LOS ANGELES in 2019 presents few surprises Traffic trangles are thicker and constant rain has replaced the smog, but a skeletal Bradford building still towers over a freakish mob in the high-tech skyline of Blade Runner. Not that the skyline appears very often in Ridley Scott's latest sci-fi film. The director instead focuses on crowded halls and packed rooms, using flying billboards and continuous drizzle to further enclose the outdoor scenes. The atmosphere is stifling; this future world is a cage.
The paranoia conveyed by Blade Runner's setting should argument the film's theme: The enemy has infiltrated our society and cannot be distinguished from us. This premise, which worked so well in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, fails miserably here. The dazzling effects and set are the entire movie; plot and characterization are virtually nonexistent. Scott, director of Alien, should know how to make believable sci-fi by now. For Blade Runner, he teamed with special effects magician Douglas Trumbull, of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the dashing Harrison Ford, star of last year's smash Raiders of the Lost Ark. But these three are not enough. The film lacks both focus and depth, and neither electronic gadgets nor excessive violence are sufficient to hold audience attention.
The film sets Ford, as a legal killer, or "blade runner," against the homicidal "replicates," genetically designed slaves. The replicates, laborers for colony planets, are designed with four-year life spans. Not surprisingly, some of these unfortunates resent their mortality and return to earth to meet their makers, hoping to steal the genetic secrets of their existence. The tend to kill anyone who gets in their way, which is why Ford gets called in.
A retired blade runner, fed up with the brutality of killing human-type creatures, Ford takes the one last big job reluctantly. His path is littered by a Raymond Chandler-esque parodies. Ford, a natural descendent of Chandler's tough but tender-hearted heroes, runs into more than one beautiful killer between shoot-outs. In Blade Runner, however, the ladies' stone-cold hearts are usually a symptom of automation, which takes the edge off the romance. The monotone Sam Spade narration also becomes ridiculous and does little to characterize a hero who relies on frequent drunken debauches to reveal his emotional depth. The poor guy is clearly troubled, but the theatrical shorthand of empty, albeit exotic, liquor bottles and frequent comments about how lousy it is to be a killer do not elicit empathy.
THE EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE, most notably in the extended final scene, further handicaps Blade Runner. If bits of sadism, broken fingers and the like, pass for drama, this film would be great art Everyone involved experiences enough pain to deserve sympathy Yet this merely highlights the film's lack of focus. Obviously the hero, Ford, first gains our attention; he's suffering, then he's fighting, and then he falls in love. Midway through the film however, the definitions become fuzzy, and a rather trite morality lesson begins. The killer monsters become the oppressed.
Even fantasy sci-fi films should have a capacity for growth, and even the most deadpan hero can learn to appreciate an enemy. Neither happens in Blade Runner. Ultimately, we learn that the truth has been clear to Ford all along, but realization comes very late and very awkwardly. Life and liberty are everyone's right, preach the robots, one of whom grabs a white dove from the air as he "dies."
WANDERING through Trumbull's fantasy world is enjoy, able, even if its inhabitants are not too interesting. The state-of-the-art technology employed in creating the nightmare city surpasses that of Star Wars, without the razzle-dazzle light shows and battle scenes. Blade Runner may take the prize for special effects this summer, even with stiff competition from Tron and E.T. Extra-Terrest-rial. In addition, Blade Runner's throw-away humor, such as midget vandals and 21st century Coca-Cola billboard ads, provide a touch of campy humor which does help to compensate for the film's flaws.
But marvelous toys cannot make this another Raiders. You leave this film feeling silly for having stayed, not even caring that Ford got the girl.