In this series, I analyze a film and the filmmaker behind it, from how the film is reflection of their style, to how it relates to the rest of their filmography, and finally just talking about why the film is awesome.
Ridley Scott – Blade Runner (1982)
When you talk about Ridley Scott, you can go in many directions; the action-drama of Gladiator, the science fiction of Alien, his thwarted attempt at Dune, the friendship and drama of Thelma & Louise, his attempt at Robin Hood (2010), Kingdom of Heaven, the list goes on. However, the film whose story, both on and behind the camera, best captures the essence of Ridley Scott, and all he seeks to do in a picture is Blade Runner. When you boil it down, he had a star that wasn’t happy, executives breathing down his neck, and a theatrical release he was not proud of. The issues that plagued Blade Runner from beginning to end, culminating in the 2006 Final Cut release, have shaped Scott’s career.
Blade Runner is a magnificent tale of a man investigating replicants (androids) running amok on Earth; except that we find out they are not running amok, they have a purpose, a mission; Harrison Ford is a blade runner named Deckard, a special detective whose job it is to find and “retire” any replicants who land on Earth, having been banned for some time prior to the start of the series. The film is set up in such a way that you can actually justify why some scenes, mainly exposition explaining simple concepts that the main character should already know, are in there, but that is fan theory and I’d get lost going into that. However, Ridley Scott does not blink. So many of the tropes that underlay Scott’s work are in Blade Runner; there is an excessive attention to detail, the special effects are magnificently handled, and he worked hard to balance cerebral concepts with making sure the audience could understand them, to the point of bringing in a second screenwriter.
Scott also gives us enough to generate conversations about basic topics that are hinted at the film; a great example is that in the film’s opening crawl, it is said that replicants are used mostly as slave labor, but because they were originally designed by the Tyrell Corporation to replicate humans in as many ways as possible, they discovered they did not like being slaves; in essence, humanity created robots to serve without thinking about their feelings, which humans had voluntarily given them. Later one of the replicants, seeing a human truly afraid for his life, says “terrible thing to live in fear; that’s what it’s like to be a slave,” indicating how much he disliked much of his own existence. The film alludes to many issues in this manner; environmentalism and the need for artificial animals are hinted at, overpopulation in cities, with much of Earth’s land being inhabitable, is shown to be a serious problem, and we get the impression we are in something close to a police state.
Unlike Scott’s Prometheus (2012), which went a little heavy handed on philosophy and world-building at the expense of the human element, even when the human element was the focus, Blade Runner is all about the humanity in our character, human and replicant alike, which is reflected not only in the undying debates over Harrison Ford’s character’s status, but in the time spent showing the replicants and their expressions of love, anger, and sorrow; perhaps the greatest display is Rachel, a replicant who was never told she was one, and is in many ways the result of a cruel experiment to determine if replicants can be made more stable with memory implants that will balance their emotions with something to base their reactions off of. (Fan speculation held by many, including me, is that Deckard is also a product of this experimentation but I digress.)
In many ways, most of Ridley Scott’s more successful films have a balance of humanity with whatever other elements he is working with. Thelma & Louise is about the humanity of two women as they watch their lives unravel; Alien is people struggling with a horrific situation that comes at them literally out of nowhere; Gladiator’s hero wants vengeance, but is made to see the bigger picture; I haven’t seen it personally, but Scott’s A Good Year is about a man finding himself in a vineyard, realizing his better parts are ignored as he works in an office; Robin Hood is about heroes, , good men, and outlaws, and realizing one can be all of them at the same time in the face of tyranny. Even Prometheus, when it allows character to shine above all else, hits these same notes, and this is reflected in the deleted scenes as well, with Charlize Theron’s icy character breaking down, giving her a moment where the façade falls and she is shown to be a human under terrible stress.
Kingdom of Heaven, in many ways, gives us a hero who is honorable to a fault, and a kingdom itself falls because of it, with our hero struggling to save as many people as he can. That is actually a good example, because Scott gives us honorable men on both sides, and horrific men on both sides, with the real battle being about maintaining one’s humanity in the face of certain defeat or victory, and not letting the horrible parts of oneself take over. Kingdom of Heaven was also severely cut for theatrical release, although unlike Blade Runner, the cuts were explicitly for time and “pacing”. In both cases, the parts cut out of the film take away from the film, removing parts which aid us in understanding the film, and getting inside the mindsets of our protagonists. Blade Runner also had a narration forced on top, which detracts from the film as a whole, and dumbed it down more than it needed to be. Scott’s films are accessible, and Blade Runner works so much better without it, with the 2006 Final Cut being a great example of Ridley Scott finally completing his vision and getting it to the masses, it only took 24 years to get it done.
Scott’s filmography is about exploring the human condition in different circumstances, and until recently, he didn’t seem too interested in building a franchise; although also at this point, he can do whatever he wants, I really don’t care. Trying to figure out who we are, why we’re here, and how we can be better people no matter what the circumstances. Blade Runner, as an early outing, is a great example of him pushing the boundaries of that discussion.