You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Tech-Noir’ tag.

I had a strange thought some time ago. When movies like these come out, they aren’t the events that fans and filmmakers look back on and imagine. They’re movies with little concept of how much they’ll impact the world for the next thirty years and beyond. There is no futuristic city more quintessential than L.A. 2019, which isn’t far from now — but hopefully never comes to pass as it does in Ridley Scott’s apocalyptic cyber-fable.

The idea is so clean it’s almost painful. The story defines to me the beauty in science-fiction film, that of tight ideas which lead down fascinating roads of thought while maintaining and executing on a high concept premise. It isn’t just: “Bounty hunter tracks down and kills humanoid androids — STOP,” making it something like the more recent Surrogates, it’s “Bounty hunter tracks down and kills humanoid androids, an act that impacts the audience and characters on a moral and philosophical level, as these androids are distinguishable to humans only by a bizarre method of interrogation known as Voight-Kampff…”

In a recent interview with Cinemax to look back on Blade Runner during its 30th anniversary year, Ridley Scott revealed that Blade Runner was definitely his most personal film, though he followed that up with a moment of silence and thought and something like, “yeah, that’s it.” I suppose it makes since, not because Scott isn’t known for making films with very personal subjects (in that, he does everything from the Crusades and Columbus to espionage and modern warfare), but because Blade Runner is an emotional film that says quite a lot about humanity and violence — lofty themes atypical of science-fiction in film.

Because this is a sci-fi film, the emotion and that which says quite a lot are delivered in what we could call a non-traditional manner, considering the genres that do deal in these things more often than SF. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, or even character interaction, but there’s an unrelenting brooding about the atmosphere that looks pretty — though thirty years later it does show the construction behind its making — but hits you as a dead end for our kind, a shimmering monument to ourselves that’s choking out life and morality. Above all, it fills us with dread and loneliness, despite, or perhaps because of, the faceless crowds flowing in every direction, and being pelted with endless rain. It’s a perfectly impressionistic environment to house one man’s depressing, dehumanizing journey.

That’s exactly what Blade Runner is, this journey that chips away at Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), making it less of a dramatic tearjerker and more cerebral fare with a genuinely poigniant core. Characters struggle against forces beyond their control, whether it’s death or society (“If you’re not police you’re regular people”), and lose, even though the hero does achieve the dramatic need he establishes at the beginning of the movie.

LEGACY

Blade Runner also works because it’s one of the classic genre-mixers. It combines science-fiction with noir, a formula that’s sustained SF for years and years. In the context of this film, it’s a good blend, as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking hard-boiled is entirely justified in a bleak world where suddenly you can’t be sure of your own identity, and where the sky taunts you to join the “Off-World Colonies,” which I can’t imagine are any better than the ‘Hellscape’ of Los Angeles.

Anime in particular took to this new trope, referencing and embodying the movie in so many titles — but to no better effect than in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which does more than pay lip service to the visuals. In this 2004 sequel to Mamoru Oshii’s groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell, two police detectives scour the dark underworld of a futuristic Tokyo, maneuvering through yakuza strapped with illegal model cyborgs and the haunting, Gothic locales where minds can be easily lost to remote psychological warfare of the most invasive variety. Questions of humanity and the blur between flesh and metal — what Masamune Shirow refers to as the Man/Machine Interface — rise to the same effect, though in much clunkier, verbose terms.

Elements of Blade Runner have also found homes in America, in the oddest of places — anything from Mass Effect to Batman Begins. Science-fiction is great at capturing the imagination of fans and creators, and Blade Runner stands up there with Star Wars and Star Trek and frankly, has spawned better derivatives, which seem to be more venerating toward the source.

THE UNICORN

Maybe the greatest problem with the whole “Is Deckard a Replicant” thing is that he dreamt of a unicorn, and not an Electric Sheep. That would’ve solved it, put it down for good. Of course, there’s a bigger problem, that of harping on whether or not he’s a replicant, and proliferating the idea that it actually matters. What is gained from Deckard being a replicant? An idea, but only one that’s supplemental — the Philip K. Dick “aha!” at the end that gives us a notion about the world and the themes of the movie, a mechanic that Christopher Nolan most recently recycled in the ending of Inception. We are not meant to argue one way or the other, because that would be giving validity to something best experienced in its fleeting, epilogue form.

This is an issue of fandom, more specifically that of the science-fiction variety. This is odd because there are plenty of Philip K. Dick books out there with these kinds of endings — I think to Ubik immediately — but because there is no Ubik movie, there is no discussion, and Ubik is left alone as a thought-provoking, satisfying whole. It’s also an issue of medium, then. I think that we as audiences tend to value the literal over the figurative when it comes to movies, which unless established, portray things meant to be taken at face value. We’re seeing and hearing these ‘tangible’ things — they’re solid, concrete. When Deckard picks up that origami — it’s not the idea blending over the physical image and clouding our mind like it should.

