“Blade Runner” (1982) movie review

BadeRunnerStill a visionary masterpiece? On the rare occasion that I do not feel compelled to see one of the weekly new releases, I enjoy taking my Thursday night and watching an older movie that would be fun to review. As it turns out, it dawned on me that I had never seen Ridley Scott’s Neo-Noir Blade Runner despite the fact that it it a critically acclaimed film and highly regarded by many of my contemporaries. I have found that sometimes you have seen clips, heard people reference it, and simply hear the title so much that you think you have seen it. Then you realize that you’re familiar with the ideas, concept, or story but not the movie itself. So, I decided to watch it for Throwback Thursday and review it today. Unfortunately, I have been struggling with connecting with the film as so many other filmmakers and film lovers have. When watching a movie from 30+ years ago, I do my best to place myself in the shoes of the audience then. But, I am having difficulty this time. As a peer-reviewed cinema researcher, I believe that no matter how old a film is that it should still be relevant and impact audiences many decades down the road. Truthfully, I am not entirely seeing why it is such a regarded film still to this day. However, it is definitely an artistic masterpiece due to the technical elements of the production. So in many ways, yes, it still IS an iconic visionary masterpiece; but, fails to connect or resonate with audiences today.

Travel to a dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2020, or present day Detroit; take your pick. Many have fled the city for colonies on other planets or to the far north of the city to escape the rampant chaos. In the early to mid 2010s, Tyrell Corporation invented Replicants (or human-like androids) to carry out menial tasks and hard labor in a modern slavery fashion. Each unit was programmed to last for a specific amount of time (4yrs +/-). When a small band of Replicants decided that they wanted to take their lives into their own hands, they return to earth from the planet they were slaving way on and are determined to force Tyrell Corp to fix them. These Replicants led by Roy (Rutger Hauer) will stop at nothing. Over the years, when the Replicants began to pose a threat to humanity, special operations forces known as Blade Runners were trained to “retire” the androids. Former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been reactivated and forced to retire the small band of Replicants that pose a threat in the already dystopian Los Angeles. Follow Deckard as he conducts an investigation and is fearful of his own life as he attempts to track down and “retire” the remaining Replicants before they achieve long-lasting life. All seems pretty routine until he encounters a special Replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) at Tyrell Corp.

It doesn’t take long to understand that this film is a neo-noir detective movie that takes place in a dystopian future. Neo-noir is regarded as a film noir style movie produced after the classic film noir period (which was relatively short (~1940s-50s). This genre [although, technically, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that film noir is more of a style not a true genre] follows many of the same tropes and elements found in film noir (think Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd, Double Indemnity, classic detective movies, or Orson Welles). Often, the protagonist is a solitary individual who finds him or herself in over his or her head who faces or exhibits perpetual pessimism, fatality, or menace in a plot consisting of cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. From a technical perspective, film noir (or neo-noir) is stylistically dark, high contrast, low key lighting, contains strategic shadows, and shots filled with symbolism and dichotomy. The plots are usually slow burning and contain social commentary or a self-reflexive narrative. Once analyzing this movie as a neo-noir, it becomes more fascinating but still lacks that timelessness that can be found in some of the examples mentioned earlier in this paragraph. As a artistic film, I am impressed with the vision of Ridley Scott. As a classically-regarded and praised film, I am not very impressed. Although, I find that it is an excellent example of how many in the early 1980s viewed the future and that is is a fantastic example of neo-noir style filmmaking.

One of the biggest problems I had with the film is the fact that I had trouble loving the protagonist or hating the antagonist, or feeling sympathy for either of the aforementioned. In screenwriting, it is imperative that the audience make a firm connection with either the protagonist or the antagonist. Note: the antagonist in a film/neo-noir is not always the “bad guy.” Whereas even Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd made a strong connection with the audience in that we feel great sympathy for her plight, yet she is the antagonist in the story–or many agree as such. Harrison Ford’s Deckard in Blade Runner never quite garnered strong support from me in the same way his nemesis Roy failed to elicit disdain. Both Deckard and Roy are fairly static characters–meaning they lack dynamic development. There is, however, an indirect glimmer of character development in Roy at the very end that plays significantly into the plot for a brief but strategic moment. As regularly reoccurring throughout the narrative the character of Rachael is, she can almost be removed from the film and change little in the overarching story. For the most part, she simply exists and pays into Deckard’s motivation, but mildly so. She neither causes him to view Replicants differently or becomes his sole goal. It is clear from early on in the plot that Deckard already had reservations in retiring Replicants. Rachael simply amplifies or intensifies the feelings that were already brewing.

