Monday, 11 January 2010

Blade Runner the Director's Cut

Do you remember when you could walk into a theatre knowing NOTHING about a movie and be completely blown away? That's what I remember most about Blade Runner, the unexpectedness of it all. I knew it was a SF movie with Harrison Ford, and that it was made by the guy who did Alien, but otherwise I was just a teenager sloping off to the films in the weekend to get out of the house.

It was April, I think, a blustery early winter's day in Wellington, at the Embassy Cinema at the end of Courtney Place. I can remember the day quite clearly, clouds whipped across the blue sky by the wind, even what I was wearing, because this movie made such a huge impression on me. I was about sixteen, which is probably the prime age for the kind of angsty business that this movie deals in, the live hard die young philosophy embodied in the Rutger Hauer's closing speech.

When I came out of the cinema, I looked at Wellington in another way, too. It was nothing like like the sparse, sanitised modernism I expected from the future. The dowdy mix of rundown colonialism mised with failed seventies futurism (as it was back then, nothing like the slick glossy place it is now) instead it had a lot in common with the rundown future of Blade Runner's 2019. For the first time I felt like I could feel the future coming into being around me, not something that would wipe out what existed already, but something that would grow on top of it.

Well, the next weekend I dragged my best friend along to see it and I raved about it to everyone I knew. It got luke warm reviews when it came out and wasn't a smash hit, but as the years went by it was a video rental regular along the "Oh man you've never seen this?" cult movie lines. By the time I got to Uni, anyone who was slightly cool knew all about, or would be on the TV with the sound turned down at cool parties or projected onto the ceiling in nightclubs. It's a New Romantic movie, I guess, taking the doomed youth themes of punk and adding a glowing romantic yuppie gloss to it all. I think there was a generation (my generation) primed for it by 2000AD and Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant, while the older generation (it seemed to me at the time) didn't know quite what to make of it.

Famously, it basically reverses the message of Dick's novel - for Dick, an android could never be a person - but more interesting to me this time around were the changes to Deckard. Harrison Ford plays a romantic outsider, a classic bruised but sensitive private eye. Dick's Deckard is much more of a working Joe - he has a wife, debts and neighbours. he never sleeps with Rachel, finally deciding against it. In reference to my earlier comments about Richard Morgan vs David Mitchell, the movie Deckard is a Morgan character, an angsty bad-ass, while the Dick Deckard is a an entirely more down-to-Earth type (er, religious hallucinations notwithstanding).

I watched it again at Christmas time, the first time I've sat and watched it all the way through for a very long time, a decade at least. I'm sure I've seen the director's cut before (in fact, I saw it at the Wellington Film Festival back in whenever it was released) but I think that back then the original was burned into my retina after multiple viewings. It's taken me the intervening years to forget the movie enough to enjoy it again. (This must be one of the benefits of aging, I suppose: I recently watched This Is Spinal Tap after a long time and it was like finding an old friend.)

The lack of the voice over makes a good movie great; and Harrison Ford in particular gives a brilliantly physical performance that the voice over totally buried. He's a classic American tough guy - rugged, tough, noble and, in his own way, sensitive. It's beginning to show it's age a bit. There's a lot of 80s zeitgeist in there and I don't think you could get away with the near-rape love scene (not sure that Ridley gets away with it here) but it stacks up with any of the noir classics for the forties and fifties.

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