Friday, December 28, 2007

Is he or isn't he?


Ah, Blade Runner.

The new "final cut" edition, and the various featurettes contained on the various DVD sets of it, have brought the old question of "Is Deckard a replicant?" back to the fore. I first noted the new wave of discussion at The new-er-est "Blade Runner" by Jim Emerson. The fourth disk also contains a documentary specifically on the subject, "Deck-A-Rep: The True Nature of Rick Deckard".

In it, both director Ridley Scott and Jovanka Vuckovic, editor-in-chief of Rue Morgue Magazine, make rather simplistic and patronizing cases for Deckard being a replicant. Frank Darabont makes an excellent case for Deckard's humanity, however he loses a couple of points for his insistence that the story falls apart with any alternate explanation.

The documentary wisely finishes with Paul M. Sammon and his conclusion, "Maybe."

The best response to the issue, however, is found on the second disk, in the documentary "Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner". In that, original screenwriter Hampton Fancher says, "The question is interesting. The answer is stupid."

Exactly.

What's ultimately sad to me is that it's the kind of thinking that demands all questions to have a definitive answer is exactly what keeps Hollywood from making more wonderfully ambiguous movies... like Blade Runner.


13 comments:

r_sail said...

Frank Darabont's comments really came off as stupid... like, it's not your fucking movie, so shut up with the insisting that it be your way. That was a pretty childish attitude he had about all that. I like Ridley's comments though. Because, yeah, if you can't see that it's the intended answer, you're a fucking moron. HA! That was the best.

I dunno... for me it's weird if he isnt a replicant.

I think the commentary on humanity works better if he is. The movie certainly doesn't fall apart if he isn't, though.

Either way, the 5-disc is the best box set ever.

Neil Sarver said...

Obviously, I feel exactly the opposite. In fact, I had to resist the urge to post this comment, even though it didn't really support what I believe about the work itself as much as it did how I felt after watching Scott's dumbass comments in that documentary.

If he'd not shown so much more intelligence in the rest of the special features, I'd have almost be tempted to dismiss him as just the director of Gladiator, who, in this case, lucked into Fancher, Peoples, Mead, etc. As it is, he's generally affable in his comment there and clearly edited abrubtly in and (possibly) out, leaving that one comment hanging there out of some greater context.

In fact, all of the people on the "Deckard is a replicant" side seemed completely dependent on the little hints laid out through the movie and had not a thing to say about how it added to the movie dramatically or thematically to the movie itself.

On the other hand, Darabont, while indeed overly strident, had easily the best thought-out argument in favor of his case in the documentary. I still think both answers are boring and stupid when argued as definitive, but within the context of that documentary, and what was included - whether more was said or well said and left out is unclear.

Part of it does indeed come down to the fact that, as definitive answers goes, I find "Deckard is human" to be more thematically satisfying.

That way, it's the story of a man who has lost his humanity and rediscovers it through the humanity in those who he, and his society, have dismissed as not human or at least less human. It works overall.

The other way, it's about an android who discovers what humanity is from other non-humans who may be better or worse androids than him. It's terribly wonky for me. It doesn't really resonate with anything in the lives of me or anyone I know.

But that's only when it's definitive.

When it's about someone who either lost his humanity or was never human who rediscovers or discovers it through the humanity in those who he, and his society, have dismissed as not human or at least less human, but who may be the same, that's interesting to me.

No definitive answer is vastly more satisfying and interesting to me than either answer is, or ever could be, in themselves.

r_sail said...

Well, I mainly thought Ridley was funny... and being funny more than anything (at least in how he said it as opposed to what he said). Where as Darabont was being a little bitch about it.

I'm not trying to have an argument about this, because let's face it, enough people already have that neither of us are going to say anything new or come to some ultimate conclusion that has eluded others until now. But I will say that one of the most beautiful things about Blade Runner (again, Darabont's an idiot) is that it works both ways and ultimately doesn't matter. For me, one of the best things about Blade Runner is that it asks more than it answers.

I dunno...

Neil Sarver said...

I don't want to fight either.

Like I said, it seems like Scott's comments were badly edited to me, although, I actually do agree, he did seem to have a sense of humor about the issue that I felt like the documentary makers were trying to cut out, or at least down.

I think, for me, Darabont gets a bye from me for his stridency because he was the only one there who had real ideas to bring to the table rather than simply rehashing the same clues we've all been over and over... or at least was the only one shown offering them.

I guess my disappointment... and the set is amazing, so I hate to sound even a little disappointed overall... is that this issue was mostly buried in a lesser documentary with a name that sounds like one of the lame sci-fi sounding names that pop-up throughout the unused VO on the fourth disk deleted scenes movie.

And that a great opportunity to celebrate the thematic complexity and ambiguity that makes Blade Runner so amazing was turned into a simplistic "this person thinks this/this person thinks that..." debate.

It's a brilliant set, however. I just watched the "International Theatrical Version" - how many people are watching the "US Theatrical Version" incorrectly thinking that they grew up watching that on VHS? - last night. It was definitely interesting to revisit. Having seen the 1992 version so many times, the VO has become even more intrusive than it used to be.

r_sail said...

