PSA: Blade Runner (1982), or Fiery The Angels Fell…

27 12 2009

The last PSA of the year. I wanted to end things on a high note, so I thought I would finish my sprinkling of Public Service Announcements about cinema with a movie that should be mandatory for moviegoers of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner sits atop the apex of science fiction in a very real sense with a very small handful of peers, and I don’t say that in a sensationalistic manner. This movie, released to dumbstruck audiences in 1982, revolutionized the way sci-fi movies are made. For America, it re-institutionalized the intelligent science fiction film, a genre lost in a mire of post Star Wars mania and established Ridley Scott as a director wh0 had something meaningful to say as a filmmaker. It’s a hypnotic, passionate futuristic noir about the very nature of humanity, and what it means in a cold, harsh future. It’s one of the best there is, and I think before 2009 closes out, you should invest just 2 hours of your time to this beautiful sci-fi masterpiece.

Based on a novel by sc-fi legend Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner takes place in 2019, where we follow a detective named Decker who is on the trail of four humanoid robotic workers called “replicants” who have escaped from an off-world mining operation to hide on Earth. Decker is a retired “Blade Runner”, a detective who specializes in tracking non-organic humanoids and terminating them. He has been called onto this special case after one of a series of four runaways blows away a younger Blade Runner after being interrogated and escapes into the city. Decker travels from the tiniest cracks in the nasty, futuristic slum of 2019 LA to the top of the splendorous Tyell Corporation building, where the replicants are designed by the reclusive Dr. Tyrell himself, in search of information about these 4 strange runaways who look and act almost exactly like humans. He learns about their history, their design, and a most interesting failsafe on their particular model; a four year lifespan. Decker begins to deduce that perhaps these four are on Earth to discover a way to increase their lifespan, an act they feel that only Tyrell can give them. But along the way of tracking them down, he begins a strange relationship with a woman named Rachael, who works at the Tyrell Corporation. They harbor feelings toward each other, but Decker knows something about her that keeps him reticent; she is a replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Implanted with false memories, Tyrell created her as an experiment. Decker struggles to come to grips with this strange fact amidst his own feelings about her, the constant struggle to track down the replicants and their relentless leader, Roy Batty, and his own doubts about the assignment and his own humanity…

This is such a thematically dense work. Ridley Scott took an almost obsessive attention to detail as a director and turned it into something exquisite. Los Angeles 2019 is an absolutely complete world, a slum of a city that only houses the people who could not afford to live off-world. It is a world constantly darkened from the shadow of the skyscrapers and the industry that towers above, and there seems to be no hope left in the streets. Much like the noir films of the 40s and 50s, the city is a perpetually darkened hellhole, and acts as a harbinger of the ills to come. Scott’s futurescape takes from Lucas’s idea of a “used future”, but it goes so far beyond that. This is a dilapidated future, where the only lights arrive from neon signs and where the streets are filled with the whirring and buzzing of machines instead of the sounds of people; a future devoid of humanity in its human population, another interesting thematic decision.

And the cast is simply amazing. This might be the best Rutger Hauer performance I’ve ever seen. He plays the antagonist, Roy Batty, with such an intensity that it cannot be contained on the screen. He is a replicant, but he is more alive than any of the downtrodden humans he encounters on Earth. He is strong in heart and in spirit, and his is the true tragedy of Blade Runner, because while he is not human, his soul is great, which makes his four year lifespan all the more cruel. And his love interest, the attractive replicant Zhora, played by Daryl Hannah, is equally tragic. She is a playful female replicant who wants to live life to the fullest. Her character, as much as Rutger Hauer’s encapsulates a love of living that is exceptional and magical in contrast to the real human characters. Harrison Ford plays one of the greatest role of his career as Deckard, the replicant hunter whose life is slowly unraveling. He plays it with a style reminiscent of Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, a wise-talking gumshoe with a street-wise wisdom that is constantly at odds with the evil he encounters on the mean streets that puts his soul constantly at hazard. It’s a rich, complex character that will have you guessing, in some rare moments, whether he is even human, or if he is another lively replicant with a good heart and a short life. Sean Young is beautiful and compelling as Rachel, the replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She plays the character calm and cool, but underneath her exterior lies a confused and terrified woman who doesn’t understand what exactly is happening to her. Sean Young brings a surprising vulnerability here that I was absolutely NOT expecting, and it’s one of those things that really brings home why this is just one of the best films out there. Her candid romantic scenes with Deckard will leave you both moved and fixated to the screen as the two dance around their own emotions in totally unexpected ways.

