Bypassing The Tannhauser Gate

Posted Saturday, May 1, 2010, 11:47 AM

This one won't make me very popular.

Ridley Scott is overrated.

He has directed many films which are listed in personal top tens: Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner; and also made some less popular films, often listed as disappointing mistakes: Legend, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down. In terms of pop culture, he has made an indelible impact, not only in making oft-quoted and well-remembered films, but in influencing film styles, especially in the realm of cinematography and production design.

I like Alien, though it's not my favourite of the franchise. I like aspects of Legend as it embodies classic fantasy like no other film, and has one of the coolest bad guys ever realised. And I like some of Gladiator though the fast shutter-speed stylisation has been an outrageous travesty visited upon far too many action films since, including, it appears, Scott and Crowe's next, Robin Hood.

But the one of his films that I have never liked is arguably his most popular amongst the fans: Blade Runner. Even after having re-watched it recently with fresh eyes, the dislike has only been compounded.

An interesting idea - Futuristic Detective Noir based on the Philip K Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which I've never read. You can certainly play around with that concept a lot.

For some reason, a lot of Philip K Dick stories have been made into movies. I can't see why, as the resulting films have not been very appealing, in my opinion, and have apparently been adapted so heavily they may as well have been original concepts in the first place.

The usual structure for a Detective Noir is for someone to come to Sam Spade with a potential crime that needs investigating, he shadows a few people, slips some money to an informant or two, until he gets a lead and a few clues to piece together, solving the crime and catching the bad guy. Much adventure and witty repartee ensues.

None of that happens in Blade Runner.

Deckard is hired to retrieve robots gone rogue, called Replicants because they are indistinguishable from humans unless analysed with special testing equipment. He is handed a lead, which he follows doggedly, and ends up thrown in amongst a seedy and dangerous underworld. The replicants are sent against him, and he deals with them inadequately and awkwardly, and whenever he loses a thread, he is put right back on track again by other people.

Not once does Deckard solve a clue. Not once does he follow a lead that wasn't handed to him without prompting. Not once does he defeat a Replicant with skill. There are sequences lasting many minutes with no talking of any kind. And the last Replicant that comes up against him gives up and dies voluntarily, after spouting prosaic memories that are likely implanted.

And then Deckard runs away from this dangerous exhaustingly damp world with an unpleasant woman.

Stylistically the movie is astonishing, and I think that's what a lot of its fans really like about it. If they first saw it when young, or when it had first come out, which was at a time when production design on this scale and realism had never been executed before, they can't separate their initial experience of it with an objective assessment.

But the story has to hold up, and it really doesn't. It's meandering, with no conclusions, some really unlikely coincidences, and a limp ending of no significance, though it tries very hard to sound like it has. Deckard is pushed and pulled around to every single plot point, with no self-motivation whatsoever. The main bad guy who is orchestrating it all is such an extreme stereotype you can't take him seriously, and seems to be at once both getting in Deckard's way, while also guiding him to the Replicants at every step. The Replicants are violent towards Deckard because they want to live and be free, and yet in the end don't seem to care about living at all.

It's an awful way to structure a film. Looking cool isn't enough to save it. It doesn't deserve the fanboy support it gets, with such fundamental flaws throughout.

This isn't a case of differing tastes, this is a bad film, clumsily masked by dazzling visuals.

I am quite disappointed.

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