By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on DVDs: Blade Runner
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC
Blade Runner 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray or Blu-ray/DVD/Book/Digital Combo Pack) (3 or 4 discs) (Four Stars)
U. S.; Ridley Scott, 1982/1993/2007. (Warner Bros.)
I. DO ANDROIDS DREAM?
The future, like the past –in L. P. Hartley’s memorable lines in The Go-Between — is a foreign country. They do things differently there. As they also do in the future, at least in the future imagined by Philip K. Dick and realized on screen by director Ridley Scott and the company of marvellous artists and technicians working together on the science fiction movie classic, Blade Runner.
Not every great film is recognized in its day — and Blade Runner was considered a failure in its time. In 1982. when star Harrison Ford was at his Han Solo-Indiana Jones box-office summit, this movie’s way sub-Star Wars receipts were as unpleasant a surprise to the studio bean-counters as all the shocks and replicants that waylay Ford‘s futuristic cop Rick Deckard in this darkest of science fiction epics, this most thoroughly realized of Dick’s alternate universes.
Nowadays, director Scott‘s visually overwhelming film of the Dick book (inspired, in many ways, Scott says, by the look of Citizen Kane) is rightly judged a classic — a masterpiece of both science fiction and film noir, and a fit subject for this stunning three or foure -disc 30th Anniversary Collector’s collector‘s edition. Dick’s novel was originally called “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”; the title comes from “beat” master William Burroughs. The movie, written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples (the latter the writer of Clint Eastwood‘s Unforgiven) gives us the hard-bitten Deckard as anti-replicant squad cop in twenty-first century Los Angeles, a dark, rainy, neon-drenched city of night in which the look of Citizen Kane and Heavy Metal is mixed with the mood of Raymond Chandler’s or Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep.
The replicants I spoke of are, of course, “off world” work (or slave) robots (or andorids) who look (and behave) so real that they can often try (and fail) to pass for human. Deckard’s job is to catch some renegade reps led by Rutger Hauer’s strange, angelic, tragic Roy Batty (the performance he’ll never top): a cadre that includes Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy and Brion James (the mad-eyed brute who yells “Time to die!”). Deckard, in turn, is aided by a savagely streetwise L. A. cop contingent that includes Edward James Olmos and a pre-Blood Simple M. Emmet Walsh. In the middle of it all, with Ford. is Sean Young’s sultry Rachael. Is she futuristic Lauren Bacall tough gal heroine or femme fatale?
So Ford (as Deckard) roams that furturistic Los Angeles turned city of gleaming, rain-slickened night — L.A. multiplied by Chicago and crossed with New York and Tokyo. He is the ultimate loner cop, without even a salty old partner or a young up-and-comer to bounce wise-cracks off. We sense from the beginning that loner Deckard relates more to the replicants he pursues than the humans he supposedly protects, and we also intuit that there is more to these replicants and more to Deckard and more to the city and more to Blade Runner than all that here initially seems to be.
But how dazzling those first views of the future that Dick and Scott and the others dreamed up! How spectacular and nightmarish! How iridescent and melancholy! When one character dies near the end, we can feel the city weep. The skies open up. The streets blaze. Rain, rain. Night falling. The replicants, and their acrobatics and poetry, vanish in the heartless darkness. The future, a foreign country (never more foreign, yet strangely familiar, than here), recedes into the scrolling credits and the end titles. We are alone. In the emptying theatre.
II. TEARS IN RAIN
I weep too, and not only because of the film. Blade Runner was one of the two favorite movies (the other was Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast), of a girl I loved once named Marji Sirkin, a friend with whom I laughed and played and watched movies, and whom I watched slowly die of Hodgkin’s Disease two decades ago in a much sunner, smoggier. and even sadder, Los Angeles.
She looked, I thought, like Moira Shearer crossed with Tina Louise. She had a little silver car named Simone de Seleca and two cats named Harry and Binky, and a parakeet named Ralph, and a wonderful dog named Ringga, and then another happy purebred, almost-champion, wonderful little dog I got her named Mickey. (Most of the pet’s names came from her favorite rock ‘n roll groups, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.)
We had fun. She watched Blade Runner and Beauty and the Beast and her other favorites over and over again. She wanted to be a film editor. She was working her way though the UCLA Film School, and she had won an award with one of her student films (about the dangers of cigarette smoking).Then her body’s clock began to stop and it was painful for her to walk, and her beautiful red hair fell out. She still watched movies, but not very many, and the last picture show we saw together was Edward Scissorhands. She couldn’t finish her last UCLA student project, an anti-Vietnam War drama. She had a script, a cast, the equipment. She tried to finish it. She couldn’t.
I remember her last days in the UCLA Hospital. I brought her a special present, a program for the Los Angeles Film Critics awards luncheon that year, signed, with little personal messages and “get well” wishes, by the people who were there, including Jack Lemmon, Julie Andrews, Blake Edwards, Terry Gilliam and Mercedes Ruehl. I went from table to table, collecting the signatures and sentiments, and everyone I asked, signed and wished her well. That supreme cartoonist and great guy Chuck Jones was there, receiving a Career Achievement Award, and he took the program, and used a whole empty page to draw Marji an original picture of Bugs Bunny, in a hospital himself (with a broken bunny-leg, I believe), wishing Marji his wise-cracking bunny best. When I brought it to her that night, she looked and looked at the giant Get Well card, in her hospital bed, and she said, “I’m impressed!”
I wonder how long Marji was able to look at Bugs and enjoy her special present. I wonder where it is now. A few days later, she couldn’t speak any more, she was too weak to sit up and her mouth was covered by an oxygen mask. Her eyes looked up, frightened. So we (her friend Joel and I) sat by her bed, and sang her Beatle songs, including “Hey Jude” and “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Let It Be.” I remember the warm little squeeze of her hand as she let mine go, for the last time. Next morning…
The movies you love, like the memories of the people you love, become part of you, as you become part of them. They’re always with you, ready to awaken and to live again. Marji should be alive today. She should be cutting films together, or directing them, or playing with her animals, or driving around in Simone de Seleca or in Simone’s successor. She should be watching movies, with me or with someone else. I can never see Blade Runner, or think of it, without seeing or thinking of her. An indulgence? I’m sorry. I wanted her to be alive again, for a few moments, a few paragraphs. Goodbye Marji. Goodbye animals. Goodbye Simone. Goodbye Little Mick. I can see you all, a long way off — in the foreign country, the past, that all of us share…
This splendid package contains commentaries (by Scott, Fancher, Peoples and amny others), scads of featurettes and documentaries and four different versions of the movie, including the original 1982 U. S. and International theatrical cuts, the 1992 Director’s Cut, and the Final Cut which, we’re assured, is Scott’s last word on the subject. (There’s another version, called the “workprint” cut and the biggest variant yet — appropriately for a movie based on the writing of Dick, the master of alternative universes.)
The movie is great, of course — though it’s always had its detractors, and still does. But this package now and in its previous form, released on Blade Runner’s 25th birthday, is close to an ultimate example of the modern DVD makers’ art. One of the documentaries, by the way, tells us that Fancher intended Blade Runner as a film noir from the beginning — albeit a smaller scaled, lower budgeted pre-Ridley Scott noir — and that he wrote the part of Rick Deckard not for a younger actor like Harrison Ford but for longtime film noir icon Robert Mitchum, a movie star from another, black-and-white age, a trench-coated hero out of the past.