Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blade Runner

It had been 20 years since I first watched Blade Runner with my brother. I remember having a fond affinity for this movie, but couldn't remember exactly why. I tend to think that I'm not a fan of the sci-fi genre, and yet some of my very favorite films are science fiction-based; 2001, Total Recall, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Metropolis....even Back to the Future. It seems that the most common element in sci-fi genre is the question of life. Why am I here? Do I matter? What life is valuable? Are there other life forms? The way that sci-fi directors choose to examine the question of life seems to determine how I feel about the film. Their choices in use of angles, filters, transitions, cuts, and subtext are what draw me in or shut me down to these types of films.

Blade Runner is visually a very beautiful film. Ridley Scott appears to employ a film noir style, very downbeat, bleak and black. The common film noir themes are also preset: fear, insecurity, suspicion, mistrust. I appreciate movies that focus on the visual asthetic, while keeping the dialogue tight and allowing subtext to speak. Every shot seems very intentional, and helps to move the story forward. The unfortunate voice over was a major distraction from the visual elements, however I have heard that the voice over was removed from the Director's cut in 1992. Whew.

The "eyes" seem to be the visual tie-in throughout the scenes in this film. From the eye at the intro to the film, to the man who developed the Replicant's eyes, to the Owl's eye, it's clear that the eye is an important visual cue. I personally feel that this was Scott's way of representing humanity visually. The eye, with its sensitve iris that shifts with a sudden change of feeling or emotion, is a sure sign of humanity. While the scientific geniuses in Blade Runner have come up with a way to imitate to near perfection everything about humans in their Replicants, emotion, empathy and feelings are elements that they can't quite imitate. And the humans have discovered that the eye will clearly divulge emotion.

Per the film noir style, the majority of the Earth in Blade Runner is shadowed in dark hues. When light is present, it is usually in harsh contrast to its surroundings, such as when the blinds are opened against Deckard's face in Tyrell's mansion. The dark hues help to present Earth as an abandoned place full of decay and disillusionment.

The most common shots seemed to be close ups or medium close ups on faces and eyes.
The cuts linger on eyes and faces for at least two beats beyond the dialogue, which is a terrific directorial decision, as it allows us to see the emotion in the eyes and faces of the characters, to really pay attention to the expressiveness of the actors, to make the scenes much more powerful.

My favorite scene of the film visually is the scene of Deckard interviewing Rachael. Her deep red lips are a welcome color contrast to the bleakness of other scenes. The cuts between her full lips wrapped around her long cigarette and Deckard’s weary, weathered eyes and face and tight lips are beautiful. The transitions aren’t overused, and the back and forth dance between interview questions is cut like a two players in a careful chess competition.

The ending of this film is terrible...contrived both through dialogue and visual elements. Should Ridley Scott have ended on the rooftop with Roy and Deckard, I would have been extremely impressed. Thankfully, I too have heard that the ending changed in the Director’s cut as well.

Scott uses the camera angles effectively throughout, to help us connect with or to show conflict within each character. He uses a low angle on Rachel when she is in turmoil about learning that her memories are fabricated, which helps us feel compassion and empathy for her, he uses a straight-on angle to the eyes during Roy’s final scene on the rooftop to help the audience connect directly with what Roy is experiencing, and the camera is almost always level with Deckard, to show that he is a straight shooter and we are on the same level as him.

Ridley Scott is clearly challenging us to define humanity, and what makes something human and worthy of life. Through careful camera angles, critical lighting choices, and thoughtful cuts, we as an audience can connect with not only the human struggles throughout this film, but also the Replicants.

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