los Angeles that flies in the face of the entire setting of the film. The narration, while adding to the noir-ish tone of the story, has little real value, merely stating in words what is shown onscreen, done in a lazy drone by Ford. Some, including filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, have defended this version, but I wouldn’t recommend it as the first viewing.

I would give that honor to either the Director’s Cut or the Final Cut, both similar in their own right in removing the narration and the happy ending. The Final Cut is a more polished and popping transfer, however, and has a few more little editorial changes that are for the better. The Final Cut, I would say, is the way to go. The fifth version is a workprint of the film, and while a fascinating watch, it is incomplete, missing the final third of Vangelis’ score and a sense of good pacing. View this version only as an interesting “what-if.”

I honestly could go on and on about Blade Runner; hell, I actually plan to delve deeper into the film with multiple posts closer to the release of Blade Runner 2049. It is the film that first turned me on to the filmmaking process, it expanded my idea of sci-fi past Star Wars and Star Trek, and really was the first piece of art that made me question existence, both outside and my own. Consciously, one could say I came into this world watching Roy Batty yearn to achieve a more human life, and for that I am forever grateful to everyone involved in this remarkable picture. Does it have flaws? Sure, I could find a few, some could find more, but that’s the point of your favorite thing: it isn’t perfect, but you love it because of that. It’s like marriage, and so far, I’m happily married to Blade Runner.