|| Print ||
|Written by Hannah McGregor|
|Thursday, 28 February 2008 19:00|
In the future, we will wear shoulder-pads, too much eye makeup and everywhere will look like a post-modern Hong Kong.
At least, that’s the impression I got from watching the recently released ‘Final Edit’ of Ridley Scott’s cult hit, Blade Runner. The film has been much lauded for launching the distinctly dystopian landscape now familiar to audiences of more mainstream movies like Fifth Element, and for introducing the mainstream action-movie going public to some of the major themes of the science fiction genre in general. Watching the film 16 years after its original release, I couldn’t help but find myself joining in with the ever-increasing group of science-fiction proponents who have become swayed by the genre’s impressive ability to tackle complex philosophical issues in unique ways.
In both cinema and literature, “genre” has long been considered a dirty word. Just as fantasy or romance novels are hard-pressed to be considered “great literature”, a sci-fi flick featuring throbbing neon lights and transparent plastic outfits has a difficult time slotting itself into the high-brow world of film studies.
In 1958, Hannah Arendt wrote that science fiction was a “highly non-respectable literature… to which, unfortunately, nobody yet has paid the attention it deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires.” The movement away from the perceptions she bemoaned 50 years ago has been gradual, but the re-release of Blade Runner, and its status as a classic of our times, suggests that we may be on the brink of a mass awakening to the huge potentials of the genre.
Legendary sci-fi author Brian Aldiss disagrees. He sees the 1960s as the genre’s heyday, when a hopeful generation looked to the skies and saw both the glories and terrors of the future. He claims that the genre has now lost its power because “we are at last living in an SF scenario.” I would argue that living in an “SF scenario” makes the genre all the more evocative. Every day, we can watch as the predictions of insightful authors, some from over forty years ago, turn into reality all around us.
Blade Runner taps into many of the genre’s potentials in a fascinating and meaningful way. The atmosphere of the film has often been imitated, and for good reason. The film effectively recreates the sense of claustrophobia and loneliness that characterizes the crisis of the modern individual in an urban setting. Some of the movie’s most powerful moments are the crowded chase sequences in which Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard pursues an elusive figure through a mob of unresponsive, faceless strangers, his prey appearing and disappearing in a way that becomes viscerally frustrating for the viewer.
As often noted by film scholars over the last decade and a half, one of the most haunting aspects of the film is its fascination with eyes and with sight. Blade Runner, focused as it is on the crisis of artificially created humans -- known as Replicants -- and their increasing ability to pass as actual humans (as well as their unwillingness to maintain their slave status), meditates on the questions of how we define humanity, and eyes are central to the exploration. The testing system for Replicants is based on an examination of their eyes. The band of rogue Replicants begin their hunt for their Creator (an existential journey if ever there was one) by tracking down the man who is responsible for designing “just eyes.” Once found, he tells the lead Replicant, Roy Batty (played by a young and sinister Rutger Hauer), “I design your eyes,” while another Replicant decorates his shoulders with artificial eyeballs. “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes,” Batty replies.
As the film struggles to define just what it means to be human in a technological age, the specificity of each individual’s experiences, as represented by the things they’ve seen, and the universal desire for more life are of singular importance. Batty’s dying words are remarkably pathos-filled, given that they immediately follow his unnervingly animalistic pursuit of Deckard through an abandoned building streaming with rainwater: “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die…”
The Replicants may, at times, be horrifying -- the death throes of Daryl Hannah’s Pris come vividly to mind -- but their single-minded pursuit of existence puts them on par with the rest of the world’s living organisms. “More human than human,” is Tyrell’s wry motto, and while this may not be true, the savagery, loneliness and small moments of connection displayed by Batty are consistently mirrored by Deckard throughout the film.
Blade Runner is a classic for good reason, and hopefully this final edit will expand its already sizable fan base. Whether or not film and literature snobs of the 21st century will come around to the power of science-fiction in general, though, is something only the future will tell.