This story format bias is interesting, but has only really haunted Blade Runner and a handful of others, as Blade Runner was brave but didn’t make its money back. It’s more of a cult success in line with The Thing and Streets of Fire, to name two movies from around that time, which often gives these movies its staying power. In the case of Blade Runner, it must just be that immortal question, that which is so backwards. In my mind, he’s a replicant insofar as he’s been dehumanized over the arc, but to say that creates a clash of how Scott sees the Android, and how Dick sees it.

In preparation for writing Nazi characters for his Hugo-award winning The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick did extensive and disturbing research, becoming fascinated by how robotic and callous people can be. He drew on that in his creation of the ‘andys’ in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, creating what were essentially empathetically-challenged humans, which Scott takes one step further. The replicants in Blade Runner are sympathetic, some more than others, but in the end, Roy is entirely human. But he’s a replicant. In the end, Deckard is a figurative replicant, but wouldn’t that mean that… he’s human? And besides, he’s also supposedly a replicant for real…?

I suppose it’s more to do with the blurring of the two. It’s not so much where one begins and ends, but that we as people are becoming colder, or have been cold and this city is a mirror, and this is how we can shoot a human woman in the back, in front of the endless crowds.

BLADE RUNNER, 2019

The future of Blade Runner is a recent development with the announcement of a sequel, which is definitely one of those sequels that’s always been ‘possible,’ but never really plausible. On one hand, it’s a shame, as Blade Runner has always felt more in line with great science-fiction literature, and should stand alone as a great story with a beginning, middle, and end, but on the other, this is great news.

Thinking on it, the things that made Blade Runner a true classic could be done again. It’s just… science-fiction in film isn’t a thinking man’s genre, and the current state of SF is best summed up in the Syfy Channel*: “We just don’t give a fuck.” Granted, there are surprises every now and then, and hopefully Blade Runner 2 will surprise us all. If it doesn’t, that’s fine. This is how I view things, after The Thing remake: I love John Carpenter’s The Thing as a fan of film. It’s a great movie with memorable characters and moments that shock and reinforce the bleakness. I love the new The Thing as a fan of general science-fiction because I love the story’s setup, and the things it can do. The Antarctic setting, the monster itself, the infighting — it’s not the best it’s been, but it’s more.

The world of Blade Runner has also had time to develop. Cyberpunk was born in 1982 and died ten years or so later. It saw a lot of classics, like Akira, the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell and its TV series Stand Alone Complex, Strange Days, Deus Ex, and even to some extent the Terminator franchise, though that’s been missing an entirely new world to populate. That’s what Blade Runner 2 can offer right now, when we know so little about it. A world — and if it’s anywhere near the original’s, it’ll be a good day for science-fiction fans.

But we’ll bitch anyway.

 

*Rant incoming

(Not that any future plans on this site should be trusted. I’d like to do that but once I said I’d do a retrospective on Mamoru Oshii and then I said I’d do a Ghost in the Shell retrospective and then a Wire recap… Someday)

Advertisements

A look back on the various movies that recall why I like movies any. This week, it’s one of the most important films from my childhood, and easily Cameron’s best directorial outing…

The Dreckulative One Year Anniversary has come and gone, and it has left me thinking about why I had started the site, and why I continue to post on it. The mission statement is at the bottom of the page here, and says something to the effects of: I want to legitimize the genre of science-fiction in film for the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Alright that’s fair – sci-fi gets a bad rap, and maybe undeservedly – but why? Why do I want to do something like that when I could just as easily – or perhaps, as some might say, easierly – not do it?

Because science-fiction is something that is significant to me, and I could never, ever say that to anybody except for you and through this medium of text. Out loud, that might sound strange. On paper, or screen in this case, it could almost be misinterpreted as mild. As a kid, I grew up watching what I consider to be the classics of sci-fi cinema, and this is the reason why I envision my idealized personal film (if ever I was to make them) as a science-fiction one, and why seven or so of my top ten are science-fiction. The other angles of the speculative fiction triangle, fantasy and horror, never appealed to me. Fantasy always struck me as uninteresting, and when Harry Potter came out and I distilled an entire genre down to wizards and trolls, that went doubly so. Fantasy to me was something for kids only. Of course, I never once thought that science-fiction might be too.

And horror never interested me because simply put – I was a pussy. I was afraid of many things that happened in movies: aliens (which is odd*), ghosts (because if they’re real, then that’s the worst thing ever), demons, and dying. I guess the last one is kind of understandable.

