Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bracing For A New "Blade Runner"

First "TRON" returned to the theaters, and now one of the other great 80s science-fiction sacred cows is following suit. It was announced a few days ago that Ridley Scott would be returning to the world of replicants and cyberpunk for a new "Blade Runner" movie. No, there are no plans for Harrison Ford to return yet. No, we don't know if this is going to be a prequel, sequel, reboot, homage, or something completely different. We just know that "Blade Runner" will be in the title somewhere, and 73-year-old Ridley Scott, coming off a string of middling Russell Crowe films and an ambitious set-in-the-"Alien"-universe-but-not-an-"Alien"-movie called "Prometheus" no one has seen yet, will be directing.

Do I sound skeptical? I honestly don't want to be, especially since many recent reboots and remakes have turned out to be perfectly good movies. And yet, I reacted to the news of the new "Blade Runner" with instant incredulity. They're making a new "Blade Runner"? Why on earth are they making a new "Blade Runner"? Of all the nostalgic 80s films, how on earth did this one rise to the top of the list to revisit? I mean, "TRON" was a cult classic, but at least the original was meant to be a popcorn film to begin with. "War Games" is a little obscure, but it has a premise with a lot of mileage left that would make for easy updating. "Blade Runner" is a much more difficult, cerebral piece of work, a detective noir dressed up in science-fiction trappings with an existential bent. Yes, it has been massively influential and much beloved by ardent fans. Yes, there are still places that the story could go, and the ending of "Blade Runner" provided an obvious jumping-off point for a sequel. But the only reason I can see that Scott wants to make another "Blade Runner" now, after thirty years, is the same reason the studios have been strip-mining the 80s for new franchises - they've run dry creatively and want to return to their older, proven successes.

And I'm highly doubtful that the new "Blade Runner" can recapture that strange, peculiar alchemy that made the original 1982 film so memorable. "Blade Runner" had the heart of a 30s noir film, but was set in a far-off future with a distinctly 80s sensibility. The heroine sported a costume with giant shoulder pads, villains looked liked they'd escaped from a glam rock band, and there were tons of gorgeous, elaborate practical effects. They look dated now, of course, but they also lent an extra layer of artifice and oddity to the cyberpunk setting that was a reflection of the 80s itself. "Blade Runner," as much as "E.T." or "Back to the Future," is a film that draws much of its power from being a piece of science-fiction of a certain age and time, already swimming in its own brand of nostalgia. An update or a reboot that tries to bring the "Blade Runner" universe up to date with the modern day would likely compromise or alter an important strand of the film's DNA. So already, the filmmakers are at a disadvantage here.

Ah, you might say. But they have Ridley Scott back in the director's chair, and he'll be sure to keep the film on course and true to its origins. Well, I think we can expect more of Scott's trademark atmospheric cinematography of murky city streets, but there's no guarantee he's capable of making a new "Blade Runner" in the same vein as the first one. And if he can't, he might not be self-aware enough to try to give us something new instead. As we've seen with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, whenever seasoned directors try to revisit their old films and old material, it's never quite the same because they aren't the same filmmakers they were when they were in their twenties and thirties. Sometimes this can be a good thing, like Alfred Hitchcock's second go at "The Man Who Knew Too Much." But these days, we're more likely to end up with the "Star Wars" prequels or "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Scott trying to recapture the spirit of "Blade Runner" may not go as well as he might hope, though I certainly won't begrudge him the chance to try.

It's still far too early to do much speculation about the project yet, but I'll be watching its development like a hawk. As always, I'd love it if this new film exceeds my expectations and Ridley Scott can prove he's still got it. But right now from where I'm sitting, this is a hell of a risk, and it doesn't help that reboot mania seems to be driving the decisionmaking more than any real creative impetus here. I hope that will change. I really do.

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