With Blade Runner 2049 (2017) in cinemas now, all the kids (and me) were revisiting Ridley Scott’s original. Long famous as much for the director’s endless tinkering and various cuts, it feels like of recent years people have started to actually consider the final product, and rightly position it as one of the better sci-fi films of all time.
Once forced to endure the horrors of the theatrical cut as part of a university course, the director’s cut of Blade Runner (1982) is now the only one for me. Who knows what the differences are except for the scrapping of the abysmal Harrison Ford voiceover and the total flipping of the ending’s tone, but that’s enough for me. Actually just canning the voiceover would be enough, there’s argument to be had about which ending is superior. The film follows Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, employed as a Blade Runner to hunt down synthetic replicants who have been banned from earth. The film is small for a sci-fi flick, and the story beats can essentially be reduced to a crime story. A fair amount of the film is just Deckard running down clues. It’s a slow burn, not heavy on plot and taking place in a pretty confined setting (as in a single city, not multiple worlds or galaxies). These genres are melded visually too, subtly evoking noir films through lighting and weather, and directly referencing the genre through costuming elements. It is these aspects that put the visuals over the top, and to this day it is a remarkable looking film (even on the shoddy VHS copy I watched). One element of the film that is perhaps underappreciated are the excellent action sequences. The early rain soaked chase as Deckard hunts a female replicant who has escaped him encapsulates everything the film is going for. On a stylistic level at least, if not thematically. A dour vibe is lent to the sequence through the weather, Deckard gets his weariness from Ford and there’s some surprisingly good gun battling and chase elements through the crowded, polluted streets shrouded in a neon glow that oppresses as it illuminates.
Discussion around the film so often focusses in on whether or not Deckard is himself a replicant (driven in large part by the change to the ending in the director’s, and subsequent, cuts of the film). However the assertion that Deckard is a replicant is not all that supported by the text, aside from the insertion at the ending. And the film’s main thematic concern – what it is to be human – is a strong focus without attempting to answer the question of Deckard’s nature. Indeed this focus on the constitution of humanity is present from the opening text crawl right through to the excellent final showdown. We all love Harrison Ford. But he doesn’t have the greatest range and here he slips into a bit of an Indiana Jones as spacecop territory. The real star performance-wise is Rutger Hauer as replicant Roy Batty. Hauer is just a raw physical presence here, but somehow communicating that with a level of subtlety. His line readings from some of the best parts of the script certainly help in that regard. He carries the key end sequence that is the film’s high point. A bravura, extended showdown that eschews wild action beats for a mental and even spiritual confrontation. It is rightly iconic. Batty’s dialogue and philosophy, plus the reserved arch beauty of the shooting provide the artistry. Deckard copping a real beating (most notable the symbolism laden nail through the hand) provides the brutality. It’s a heady mix. Just how alive Batty is in the face of death, the bliss of feeling rain on his face, even if he is not ‘real’, is the most affecting element of the film. Moreso than any of the supposed ‘human characters’, playing into those considerations of what it is to be human, and if that even matters all that much.
Verdict: This is kind of beautiful sci-fi filmmaking. Thought provoking without being unnecessarily cerebral in its plotting, incredible noir-infused visuals and underrated action. Well worth a look, even in the face of the underwhelming sequel. Pint of Kilkenny
I remember really liking Shrek (2001) the first time I saw it back in the day on VHS. However now when I think about the film, I am not so sure. Who knows if that is because of the actual film itself or the litany of rubbish, pop-culture referencing films that it inspired, including the tepid only sequel I bothered with Shrek 2 (2004).
Re-watching this first film again, I realised that my recollections of it really have been sullied by the films it inspired, because it is a pretty original animated flick. The pop-culture references, whilst definitely there, are actually not too ubiquitous and give a funny edge to the film, rather than actually being the focus of the entire film. The selective use of them means that when they are used, they are fun to spot and actually enhance the viewing of the film, Princess Fiona doing bullet time for example. Plotwise, Shrek is an inversion of a traditional fairy tale. Shrek is a hated, ugly ogre, who sets out to save the princess so he can get his isolated swamp back the way he likes it – empty of everyone else. So he rescues the princess so that she can be hand delivered to the short statured Lord Farquaard in order to be married. The narrative is a little strange in that this quest is actually completed relatively early on and with relative ease, leaving the rest of the film’s running time to flesh out the various relationships that have been established.
All the elements of this film are solid. The script is tight, managing to balance a cracking pace but also not to feel too superficial, especially in regards to the interactions between the various characters. And despite my loathing for a certain Smashmouth song, the soundtrack is really excellent, using pop songs to generally great effect (in fact this film directly led to me discovering the music of Jeff Buckley, one of my top 3 recording artists of all time). All of the characters work well and indeed one of the best parts of the film is the character of Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Donkey is a motormouthed creature who only wants to be loved and accepted by Shrek, who wants no part of him. The banter between the two of them is inspired as they eventually set out on an odd-couple road trip to rescue the princess. In my warped remembrance of this film, I recalled Donkey being rather annoying. But he made me laugh a hell of a lot actually which was a really pleasant surprise. Oh for a decent live action comedy role for Eddie Murphy these days! It is also great to see a different kind of female central character in an animated film, with Princess Fiona a bit of a rockin feminist hero, somewhat reminiscent to the young hero Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph (2004).
Forget about all the craptastic pretenders that Shrek inspired, this is a rollicking, inspired neo fairy tale that still stands up. I had a lot of fun watching this again and laughed a good deal more than I thought I would. I definitely recommend revisiting this one if you haven’t seen it for a few years.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny