Friday, 27 March 2015

Dyspeptic in Dystopia: concerning the Blade Runner sequel

Afriend quipped online that he was excited to hear that the Blade Runner sequel would involve both the director of the original and one of its stars. I said I wasn't. He asked me why. My reply became too long for the comments box...

Legend has it that Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1982) is a work of individual obsession.[1] Director Scott insisted on shooting both in real places and on complicated sets, production was riven with disagreements, executives imposed changes that Scott resisted and later redressed in the Director's Cut (1992), and again the Final Cut (2007). Etcetera. Scott's insistence on doing things a certain way is what guaranteed Blade Runner its special aesthetic, which in turn is the reason many today call it classic.

One complaint about Blade Runner is that the movie is thin in terms of story and conceptual content. This is entirely consistent with the director striving to make the most of what he was good at: aesthetics; especially aesthetics with real-world groundings in the post-industrial city.

Scott's career began (and continues) with moving-image advertising. In advertising, the director can be almost completely concerned with aesthetics, since the object of any narrative (the product) is provided by the client, and additional content consists of cultural signs chosen primarily to enhance the impact of the product. Grand claims are made for Blade Runner as a radical reworking of the noir and science-fiction genres, but perhaps its historical significance is as an exemplar of a kind of film making in which bravura aesthetics stand in for the totality of a movie.

But I do like it. Mostly.

Today, Scott is the executive; the producer overseeing the sequel to his masterpiece. Fans are excited, but the rainy smog of a dystopian metropolis must conceal pitfalls.

Will the sequel be tailored to the demographic who are loyal to the original Blade Runner, or the demographic for sci-fi today (16-30 years old; mainly male?)? "Sci-fi" today tends to mean "sci-fi-action", for a generation reared in the matrix, tube-fed computer games and celebrity culture.[2] The Blade Runner sequel must therefore negotiate the twin threats of celebrity "buzz", and mind-numbing CGI.[3] To dodge either hazard, the new director will have to have reasons as powerful as Scott's were to go against the grain, and a contrariness and bloody-mindedness to match.

Perhaps the new director will take the sequel in the direction of complex, multi-dimensional characters, and stripped-down sets. Or explore the existential themes in a more Beckett-ian fashion. It would be interesting to know where Scott himself, as executive producer, figures in those judgements.

For me, Blade Runner is spoiled by misogynistic violence, although it's hardly unique in this, and any critique along these lines is usually drowned out by critics who are also fans. As far as the sequel goes, taking licence from an uncritical view of the sexualised female could mean that the misogynistic aspects become more pronounced, especially in our era of porn-norms.

The issue here is not (for me) more explicit sex or kinkiness, but the perverse strictures of American moviedom. These dictate that unless you want to be seen to be making an erotic film (and have your audience age-restricted accordingly) sex has to be combined with violence. For the widest possible demographic to be allowed to watch it, sex must be punished, especially if it's enjoyed by women.

(It doesn't matter if the females are replicants "in the story". Actual women are performing, and that's what the audience is watching.)

It's been announced that in the sequel Harrison Ford will reprise his role from the original Blade Runner. I speculate that in 1982 Ford may still have been swallowing down hard on the excess of cheese ingested for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars (Dir. George Lucas, 1977). Luckily, the dyspeptic "witheld" quality of his Blade Runner performance could also be interpreted as being "Eastwood-esque". Should he today become obsessed with a beautiful replicant (or whatever) it will be like John Nettles playing a man with a crush on a sex doll. This is neither dramatically nor erotically appealing. 

To me. 

...but that's just, like, er, my opinion, man (is more or less what I actually said).

[1] Ordinary legend has it, not "that" Legend (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1985)
[2] I'm joking, youngsters. I know the matrix is really a front for the Occupy movement.
[3] Why and how is CGI 'mind-numbing'? Another time; I want to keep this post snappy.

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