Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Blade Runner


I hadn’t seen this since it was new, in theaters. The chief reason I rented it is that we’ve now visited some of the locations they used, including the fabulous Bradbury Building where Deckard killed Pris and fought it out with Roy Batty, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis-Brown house, which now sits forlornly atop a hill only a couple miles from our apartment, derelict, crumbling, waiting for the next big landslide or quake to finish it off. The interiors of the house were used for Deckard’s apartment. The production designer “moved” the Bradbury several blocks south and constructed a false entryway; the building does not face the Million Dollar Theater. And it is far from derelict today. It’s a wrought-iron wonder, and when you come to LA you really ought to drop by and see it.
(Oops! I have been informed by a Faithful Reader that the Million Dollar Theater IS directly across from the Bradbury. I believe I must have confused the Los Angeles Theater marquee with the M$. The facade in the movie WAS phony, though.)
Now to the movie … which I notice rates #95 on the IMDb’s Top 100 list. I can see the attraction. Blade Runner is sumptuous to look at, almost on the scale of Barry Lyndon as an art object. Every frame is spilling over with visual detail, and is composed with the care of a great painter. It stunned me when I first saw it. Ridley Scott was on a roll in the ’80s, with two of the seminal sci-fi spectaculars right in a row: Alien, and then this one. These films are still exerting a Jovian gravitational pull on set designers.
The SFX look good … but I began to realize we were lingering on them a bit too long. It’s easy to forget, in these days of CGI, just how hard it was to put something like that on the screen. I was working with Doug Trumbull as Blade Runner was being produced, and got to see the gigantic models of cities, and the aircars, and Syd Mead’s drawings and all the rest. This was expensive stuff. The state of the art for traveling mattes at the time was something called “motion control,” where a computer made possible an exactitude never achieved before, and it was slow and hard work. A spaceship model would be stationary and the camera would move around it to simulate motion. If you put half a dozen of these traveling matte elements into a single shot, you’d performed a miracle. Now, Lord of the Rings and its ilk put 100,000 elements into a shot simply as automatic sub-routines. So, what was happening there, in Blade Runner, was the old principle of “put your money on the screen.” You spent a lot of money on that shot of an aircar zooming between two towering buildings. You’re not going to use only 3 seconds of it, you’re going to linger.
Trouble is, that slows the film down, and this one is quite slow in spots. There are places where it needs to be slow, I’m not complaining about that, but pacing is a problem.
The second problem, and it was apparent to me even on the first, awed viewing, is … the story sucks. Scott doesn’t really do much with the awful moral conundrum of creating human life with an expiration date, and with no civil rights. It’s find ’em, shoot ’em. He creates some sympathy with the replicants’ dilemma, but not enough, because Rutger Hauer overplays his role outrageously. I never understood why a powerful police force would send one man to bring down 4 superhuman androids. Why not storm the building with a tac squad? Why not blow up the whole building? Nobody seems to care much for human life. Then it degenerates into a mano-a-mano slugfest lasting 15 interminable minutes. Harrison Ford dangles by his fingertips. Ho-hum.
I’m afraid this movie is all surface and no center. But what a surface!