I agree that it was a wasted opportunity to talk about the complexity of the film... or that specific question... and I guess people want answers not questions. I look at hollywood and that's what it's full of. Heavy handed answers. Anything ambiguous is 'confusing'... sadly.

People don't seem to want questions... only answers. They'd rather have things explained to them than have to think about anything. Shame really as it's the questions that are interesting... but I like thinking. I'm crazy that way.

I also give Darabont the pass for being able to say something about his opinion, even if I don't agree and felt he came off like a spoiled child about it.

Scott, too me, in his comments -obviously there was more than what was shown- had a sense of humour about it... I mean, this is the guy who just put out every version of the film (and I assume he's not really a fan of most of those versions) in a box set and states that he knows version X has its fans, and hopes they enjoy said version. That's not someone who's going to impose his view on others with any real harshness... not beyond doing to his film what he wants... but that's certainly his right. Again, though, he's given everyone the option to enjoy whatever version they like. And to me, that includes Deckards... uh, 'humanity'.

As for the set itself, it's brilliant. It's everything I ever wanted in a Blade Runner DVD... and more. The Documentary is an exhausting amount of material... in a good way. All versions of the film being presented -regardless of how often I revisit them- is fantastic. ANd I applaud Scott for aknowledging that some people might like version X more than version A and/or that HIS version isn't everyones version.

I didn't even know there were so many deleted scenes... Wow. The commentaries? Syd fucking Mead? Awesome.

The restoration of the Final Cut is breathtaking... I'm quite seriously left speechless over what they've achieved. it looks like it came out this year. And the work print... oh glorious work print. Your inclusion pleases me to no end.

Only thing I would have liked is a remastered soundtrack to go along with it... but that's a small gripe. Its not like my CD sounds bad or anything.

Cinebeats said...

What's ultimately sad to me is that it's the kind of thinking that demands all questions to have a definitive answer is exactly what keeps Hollywood from making more wonderfully ambiguous movies... like Blade Runner.

I completely agree with you Neil! For me, one of the things that makes Blade Runner work so beautifully is that it isn't interested in offering up easy answers to the complex questions about identity that it explores. So many modern film directors (or maybe it's the studios?) seem to think their audience is made up of idiots who can't possibly grasp or appreciate any kind of ambiguity.

Neil Sarver said...

Sail, suffice it to say, I'm very much enjoying your comments. As one who shares in the pleasures of thinking, the fact that you're inspiring me to do more and more of it is only pleasing.

In further defense of Darabont, I must say that to me he felt like a guy who'd had too many conversations with people who "prove" that Deckard is replicant with one of the various pieces of evidence without having ever considered the alternative interpretations, a position I know both you and I have been in at various times ourselves and tend to handle ourselves with similar hyperbolic passion... and there I'm not even necessarily also accounting for exactly what his interview would look like if we'd seen the whole of the raw interview... whether he was being firmly debated by the interviewer or has a good self-effacing laugh afterward.

I don't know why I'm so determined to defend him, just that he was the one who'd most clearly thought out this issue beyond the surface or just residual warm feeling after The Mist.

I have to confess I skipped the 5-disk for the 4-disk. I just couldn't justify paying an extra $25-30 for that one disk. One of these days I'll rent the fifth disk and perhaps then I'll be kicking myself a lot.

I agree with you regarding his comments before the alternate version... although I do have to say, I suspect that it would have worked better as one introduction to the third disk as a whole rather than the three introductions, but that's semantics and I doubt his fault.

I commented briefly on The Final Cut after seeing it at the Cinerama, but it is indeed quite awesome!


Kimberly, thanks for commenting. I'm glad to hear you agree. I suspect a good amount of it comes from studios, although I suppose the fact that a new generation of directors have grown up in a world where ambiguity in movies is rare and discouraged.

Mind you, Blade Runner is an interesting case-in-point with that. It bombed in its initial release, in part because it was considered too difficult and dark. And yet, part of the reason it has endured and continued to make money 25 years later is because it's challenging, people continue thinking about it wanting to revisit the questions it asks.

From the perspective of a Hollywood addicted to immediate financial rewards, it's not the kind of success they want to aim at, and yet it seems like exactly the kind of success a wise business should be seeking...

Ok, obviously successes like The Godfather or Star Wars, which make big bucks when they come out and continue raking in dough forever are pretty hard to argue against from any perspective, but still...

Jonathan Lapper said...

Re: your comments on The Godfather and Star Wars. Hollywood attempts to, pardon the expression, replicate success anywhere it can. After The Godfather there was Honor Thy Father within a year and to this day no one does gangster movies like the ones in the thirties. From Honor Thy Father through The Sopranos they are all done in The Godfather mold.

Star Wars is a little different because Hollywood didn't understand the distinction between adventure genre in outer space and science fiction. Since they didn't understand that important distinction their efforts to copy it failed miserably. They were much more successful copying either the cute extraterrestrial or menacing alien format.

But they never, ever attempt to copy "long term success" such as is the case with Blade Runner. It's all about insta-bucks. If a Blade Runner comes along and continues to bring in money years down the road it's just dumb luck. No one ever plans for it.

r_sail said...