Looking back at movies from the mid to late 20th century that take place in the early to mid 21st century can be quite entertaining. Sometimes the future portrayed in the film, in one form or another, has actually come to pass. Although, other times, the future is incredibly inaccurate. The dystopian Los Angeles in Blade Runner is definitely the latter. Yes, there are themes of unchecked immigration, authoritarian power, and capitalism that can be read as not so different from today; but, for all intents and purposes, the future is much more grim in the movie than in today’s reality. Perhaps that’s why it can be difficult to connect with this movie. It takes place in a “future” that never happened, and probably won’t happen in the now near future. I think that’s the danger when writing or directing a movie set in a future that relies heavily upon technology directly related to the plot. Some movies can pull it off. Take Back to the Future for instance. It works because the technology in the culture of the future isn’t significantly integrated into the essence of the plot or are solely responsible for some dystopian world. The futuristic technology merely exists and helps to move the plot along. In Blade Runner, the whole reason for the plot is because futuristic technology in our present day has turned on its creators and became the catalyst for a world drowning in chaos.

If you have never seen Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, I definitely encourage you to do so, especially if you enjoy film or neo-noir movies. It provides us with a glimpse into how the world viewed a possible future in the early 1980s; and prompts us to think about life and how we might behave if we knew that we only had a few years to live. Survival of the fittest maybe? Or, fight or flight? If I was a psychologist, I think that this would be fascinating to analyze from a psycho-social perspective. At the end of the day, the film was quite the visionary masterpiece for its day and still remains a favorite of many filmmakers, scholars, and just film lovers alike.

*This review is in reference to the original theatrical release

“The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1” movie review

AllegiantPossibly a strong finish for the Divergent Games! Of course, we won’t know just how well it finishes until the second part. Surprisingly, The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1 provides fans with a good start to a well-executed conclusion. After the weak sequel, it was quite unexpected that the series would begin to complete this YA series on such a high note. Unlike the disappointing conclusion of The Hunger GamesAllegiant brings back your favorite characters you love and love to hate in a very satisfying ending in the dystopian adventure to rescue a people from themselves. At the end of the day, the Divergent series will never be as successful or generate the same fandom as The Hunger Games; but simply comparing the last two films in both franchises, this is clearly the superior finish (or should be). Although Roth’s socio-political themes and subtext were fairly clear, all be it still weak, in the first two films, the message is a little vague and incoherent in Allegiant. Two YA franchises down and one to go. We will just have to see what lies in store for the Maze Runner series. Just like the Divergent series has a week middle, hopefully the weak sequel in The Maze Runner will pave the way for a strong conclusion as well. One thing is for sure, Allegiant contains far more action than the previous films which almost makes the weak and still completely explained plot worth the approximate 2-hour run time.

The first part of the final chapter in the Divergent Series takes us beyond the wall into a desolate wasteland. Follow Beatrice/Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Peter (Miles Teller), and Christina (Zoe Kravitz) as they embark on a journey to seek help from the outside in order to stop the civil war in dystopian Chicago (or modern day Detroit). With newly asserted leader of the faction less system Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity turned Allegiant leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) at odds with one another, war is brewing in the streets and all hell is about to break loose. Barely escaping Evelyn’s security team, Tris and her band are rescued by a team from an organization of pure bloods who oversees the “Chicago Experiment.” This group of researchers and scientists led by David (Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris and her team to develop a plan to save Chicago, or so they think. When Four discovers what is really going on, he must convince Tris and the rest of her band of rebels to make right what is going incredibly wrong.

For me, and I am sure other critics, analyzing this particular series, The Hunger Games, and Maze Runner gets boring. Because, for the most part, they all have the same plot, same fallacies, and similar subtext. They are all extremely socio-political methods to spread the message that only teenagers are special and are capable of saving the world from corrupt adults. Although these movies are aimed at Generation Z (anyone born after 1995), they still attract attention from Y/Millennials (~1982-1994) and Generation Xers (~1965-1981). That is important because Generation Z does not have the spending power that generations X and Y do. In order to maximize the income potential of the films, the studios have to appeal to Generation Zers in such a way that it will also bring their Millennial friends and potentially Generation X parents. Since schools are constantly preaching the message that teenagers are the future, they are special, and uncontaminated by the greed of the world, it makes sense to create films based on books that carry that theme. The negative side effect to this approach is creating a generation(s) that automatically distrust adults and their respective decisions regarding the environment, politics, and society. Just as Allegiant depicts what happens when there is such great division among a people who view the approach to peace so very differently will devolve into a war-like state, it’s entirely possible that reinforcing this division between Generation Z and X/Y could symbolically arrive at the same precipice.

The production value and design in Allegiant definitely outshines the prior two installments. That is important due to the fact that Roth’s political subtext definitely becomes a little muddled in this last chapter. Although there is definitely way too much cheesy CGI, it is far less than the previous film. And other than some of the outlandish technology used in the story, for the most part, the defense, security, and surveillance technology used by the various characters makes sense and is perfectly believable in their universe. There is even a real reference to 21st century earth’s scientists experimenting with the human genome. That helps to create a sense of futuristic realism in the Divergent universe. One of the biggest problems I have with the plot is the still unexplained history of how exactly the Chicago experiment began. Perhaps the director and writers did not feel it was necessary to provide a clear history through character exposition, but I am still a little confused as to how the Pure Bloods and Damaged became so incredibly separate. Another thing, if there are thousands (if not millions) of Pure Bloods in existence, then why use the Chicago Experiment as a method to see if a Pure Blood can be born out of all of it??? I guess that is why it’s not worth overly analyzing films such as this one.