Ridley Scott asks quite a few questions of us, some that we are perhaps not entirely prepared to answer. The nature of man, his destiny in an unknown future, and what it truly means to be alive are pondered very loudly here. Blade Runner is a very intelligent, beautiful movie that digs into the subconscious and forces us to confront ourselves in a very meaningful way. The characters are incredibly rich, vivid, and well-written, the score by the prog-new age group Vangelis somehow gets better with age, the story is powerful in a way that most sci-fi could only dream of being, and the film itself is still gorgeous, even after all the various cuts and versions to be released (for a more in-depth history of Blade Runner‘s rocky history, stick with me in 2010 for my planned essay on the making of this classic and how it might have easily been different!). It’s a timeless film that only seems to increase in character and insight as the years go on. I have so many things to say about this, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that if you have any desire to watch sci-fi, then this film is absolutely part of the curriculum! I give it 10 unwitting replicants out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow I will take on the great and wonderful Fellini film 8 1/2! Until then!

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983), or A Demigod Among Gods…

26 12 2009

So we arrive at the end of Cinematronica and establish a week of classics, where I pick out of a select set of films some of the best and most wonderful movies imaginable. I come to the Star Wars franchise, a wealth of wonderful sci-fi entertainment, and out of the entire series, I can only pick one to represent in this final week of goodness and awesomeness. Logic would demand that I pick The Empire Strikes Back, for its inventiveness, relative dark tonality, and gratuitous incestuous kissing. I could also have gone for A New Hope, the movie that started it all, for its historical value and innovation. But no, I chose the chump of the original trilogy, the ending. Return of the Jedi is like the solid chocolate square in a Zachary sampler box; it’s still fucking chocolate, but it’s just not as beloved as the rest of the bunch. The other two movies have droves and droves of champions all around the world, people who proudly declare that “Episode (IV or V) changed my LIFE”. Nobody really feels the same way about RotJ. There’s something about it that undeniably is different. The dynamic is different between all the characters after all we’ve gone through with them, the space-battle-to-lightsaber-battle quotient is skewed significantly, and, well, Ewoks. It’s a completely different feel here compared to the rest of the series. But I will defend it with even more vigor than I defended the tepid Episode I, and this time around I think I can surely persuade you to give this movie a second chance!

[I will not be repeating the story of Star Wars to you; please go watch the first 5 movies if you wanna get in on this discussion, COMRADE!]

Okay, so the second trilogy of Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker and his issues with his dad, Darth Vader, while the first trilogy was about Anakin Skywalker and his problems with not wanting to become Darth Vader. So by the time the 6th movie has come to pass, Darth Vader, under the command of the evil Emperor Palpatine, has rebuilt the Death Star, and is overseeing its reconstruction personally so the Empire can terrorize and monopolize the entire galaxy. Well, the Rebellion has a little something to say about that, and they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Death Star once they receive word that Palpatine himself will soon be boarding to oversee the finalization personally as well! But before the Rebellion can do that, Luke and Co. have a whole lot of personal errands they have to do, like jeopardize the entire galaxy’s freedom to save Han Solo, who was in no rush to be saved, since the Carbonite Freeze process apparently works like a metallic Zip-Lock bag, as well as zoom all the way to the Dagobah system to see Yoda and have him train him for an indefinite amount of time (luckily, Yoda has the good sense to deny him training due to his own poor health). Once Luke’s incredibly selfish agenda is put aside, the assault is set to take place. But the Rebellion needs a small group to disable the Death Star’s shields, which are powered at the nearby moon of Endor. Luke is finally rarin’ for some action, and takes off with Han, Leia, and the gang, but even when he arrives for the mission, he decides to gallivant off and get captured on purpose so he can try and talk some sense into his father, so that he might turn from the Dark side of the Force. The Emperor has foreseen ALL of this, though, and is waiting patiently for the Rebellion to fall into his clutches. Can Luke somehow get out of himself long enough to actually do something for the Rebellion, or is the last Jedi too busy finding himself to save the galaxy?

