We’ve….seen things you people wouldn’t believe!
Mike and Casey fire up our Spinners, and blast off to great new lives in the Off World Colonies with Sci-Fest L.A.‘s Matt Goodman, and writer Micah Krabill! This month we’re talking about 1982’s Ridley Scott sci-fi classic: Blade Runner!
Join us as we discuss how a financially disastrous art film about a future cop hunting androids went on to become a major cult favorite, and one of the most culturally influential science fiction movies of all time. We talk about the nature of humanity and artificial life, the proper pronunciation of the word “robot,” the morality of Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty, and which of the film’s multiple versions is its most definitive.
“Memories of Green/End Title Theme” from Blade Runner by Vangelis
Previously titled: “A Sandwich from the God of Biomechanics”
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I gotta say I think it really matters whether Deckard is a replicant or not, because of Rachael’s accusation that he might not pass the humanity test. That moment is clearly a question to the audience about our personal humanity. The idea that he might ACTUALLY not be human, not just a person who has become so hard he’s inhumane, ruins it a bit.
What a great topic, and the four of you did it justice: it was a thoroughly enjoyed listening to your discussion.
Like Micah, I’ve read pretty much every PKD novel (except for 3 of the non-SF novels and the co-authored Ganymede Takeover), and I’m very fond of the ambiguous “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” However, unlike Micah, I’m also a really big fan of the movie(s). So I’m with Casey, in that I think it’s one of the best movies ever. However, where I diverge from all four of you, and quite a few aficiondos of the film is that I really don’t mind the original theatrical release with voiced over narration all that much.
Anyway, you’ve really got me wanting to watch the movie again – although I don’t know which version I’d prefer – I recently purchased (quite cheaply) that deluxe 5 DVD edition that has the Final Cut, the US and international theatrical release versions, the Director’s Cut, the Dangerous Days documentary, the Workprint and all kinds of other extras. A veritable wealth of stuff I just can’t seem to find the time to watch…
Just wanted to say that I think that Tyrell’s appearance is a continuation of the Egyptian pantheon imagery; he has a thin, bird-like appearance, along with glasses, making him the spitting image of how Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge (and ostensibly technology) with the head of an ibis, is usually depicted when fully humanized, such as in comics or literature. The dominance of a bird theme in his office reinforces the idea that he is Thoth, although again this is just my thoughts.
Separately from my above take on Tyrell, Blade Runner always bothered me specifically because of its Replicants, in that they are almost completely indistinguishable from humans. Sure, they have some ‘superhuman’ traits, as seen in Pris’s display, but it seems to me that in a world with such mind-bogglingly advanced synthetic biology that bestowing such relatively minor capacities on humans would be trivial; the Replicants are not valuable because they have superhuman capacities, they are valuable because they are a manufacturable slave workforce.
Given the almost-identical-to-humans nature of the Replicants (I don’t think of them as androids/robots, they are better classified as modified clones) the movie fails to make them sufficiently Other in order to sell a Empathy with the Other theme. Empathy with the Other is an important theme for humans because we are so fixated with an In-Group/Out-Group perspective as a result of our hominid ancestry, but Blade Runner always fell on its face in that regard for me; Sci-fi movies that play with the Empathy for the Other theme should be even *more* Other and I have seen non-scifi movies that have the Out-Group as more Other than Blade Runner.
With Blade Runner I think of the Empathy theme, as your panel outlined and discussed it, as a decoy; it informs the structure of the film, but it almost seems formulaic; it is there to provide the skeleton for the hidden theme, which is Transition. This transition theme is multi-layered, involving the transitions in Deckard’s life, the transition of humanity away from Earth in the background, the transition of the Replicants to freedom/rebellion, the transition of the Replicants from children to adults, and the transition of humanity from a vibrant species to something that is tired and old. Much of the transitions involving the Replicants is involved in the arc centered around confrontation and the eventual killing of their god, while the transition of humanity into a decayed, tired state is expressed through a summation embodied in Deckard.
At least, that is my armchair speculation.
Re: Your thoughts on depictions of Replicants and Empathy. You felt like they didn’t do enough to sell the empathy the audience should have with the replicants. Well, I’d say they did that by making the humans in the film either indifferent to the unjust treatment of replicants, or downright bigots towards them. As Mike said in the panel, living in a situation where you could be shot on sight, no trial or explanation, puts them in the category of houseflies or street rats. They’re vermin to be expunged. That, and the visible friendship/love between the replicants, sells enough empathy for me to care about them.
As for Transition, I think you’ve got your finger on something there. But, I’d argue that all good storytelling is about marking transitions: Rites of Passage, Solving a Murder Mystery, even your proto-typical RomCom plot are about characters moving from one phase of their lives to another. Perhaps why the Blade Runner setting is so unique, is that it’s narrative arc does not signal a transition from disorder into order. Sure, the replicant “threat” is pacified in the end, but Deckard’s rescue of Rachel has loosed an unstable element into the brutal world of 2019: mercy.
I just never found any of the character’s empathetic in particular; the Replicants always seemed hammy when they didn’t seem like the actors were trying to portray them as simply insane.
As for the transition idea, I think of it as a more specific, kind if a coming of age, except that it is for species and the humans are coming to old age.