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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, October 14, 2013


In the essay TO THE POWER OF XYZ I said:

In contrast, when I review the 1982 BLADE RUNNER I don't doubt that I will judge it to be a combative work, wherein such characters as Rick Deckard, Pris and Roy Batty take on the aura of spectacular violence.

I have finally reviewed the "Final Cut" edition of the film, but noted in the course of the review that there were many aspects of this multidimensional work that I knew I could not analyze in one review.  One of those is the film's relation to spectacular violence.

Of the Dick novel I wrote earlier:

...in Dick's ANDROIDS, the violence is purely in the functional mode, even if the combatants are dueling with laser tubes.  It's rare to find megadynamic forces handled in a humdrum functional manner, though Dick's motive for so doing may somewhat akin to Heinlein's reason for not winding up STARSHIP TROOPERS with a big colorful battle.  In both cases, however different their themes, the authors sought to make their protagonists seem more "ordinary" despite their marvelous surroundings and/or resources. 

Of course, prose-authors can be as "humdrum" as they like with regard to potentially spectacular effects.  Authors attempting to craft dramatic works frequently eschew spectacular violence in order to communicate to readers the "seriousness" of their efforts. 

The same strategy appears in the medium of film, but it's rare in those films aimed at a mainstream audience. There can be little doubt that director Ridley Scott's aims in 1982's BLADE RUNNER were no less serious than Dick's.  But since Scott sought to please a mainstream audience of filmgoers, he surely knew that he had to give them spectacle to keep them interested.  The picayune scene of Dick's novel, in which Deckard and Batty shoot at each other with laser tubes, is therefore replaced by a long chase scene in which Batty injures Deckard's gun-hand, and then pursues the armed-but-awkward policeman, continually mocking Deckard's inability to kill him.  In one scene Deckard does get in a couple of good blows with a pipe, but in my system his ability is no better than "exemplary."  In my review I pointed out that Deckard is similarly enabled by darn good luck in his encounters with other replicants, in three scenes that resemble nothing in Philip Dick's book.

Scott's use of action-adventure motifs is certainly ironic. Deckard's supervisor calls Deckard a "one-man slaughterhouse," but in all four of the blade runner's encounters with the replicants, they all beat him down and are capable of easily killing him, and Deckard is saved only by contingent circumstances, not by his own skills or powers.

When I first viewed the film, I was particularly perturbed by the scene in which Deckard is almost killed by the acrobatic Pris.  In this scene she seems close to breaking the blade runner's neck, but for no clear reason she lets him go, retreats a few paces, and then tries another acrobatic attack.  This allows Deckard the chance to kill Pris.  The film gives no good reason as to why she breaks off her attack, so that I can only assume the writers did this to "save" the hero so that he would be alive to face off with Batty a bit later.

Nevertheless, even though Deckard's formidability never reaches the higher regions of megadynamicity, as with Harrison Ford's two most famous heroic roles, I would still regard BLADE RUNNER's demihero-protagonist to be a combative one.  I've stressed in other essays that it's not strictly necessary that the protagonist should win all of his battles in order to qualify the work as one in the combative mode, and Deckard's record in this regard may be one of the least successful ever seen in a mainstream-oriented film.  Nevertheless, the violence does go beyond the limits of the functional mode seen in the novel, and so even Scott's slight ironizing does not remove BLADE RUNNER from the mode of the combative.

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