Thursday, May 06, 2004

Haunting Memories of Blade Runner

Haunting Memories of Blade Runner

Tyrell: We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.
Deckard (Harrison Ford): Memories! You're talking about memories!

I first watched Blade Runner back in hometown, at the Lido cinema, when I was a teenager. The Lido cinema--like many of those nostalgic movie houses of old with names like Cathay, Pavillion or Rex--is no more; but the memory of this futuristic movie lingers still in my mind.

Directed by Ridley Scott, it is perhaps the first sci-fi movie of the cyberpunk sub-genre. It was first released in 1982--more than twenty years ago. Based on a short-story by Philip K. Dick, the movie is about a futuristic cop ("blade runner") in LA played by Harrison Ford, whose job is to terminate renegade cyborgs or "replicants"--genetically engineered humans, built commercially by a Tyrell Corporation to work as slaves in hazardous colonies in space.

Tyrell: "More human than human" is our motto.

When I first watched Blade Runner on the big screen, I found it a bit too dark and moody; but its vision thoroughly mesmerised me. It was also through this movie, that I first got acquainted with Vangelis--the Greek musician responsible for its hauntingly memorable soundtrack. Ridley Scott's visual style--heavy with chiaroscuro, smoke and neon-lights--was very innovative for its day but since then it has been much copied and has become quite commonplace. Vangelis' synthesizer-based soundtrack is also familiar to our ears because it has been ripped by many TV commercials and especially by Hong Kong Cantonese video serials (usually the Love Theme).

Holden (cop, conducting the Voigt-Kampf test): You look down and see a tortoise, Leon. It's crawling toward you...
Leon (replicant): Tortoise? What's that?
Holden: You know what a turtle is?
Leon: Of course!
Holden: Same thing.

Ridley Scott and Vangelis teamed up again in 1492: Conquest of Paradise, about Christopher Columbus' discovery of the New World. Although the movie was widely panned, I enjoyed the dazzling visuals and the evocative soundtrack from this unbeatable team. (I watch movies for the cinematography and music--plot, storyline and acting are secondary to me).

Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and you have burned so very, very brightly...

Blade Runner certainly ranks among the best films ever made. Even after twenty years, there are still so many websites dedicated to this movie. Over the decades I have watched and re-watched this movie countless times--graduating from mouldy VHS versions to the Director's Cut on DVD.

Leon (replicant): Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch!

Today it is difficult to find the original theatre release--all the DVD and VCD copies of Blade Runner out there carry the Director's Cut. In fact it was Ridley Scott who first started this now common practice of releasing "Director's Cut". The original release had a noir-ish voice-over narration by Harrison Ford--which is actually my preferred version. There are some very memorable lines which are unfortunately missing from the Director's Cut:

Deckard (voiceover): Sushi. That's what my ex-wife called me. Cold fish.

It is interesting to note that neither the Scott nor Ford liked the voice-over narration, which was forced upon them by the studio--afraid that the audience would find the movie a bit too dull and confusing. But many die-hard fans are fond of it because it gives them an insight into the lead character's mind and like those 40s noir detective movies, draws the audience into the his world of urban angst and masculine loneliness.

Deckard (voiceover): The report read "Routine retirement of a replicant." That didn't make me feel any better about shooting a woman in the back.

Though it wasn't such a big box-office success, Blade Runner has become a landmark movie. Even without the benefit of today's CGI technology, its special effects still do not look dated. Its vision of a futuristic LA--a labyrinthine techno-slum perpetually drenched in acid rain--is unsurpassed.

Batty (replicant): I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain...

Even after all these years, whenever I find myself alone at night in some strange city--could be some neon-lit side-alley in Jakarta or outside some deliriously noisy go-go bar in Bangkok--scenes from Blade Runner would flash through my mind and the Vangelis soundtrack would immediately fill the air.

Chew: I just do eyes...just genetic design...just eyes...I designed your eyes...
Batty: If only you could see what I have seen with your eyes

I've been haunted by this movie for more than two decades now. Some movies are so powerful that they simply lodge in your mind, refusing to go; their images forever woven into everything you see. Blade Runner is one of them. And like those replicants in the movie, it looks like there's no escaping for me.

Gaff: It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?

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