Now, if you think I painted a more cynical picture than I should have for my case, let’s be honest; the entire series is all about the Skywalker family doing what they want, when they want, even if they have honor and duty to think about. If you put it like that, I think you’ll find that this behavior is really not as bad as it is in some of some of the other films.

What this movie does better than any of the others, and why I think it holds a special place in my heart, is its presentation of the two sides of the fight; who is in charge, and what they are fighting for. The Dark Side is always talked about in vagueries and mysterious parables with the other 5 movies. But the Dark Side is there, alive and breathing, in the form of Emperor Palpatine, the real villain of the Star Wars saga, and the mastermind of so much awful shit. He IS the Sith, a terrible old man who breathes lies and treachery, who is willing to sell anyone out and do whatever it takes to keep the one thing he cares about; power. And we finally find true virtue in Luke, a man who is struggling not to repeat the same mistakes as his dandy of a dad, but who is wrestling intently with the same lust for his awesome power that Anakin was years ago. He really does want what’s best for everyone, even if it seems like he’s impulsive and kind of a dick at times. So it becomes a battle for the soul of the last Jedi, in the end, and the final assault against the Sith Lord will not be fought with Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, but with lightsabers and dark persuasion.

And the action sequences are the best, arguably, out of the whole series! That is the real reason most people go to see a Star Wars movie, I think; if you’re looking for space battles, any movie can give you that. I posit that space battles are the worst part of the Star Wars saga, and while unfortunately this movie features plenty of ships flying around and shooting pew-pew lasers at each other ad nauseum, there’s enough stuff going on to keep you entertained in between. If you’re looking for entertaining stuff, how about a no-holds-barred fight on a floating pleasure barge in the desert? How about a battle to death with a 50 foot-tall monster won by beating it to death with a door? How about a super-fast chase through the woods on speeders so fast that you can barely make out the forest background in a blur of green and brown? Or how about teddy bears smashing an AT-ST with two logs smashed on its head simultaneously like a fucking 3 Stooges skit? YOU GOT IT! And let me tell you, this movie has, without a doubt, the best lightsaber battle of the original trilogy. It is the most emotionally-charged, expertly handled battle of them all, and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that they would top it in Episode III between Anakin and Obi-Wan. If you’ve never seen it, watch it above, and revel in its goodness.

The acting is the best it ever was in this trilogy. The players all know their parts by now and can inhabit them with an ease that is really remarkable. Mark Hamill IS Luke, Carrie Fisher IS Leia, Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, and everyone just exists seamlessly in this space opera, not as an actor, but a beloved member of this colorful fantasy world. Harrison Ford is the only person who doesn’t seem to be in it 100%, due to his distaste of Han Solo being revived, therefore somewhat dampening the sacrifice he made in the last movie, and while I can understand people’s frustrations with that, this is more of a Jedi story than the other two, anyway, so he seems to be left out of a lot of the action. All he does is shoot some stuff, declare his love for Leia, and get a little peeved at Luke for taking her attentions away before discovering they are related (OOPS), so it’s really not that much of a loss.

Return of the Jedi is the most emotionally charged movie out of the original trilogy. It has the final choices, when all the shit is really on the line, instead of just whimsical chasing sequences and flirty Leia-Han dialog. It is when Luke comes to terms with his lame-duck of a father, and decides to take the high route and SAVE him instead of wasting him, which is what everyone wants him to do. It also, for the first time, shows Darth Vader’s reckoning with the choices he’s made, and the first time we see him falter in his loyalty to Palpatine. And of course, it’s the first time we’re taken to the lair of the beast, and we get to take a look at the real Dark Side, Palpatine, and not just his lackey, a confused Jedi with a codpiece and a breathing problem. This is the last one, where things really matter, when the choices are made, the lines are drawn, and the fate of the galaxy is decided. And for that, I love it. I think you should go back and give this one a chance. I think you’ll love it too, and if you don’t, you’d have to have a stone heart to not love that last lightsaber fight! I give Return of the Jedi 9 1/2 floating pleasure barges out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I examine our existence with Blade Runner! Until then!