Conversations are more interesting when people disagree... there's more to discuss, I guess. The other side is always interesting, even i I don't quite agree.

On that note, Drabont get's a pass for being able to say why he has the opinion he has without just listing scenes that support it... but the movie doesn't fall apart and that statement and the certainty with which he made it were irritating.

For me, it's more interesting if Deckard's a replicant because it plays with blurring the lines between man and machine... much like Ghost in the Shell does... but in a different way. I suppose it does so even of you view Deckard as a human... maybe even more so. Honestly, it jsut doesn't matter if he is or isn't... well, it does, but more the question and the uncertainy with which it's presented than the answer. That's the bluring of the line and that's what's so compelling about the question. Or something like that.

Those questions are put forth with the replicant characters and human characters as well. It's alla big beautiful proposition on what is humanity... more than Deckard finding his again. At least, that's what I get from it or what's more interesting to me about it. but again, I appreciate a question more than an answer... any answer.

Neil Sarver said...

Jonathan, I had, at the time I wrote that been considering a comparison of other movies of 1982 and how much a person might have been glad they invested in the other rather than in Blade Runner at the time. Unfortunately, as it goes, there's only a couple of movies in the top grossing movies of 1982 that wouldn't be pretty cool to get residual payments for. Starting with E.T., which, as a studio has to be remarkably ideal. It made mountains and mountains of money and seems most likely to have continued making money pretty steadily in ancillary markets since then.

And I understand wanting that. Hell, I understand wanting to toss in a movie or two every year that's just intended to draw crowds and fund the others you're doing.

Honestly, it mostly seems like they don't really know what they want or what they're trying for, as I touched on in Studios and development (and probably elsewhere). It seems to me with the kind of saturation marketing and whatnot that were coming into place in 1982, but not to the extent they are now, then something like Blade Runner could have been marketed to make back its budget in a week or two - as noted, it did fairly well in the context of that time in its first weekend.

But frankly, something like the Black Christmas remake leaves me shaking my head. It was scheduled for release on Christmas. So, all the last minute reshoot and recutting only make sense at all if you're trying to play the long game, doesn't it? I'm not in the business, but I know moviegoers and the shelf life of a Christmas themed horror movie dries up within the week after Christmas. It was a dumb release date to start out with, but only makes sense if you're shooting for a fast buck - in which case, why pay more money for reshoots and re-editing? - or you want the word of mouth to carry this over as a new holiday classic - in which case, why make changes that no one in the world seems to think are an improvement? - I can't make sense of it.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

To me, it seems like trying to make as good and interesting a movie as you can is what makes sense and leave first weekends to the marketing department. At least, that would be an incredible simplification of what I believe in. Not that I think the marketing departments are doing that grand a job...

... bringing it back to Blade Runner, there's some discussion on "Promoting Dystopia: Rendering the Poster Art" on the fourth disk, in which the banality of modern promotional designs. Some was about the DVD art which uses a new less interesting image than a familiar, even iconic, image for an older movie simply to justify people's jobs.

But it's not just that! I literally see poster art that makes me want to see the movie less than I did before seeing the poster.

Wow! I'm rambling a lot.

I agree that Hollywood past 1980 or so has avoided shooting for long-term success, especially in terms of genre movies and big-budget commercial movies. Not only do they shoot for short-term success, they do it, as you say, almost entirely with imitative movies, which seems to only rarely work out. Mind you, it worked out well for Roger Corman and possibly for Asylum, but not nearly so well for big-budget movies.

For what it's worth, I'd pay to see more gangster movies of the old-school mode. The Italians continued making them past The Godfather, but I'm not sure what extent they do anymore.

Neil Sarver said...

Sail, after my aimless rambling in my last comment, I'll keep this brief.

Obviously, we're in agreement with the question element. For what it's worth, I did get through the first two commentaries and Ridley Scott was definitely open to whatever interpretation people wanted to make in his comments there.

As a footnote, largely irrelevant to the matters at hand, the second commentary is clearly edited together from two recordings, one by Fancher and co-screenwriter David Peoples, and another by producer Michael Deely and production executive Katherine Haber. The former two are much more interesting overall, at least in terms of expanding on what they said above and beyond what's in the "Dangerous Days" documentary and I found myself wishing I could get that commentary in its entirity.

r_sail said...

I so very much appreciate Scott's ability to admit that there are other versions of the film and that peoples opinions on them will vary, and none of them are more or less valid than his. Not like Lucas or something.

I haven't gotten to the secondcommentary yet. I'm going with the Syd Mead (and co) comm first. Teh visuals of Blade Runner have always blown me away, as a child it's what I enjoyed about a movie I didn't understand. It's the reason I watched it every tiem it was on, even though most of it was lost on me. So, there's a strong interest there. I've been putting them on each night (that and Wong Kar Wai movies... been on a kick there) when I go to bed, so I'm sure I'll get to it soon enough.

Neil Sarver said...

Oh, I totally understand. Frankly, every aspect of Blade Runner is unusually fascinating and I'm quite looking forward to that commentary as well. Obviously, as a writer, I moved on to the writer commentary second.

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