25 Years Ago! Part VIII! Replicants And Mr. Spider-Head On June 25, 1982...
Published at: Dec. 18, 2007, 5:29 a.m. CST by Moriarty
It’s June 25th, 2007. Exactly 25 years ago…today…a film called BLADE RUNNER showed us the world of 2019. A world where “Spinner” vehicles lifted skyward from bustling streets to skim the aerial traffic ways of Los Angeles. A time when constructed life forms…who were “more human than human”…bore the brunt of the danger during mankind’s off world colonization movement. A place that was peculiarly beautiful, even at its ugliest.
That’s only twelve years away now. There are no flying cars and there probably won’t be anytime soon (although we’re getting closer). We’re not building people yet - we won’t be for some time, if ever. The notion of offworld colonization within the lifetime of anyone reading these words FEELS more and more improbable as the years go by. And, perhaps most disappointingly, cinema’s “worlds of tomorrow” have become decreasingly fantastical. With a few exceptions, the “future” brought to us by movies these days seems far less amazing than it used to – there’s less mystery awaiting us, less majesty to behold. It’s rarely awe-inspiring, and is often disappointingly similar to the world we already know…too similar to be much fun. Increasingly, Science Fiction cinema lacks wonder.
I’ve been unable to locate the first trailer I recall seeing for BLADE RUNNER – I’m not sure it’s actually available on the Net. But it went something like this:
(love that Pac-Man "wakka" crescendo at the end of the trailer!)
I was fourteen years old when I first saw a trailer for the film. Truthfully, I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at. I knew Ridley Scott from ALIEN back in ’79. It was one of my favorite films, so this had to be some kind of cool…right? I knew it had been on the cover of a STARLOG magazine. I knew it had Han Solo / Indiana Jones in it, and I remembered Vangelis from CHARIOTS OF FIRE. Oh yeah: that Douglas Trumbull guy made pretty okay effects, too. This was going to be incredible. It HAD to be incredible. How could it not be? There was no way it couldn’t be.
I saw it. And…it wasn’t incredible. It was a busy film. Cold, distant, unpleasant, alienating. I didn’t “get” what Vangelis was doing. Indy looked like he was sleepwalking. The heart of the film seemed buried to me – but Zhora’s titties were cool & I wondered what they felt like.
THAT’s what I took away from BLADE RUNNER the first time I watched it. Clearly I had some growing up to do.
Over the years, I changed. My understanding changed. My perspective on life and how we relate to the world around us changed. And, after a while, I began to comprehend the truths director Ridely Scott and scripters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples put on screen back in 1982. As I became more complicated, I began to understand BLADE RUNNER’s complexity.
BLADE RUNNER had, in actuality, none of the negative qualities I initially believed it to have (and Zhora’s titties remained a blessed constant). It wasn’t a cold film, it wasn’t a heartless story, nor was it a tale devoid of ideas. It simply served these qualities in a package I wasn’t capable of grasping at the time, by deploying conceits I wasn’t awake enough to appreciate at the time.
Now…I get it. In a real sense, BLADE RUNNER has helped to shape, and inform, many elements of my creativity…as well as my overall perspective.
The film’s nuance is so clear to me now that I can’t believe it ever eluded me to begin with. More than Jordan Cronenewth’s breathtaking photography or Trumbull’s sweeping visual effects…BLADE RUNNER’s greatest power lay in its ideas:
** The idea that the “badguys” in the film aren’t bent on world domination, or the attainment of riches. Their “crime” was that they are desperate…and would do anything…to live. The fugitives being sought by Harrison Ford’s character were born with a limited life span. But in their four years of existence, they’d lived more meaningful lives & enjoyed far richer experiences than some people manage over decades…and they didn’t want to let go. To some extent, BLADE RUNNER is a film about killing – but in being so, it is ultimately a potent exaltation of life.
** The idea that our “hero” (perhaps “protagonist” is a better word in this instance) was trying to KILL people who just wanted to live – people whose death warrant was written only by virtue of their being born. Sure they did wrong things, but they did wrong things for reasons most of us could understand. The desire to survive, after all, is a strong motivator. For the unenlightened in BLADE RUNNER, creatures with beauty, talent, a sense of place, and searching for belonging deserved to be shot in the back on a rainy street like an unwanted animal. Those who truly understood...would never allow for this to happen:
** Perhaps most disquieting notion is the possibility that our “protagonist” might, in actuality, be the exact same kind of person he was sent to kill. By acting against the fugitives, he’s also (symbolically) turning his back on his own self, and his own essence -- and the tragedy is he might not know it. This element is highly contested to this day. And, based on past Talkbacks, it’s still a source of uncertainty / contention for many readers. But, there are certainly allusions that Harrison Ford is a “Replicant “ in the film. And, after all, there are the words of Ridley Scott himself:
Where THE WRATH OF KHAN helped me to comprehend the pain brought about by the physical passing of a loved one, BLADE RUNNER helped me to define death’s more esoteric context. Simply. Vividly. Frighteningly. Unforgettably.