So fantasy was for children. Science-fiction on the other hand, was my bread and butter when I was a young youth, and even now as a youth. Movies like Robocop, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and the two Terminator movies convinced me that robots and science were cool and meant violence, which I also liked a lot. It wasn’t until I saw Ghost in the Shell (1995) in mid-high school that I understood the literary potential the genre had on the screen, but you’ll have to wait until the Ghost in the Shell Franchise: An Appreciation post for that story.

Even to this day, probably my favorite moments in movies are the future war sequences in the first two Terminator movies – seeing the field of skulls driven over by giant tank robots, all the pink lasers going back and forth with extremely unthreatening sound effects, the grittiness and the darkness, the overall spectacle – it’s a blast of nostalgia every time I even think of them. These were the moments that crystallized my early love for the genre, and captured my imagination unlike any other movie would until Ghost in the Shell 2.

Indeed the first two Terminator movies effected that adoration of science-fiction, and it didn’t hurt that they were such good films, it even got across to an idiot kid they were good. I remember not liking 2001, Blade Runner, Princess Mononoke, even the original Ghost in the Shell, because I was either too young or too stupid. No joke.

The Terminator is an incredible film, a perfectly paced chase movie with great imagery (the middle future flashback with the Terminator infiltrator shooting the mini-gun and all you see is his silhouette and two red eyes is pretty cool) and a memorable ending sequence assisted by robotic stop-motion. Michael Biehn, like Sam Neil, was to me the essential film hero, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was and always will be my favorite star. He’s got it all – the presence, the one-liners, the ability to dual wield a machine-gun and a shotgun – and the supporting cast was also good, especially Lance Henrikson, a fan favorite for his role as Bishop in Cameron’s next movie.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was all this and more. It was a relentless machine-gun hail of set pieces that seemed to be in some fierce competition with each other to be the absolute best. A mindless action movie can be a great movie if the action is good enough. Think Punisher War Zone. An action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think Die Hard, a thoughtful action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think First Blood. A sci-fi action movie that’s mindless can also be great – Doomsday – now let’s take the best of these categories: Terminator 2 is a thoughtful sci-fi action movie with action that is good enough, making it a triply great movie.

Dr. Silberman makes a reappearance as the snarky psychologist or whatever he is, and he’s the first antagonist Sarah Connor must deal with. Ultimately he is overshadowed by the T-1000, one of the coolest special effects and villains to hit the big screen. How could the outdated T-850 from the original film overcome this new threat? Well, plot armor… But also, with the help of both Sarah Connor and young John Connor, a character who’s never been as good as he was in the original T2. The grand sense of adventure in this movie moves the plot along with ease as these characters meet up and conflict, and we learn that the T-1000 isn’t just dangerous because he can be the floor – or you – but because he kills everybody he meets, and the Arnold Terminator is more human than meets the eye. Maybe not more human than human, but he’s only learning. He was designed to kill, and he’s just been told not to. Intriguing…

Maybe not high science-fiction, but it doesn’t need to be. It still makes for one hell of a movie. And the T-1000 is one hell of a villain. Not my favorite, though I do like Robert Patrick. I would throw the T-1000 in direct comparison to another robot villain I’ve been thinking about for awhile now after having seen Star Wars Episode III again recently, and reminding myself just how much I actually liked it – General Grievous. Visually, Grievous is one of the coolest designs for a character ever. But he was written as a coward, and that disappointed me heavily. He was not a threat, he was not imposing – when Obi Wan was going for the showdown halfway through the film, the outcome was a given fact, and there was no dramatic weight behind the spectacle of the fight. T-1000 on the other hand is somebody who you almost don’t want the characters to have to deal with, because you know that he’s capable of so much.

And he does do a lot to poor old Arnold, who loses a limb in his wordless fight with the other robot. They’re programmed against each other, and like computers, they don’t exchange pithy dialogue or play pranks like in T3. The duel at the end of the movie is also superior to the one that ends T3 – the effects are better, the choreography is better – and the environment it takes place in offers a very atmospheric and explosive setting for these two to duke it out in.

This was back when James Cameron was making movies to make good movies. With the release of Avatar, he seems to be making movies to make good money-making movies. Avatar wins the popular vote on financial terms, but it’s as smart as something that is not smart. Terminator 2 is smart, not necessarily intelligent, and succeeds – and exceeds – at everything it attempts. This is truly science-fiction filmmaking at its best.

*For a long time I was terribly frightened of aliens, and especially the aliens from the Alien franchise. I thought that if those things were real, then we were really fucked, and I had never ever seen a single alien movie. I’m sure that would’ve done me in – seeing what these aliens actually did to people. I just didn’t like how they looked, they were freaky. Then one day a switch flipped and I thought these things were so aesthetically pleasing perhaps they were worth a second look. To this day I’ve always considered the Alien franchise the best science-fiction has ever produced.

As though the genre produces movies

Archives

Death Threats

dreckfiction@gmail.com

Topics of Discuss

Follow?

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Advertisements