Blade Runner (1982)
★★ / ★★★★
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was given an assignment by the leader of the Tyrell Corporation (Joe Turkell): to hunt four replicants (Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Brion James, Joanna Cassidy), human-like creatures who lacked natural emotional responses as humans, and “retire” or assassinate them when they reached planet Earth. Rick’s mission became a bit complicated when he started to fall for another replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) who wasn’t aware of her true nature. The first time I saw “Blade Runner” back when I was in high school, I was far from impressed with it. But after having more experience with films, I decided to give it another chance. Unfortunately, I still think it’s an overrated postmodern science fiction picture. Obvious questions were left answered. For instance, how can we discern a replicant from people with abnormal psychology such as those diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder? Having only one factor that supposedly determined whether someone was a replicant or not was, for a lack of a better word, foolish. It didn’t sound like science and the screenwriting was to blame. Admittedly, it had influenced the look of gritty sci-fi movies that came after it and I was impressed with its visual and special effects. I felt like I was actually there. But the look of a movie isn’t enough to elevate a material that lacks an emotional core. The way Ridley Scott directed the project left me cold. I tried to buy the budding romance between Rick and Rachael but I didn’t feel friction and tension between them. Rick was supposed to be tortured for falling in love with a replicant and Rachael was supposed to find herself through Rick but their self-discoveries felt like a tertiary element because it lacked focus. As for Rick hunting down the four murderous replicants, I felt like the situation could have been solved in thirty minutes. I didn’t think they were menacing because I didn’t find them interesting. Their mission was to find a way to prolong their four-year lifespan. However, Scott didn’t invest the time for his villains to ponder over their existence. Instead, there was a formula. We observed the villain doing something out of the ordinary and then Rick appeared to perform his assignment. It was one dimensional and I was exasperated with its lack of ambition regarding character development. As a film about dystopian future, instead of looking forward and trying innovative things, it used a formula as a crutch and that’s what I found to be unforgivable. While it might have been visually inspiring, everything else felt insular and inaccessible. Audiences and critics expressed their distate for the film back in 1982 and for a good reason. No amount hyperboles regarding its visual mastery can persuade me that it’s an outstanding, well-rounded picture if I don’t feel something.
Dark City (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) woke up in a bathtub with barely any memory of where or who he was. The phone rang and a psychiatrist named Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) told him that a group of men called The Strangers were on their way to John’s hotel room to kill him. Another group that was after John was the police led by Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) because they believed John was a serial killer. Bumstead’s first lead was John’s wife (Jennifer Connelly). The picture’s greatest asset was its ideas that continued to challenge the audiences. The fantastic visual and special effects became secondary but they enhanced the experience of watching the city’s many mysteries unfold. We couldn’t help but question why every time it was midnight, time seemed to stop except for The Strangers and some select individuals. What were The Strangers up to? Specifically, what did they want from humans? Why were they living underground? How come we and the characters never see the light of day? I had my hypotheses because of one scene involving Dr. Schreber and a mouse attempting to find its way out of a maze. Crossing out my guesses one by one was half the fun. Like Bumstead, we were forced to pay attention to the small details and the implications in the dialogue. I loved that the film chose not to spoon-feed its viewers critical information. Its magic then comes from us as active participants. We become detectives and try to make sense of whatever was happening. “Dark City” had major negatives that I believe prevented the film from becoming a masterpiece as most people consider it to be. I had problems with the first half’s pacing. I think the picture spent too much time putting John in situations where he was confused and disoriented. I didn’t think it needed to hammer the fact that he had amnesia because the first scene did an excellent job setting up John’s psychological state. Furthermore, when the movie tried to be philosophical, it did not always work for me. For example, John told one of The Strangers that what they wanted could be found in the heart and not in the brain. Technically, everything we are and everything we can be is embedded in our brain. While the two undoubtedly need each other, the brain governs the heart. This can be observed when we tell ourselves to calm down when we’re angry and we find that our heart rates tend to decrease. In a way, when the film tried to be philosophical, I found it borderline cheesiness. Nevertheless, “Dark City,” directed by Alex Proyas, is a strong science fiction film. It was appropriately titled because it was literally dark, it had many mysteries worth exploring, and it had just about the right amount of menace to keep those with short attention spans engaged. I admired its ambition and film noir undertones.