In the end, BLADE RUNNER isn’t necessarily about physical death – it’s about the loss of hopes, dreams, experiences, memories, and ideals that physical death brings with it. It’s about the simple, gut-wrenching truth that the beauty we see around us, the love we feel for ourselves or others, and the moments we most cherish will never be understood by others...can never be appreciated by others as fully as we appreciate them...and may simply vanish completely when our bodies stop working.
Is this a downer? At face value…yes. It’s a rather bleak and nihilistic view of The Way of Things. But when you think about, it’s not really grim at all. Perhaps BLADE RUNNER might best be seen as a call for self-empowerment, self-awareness, and self-appreciation. We can share many, many elements of our lives with others. But, in the end, each of us experiences uniquely, appreciates uniquely, and sees through unique eyes.
For me, at least, BLADE RUNNER says that what we carry with us…and who we are inside…is more valuable than any of the trappings by which we define ourselves on a daily basis. Like nearly every character in the film, perhaps the greatest challenge most of us will ever face is a deceptively simple one: make every moment count.
If a bunch of uppity Replicants can figure this out, why can’t we all?
On the same day BLADE RUNNER opened, John Carpenter’s THE THING came around.
What I most remember about THE THING is the profound disappointment I felt when my father…a huge fan of the original film as well as John W. Campbell Jr.’s source material…didn’t actually go with me to see the damn movie. He must have seen it at some point, but I don’t recall our seeing it together. Strange.
THE THING, as it happened, would be the first horror movie I’d see alone. And, what an experience it was. A brooding examination of paranoia that was unapologetically grotesque and unrelentingly bleak – THE THING sent my youthful mind spinning. As much as I cherish dogs, to this day I can not look at a pooch without sensing the briefest flash of this:
I love THE THING. I love all early Carpenter until his career went South (and never came home) after THEY LIVE. Early Carpenter….what I call “The Dean Cundey Years” (a reference to the Director of Photography Carpenter partnered with between HALLOWEEN and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA)…had loads of class, gobs of style. And, for me at least, his films were the very embodiment of “cool”. THE THING fit right in with all Carpenter that had come before. It was everything I expected it to be…and more.
The notion of friends suddenly ceasing to be our friends when co-opted by external forces was new to me at the time (I now recognize it as a frequently deployed SF conceit)…I seem to recall having trust issues for months after seeing this film. The reality that “good guys” don’t always fight to a decisive victory also stirred me. At the end of the day, no matter how hard we try &how much crap we go through – we could still end up alone. Or, worse yet, with someone we can not trust. Thanks for the happy, shiny life lesson John.
I saw parts of the THE THING on DVD a few weeks ago; I’m not sure it holds up as well as I’d like it too. Rob Bottin’s effects look a little less convincing than they used to – Mr. Spider-Head doesn’t creep out the way he used to.
The tension that worked so well 25 years ago feels a little too over-the-top now. Its thematics still work though, and work well.
But, do I think this film should be remade, which has recently been indicated? No – at least not yet. Although, I understand that the oft-referenced “remake” is…actually… something of a prequel (focusing on the Norwegian team who discovered the downed spacecraft & brings the alien back to their base – this served as backstory in Carpenter’s film). So, maybe there’s a way to have our cake and eat it too. Maybe we’ll get a THING project that can update the concept’s presentation while not stomping on what Carpenter so carefully, lovingly created.
I’m intrigued that two movies of such unrelenting atmosphere, that are so thick on subtext, endure to this day – but this should also come as no surprise. Both films are about far more than the face value of what’s onscreen, and both challenge us to look into ourselves to fully appreciate the stories they’re telling. Movies like BLADE RUNNER and THE THING rarely come around anymore, and are especially sidestepped by a Hollywood system that often doesn’t deem its audience capable of, or willing to, think. Ironically, BLADE RUNNER and THE THING endure because they gave their viewers credit, and resonate far beyond mere spectacle.
Think about all the movies that will release this Summer, and ask yourself what you…or sites like AICN…will likely to be discussing 25 years from now. What will be noteworthy this Summer? What will be remembered? And, why? From where I’m sitting, I’d say candidates are a precious few. And that’s sad, really. It doesn’t need to be this way.