For what it’s worth, Allegiant is an exciting start to the last chapter in the Divergent Series! Far more entertaining than the last one. If you were disappointed by Mockingjay Part 2 than rest assured that you will definitely enjoy the conclusion of this franchise. Not a bad way to spend your Spring Break or an afternoon over the weekend. But, I wouldn’t bother seeing this film in IMAX or 3D. However, I can see some benefit to the experience of this film by watching it in a D-Box auditorium.

Insurgent

InsurgentFaction before blood, or in this case, genre before story. In a series/franchise that struggles to separate itself from other YA (Young Adult) novel-turned-movies, Insurgent fails to live up to the expectation and hype that it generated. To her credit, Shailene Woodley (Tris) gives it her very best; but, her constant struggle to support the dystopian narrative is quite evident. The quality of the movie should come of no surprise due to the teaser trailer’s sub-par, CGI-driven, look. For the lovers of digital effects, this movie is in no short supply. However, it is this type of over-the-top and, at times, gaudy special effects that creates a flashy movie nearly devoid of a substantial plot. In trilogies and franchises, it is vitally important that the middle film(s) advances the plot and highlights crises, chaos, confusion, and emotion instead of just being filler to bridge the gap between the beginning and the end. Clearly, this installment in the Divergent series serves as further evidence that sequels often suffer and rarely live up to the audience expectations setup by the previous movie.

This installment of the Divergent series entitled Insurgent takes us back to the walled city of former Chicago. After the massacre of Abnegation, Erudite leader Jeanine Matthew (Kate Winslet) asserts that the Dauntless faction is responsible for the deaths of nearly all Abnegation. Furthermore, she connects the Divergents to Dauntless and issues orders that they are to be seized or killed because of the threat they impose on life in the “peaceful” city. Tris (Woodley) and Four (Theo James) desperately search for allies in the looming war that appears to be manifesting with every passing day. Both Jeanine and Tris endeavor to uncover the answer as to what was so important that Tris’ parents sacrificed themselves. Many secrets will be revealed to friend and foe as the quest for answers to the past ultimately point to the future of the factioned and factionless. In this quest for freedom and power, new power-hungry peoples will rise and seemingly unsurmountable challenges will face our heroes as the people of ruined Chicago attempt to bring about peace to the city and eliminate any and all threats to the way of life that has been such a part of its citizens for many decades.

I don’t typically look to the YA genre for impeccable acting and narratives rich with subtext and substance; but I do look for high concept, well-crafted movies that keep my attention for a couple of hours. Just because a movie fits into the YA-Dystopian genre, doesn’t mean that it has to follow every trope and hesitate to introduce new concepts. Unfortunately, Insurgent just seems to be like most other movies in this genre and runs the risk of boring the audience. Keeping the audience’s attention is crucial, especially when many members of the audience already know what’s going to happen due to having read the books. Even though I believe that a movie based on a work of literature (or a play) needs to keep true to the source material, it is also equally important for the writer and/or director to add something new–something unexpected–to keep anticipation high and build suspense as the story unfolds.

Just like a singular cinematic narrative must, under most circumstances, follow the classic three-act structure, the same is also true for a trilogy. Paralleling the respective three-act structure in each individual film in a trilogy, the trilogy itself is encumbered to follow in suit. If you are unfamiliar, the three act structure consists of: The Setup, The Confrontation, followed by The Resolution (or realization). Within each of the acts are various plot points; and between the first & second and second & third acts, there are two crucially important, and major, plot twists to transition and advance the plot. In an ideal and well-produced trilogy, the first movie should be the “setup,” the second installment should serve as the majority of the “confrontation,” and the third movie should highlight the “resolution.” What we have with Insurgent is a movie that pretty much doesn’t advance the plot nearly as much as it should have. This leads to the poor pacing and mostly hollow narrative. There is some meat there, but not nearly enough to fill two hours. In other words, it feels as if the movie mostly just treads water instead of heading for the finish line.

Insurgent definitely contains some entertainment value; but, I cannot say that it was an entertaining as the previous installment. I have not read the books, but if this movie keeps true to the novel, then the writers and director should have taken the creative liberty and adding in material that would have increased the visual storytelling quality of the film, without breaking from the very essence of the story. Hopefully, this filler movie has paved the way for a dramatic and exciting finish with the next movie Allegiant. Comparing it to other sequels, it fairs about the same; but, if you have some extra time this weekend, it could serve to keep you mildly entertained for a couple of hours.