music friday: back in the day
what i watched

revisiting blade runner (ridley scott, 1982)

How many times will I have to see Blade Runner before I finally love it like everyone else? I watched it today for ... well, I've lost count, more than half a dozen times. I have never loved it, and at times I react negatively to it. So why bother to keep giving it another try? I have no idea.

For a long time, I wondered why Philip K. Dick reportedly liked Blade Runner, since one of the ways the movie falls short is in its depiction of the Dickian world. So I was glad to read an anecdote I had missed in the past, that Dick only saw the first 20 minutes of the movie before he died. I do not think movies need to slavishly follow the books they are based on. But I do think we can wonder when a major part of a fairly short novel is completely eliminated.

Have you ever heard of Mercerism? Named after Wilbur Mercer, it has its basis in empathy. All over the world, Mercerists join together via "empathy boxes", sharing common experiences in real time, which always involve Mercer being attacked by people throwing rocks. The participants feel every rock as it hits Mercer.

Never heard of it? That's probably because you didn't read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Dick novel on which Blade Runner is based. Mercerism is a key element in the book, and I don't have any idea why there wasn't room for it in the movie.

I have always admitted that Blade Runner looks great, with an influential and idiosyncratic future world. Scott deserves credit for that. But that's about it for the good parts. The film plays like a precursor to Slow Cinema, with everyone speaking their lines very slowly. There is enough underplaying by the actors that Rutger Hauer's scene chewing, by contrast, seems like he's channeling Klaus Kinski. The atmosphere is suitably oppressive, and perhaps it's poor form for me to say it just lays there, but it's true ... watching Blade Runner is like being stuck in a dark, drizzly, dirty city. Scott does such a good job of creating this atmosphere that there is no air for an audience to breathe.

Meanwhile, there's the Big Theme that has inspired endless surmising about the meaning. What makes us human? Well, however this might have seemed in 1982 (I saw the movie then, but I don't remember this particular angle), in 2017, all I could think of was the Battlestar Galactica did an far better job of digging into this theme. Hell, the less-heralded English series Humans does a better job. You can see the problem when you dive into all of the arguments about whether or not Rick Deckard was a replicant. Because it doesn't matter ... Scott does nothing with the possibilities, it's left entirely to the audience to concoct theories, and really, who cares anyway?

As I watched Blade Runner this time, I found myself feeling more fondly towards it than usual. Writing this, though, has pissed me off all over again. Still, I'll raise my rating slightly. #40 (!) on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.