Blade Runner (1982)

Whew. So we all waited on tenterhooks through November to see if somehow Tyrell Corporation would be founded, develop and commercialize general AI, and then advance robot evolution into the NEXUS phase, all while in the background space travel was perfected, Off-world colonies and asteroid mining established, global warming somehow drenched Los Angeles in permanent rain and flares, and flying cars appear on the market. None of that happened. At least not publicly. So, with Blade Runner squarely part of the paleofuture past, let’s grab our neon-tube umbrellas and head into the rain to check out this classic that features some interesting technologies and some interesting AI.

Release date: 25 Jun 1982

The punctuation-challenged crawl for the film:

“Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced Robot evolution into the NEXUS phase—a being virtually identical to a human—known as a Replicant. [sic] The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonisation of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on Earth—under penalty of death. Special police squads—BLADE RUNNER UNITS—had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicants.

“This was not called execution. It was called retirement.”

Four murderous replicants make their way to Earth, to try and find a way to extend their genetically-shortened life spans. The Blade Runner named Deckard is coerced by his ex-superior Bryant and detective Gaff out of retirement and into finding and “retiring” these replicants.

Deckard meets Dr. Tyrell to interview him, and at Tyrell’s request tests Rachel on a Voight-Kampff machine, which is designed to help blade runners tell replicants from people. Deckard and Rachel learn that she is a replicant. Then with Gaff, he follows clues to the apartment of one exposed replicant, Leon, where he finds a synthetic snake scale in the bathtub and a set of photographs in a drawer. Using a sophisticated image inspection tool in his home, he scans one of the photos taken in Leon’s apartment, until he finds the reflection of a face. He prints the image to take with him.

He takes the snake scale to someone with an electron microscope who is able to read the micrometer-scale “maker’s serial number” there. He visits the maker, a person named “the Egyptian,” who tells Deckard he sold the snake to Taffey Lewis. Deckard visits Taffey’s bar, where he sees Zhora, another of the wanted replicants, perform a stage act with a snake. She matches the picture he holds. He heads backstage to talk to her in her dressing room, posing as a representative of the “American Federation of Variety Artists, Confidential Committee on Moral Abuses.” When she finishes pretending to prepare for her next act, she attacks him and flees. He chases and retires her. Leon happens to witness the killing, and attacks Deckard. Leon has the upper hand but Deckard is saved when Rachel appears from the crowd and shoots Leon in the head. They return to his apartment. They totally make out.

Meanwhile, Roy has learned of a Tyrell employee named Sebastian who does genetic design. On orders, Pris befriends Sebastian and dupes him into letting her into his apartment. She then lets Roy in. Sebastian figures out that they are replicants, but confesses he cannot help them directly. Roy intimidates Sebastian into arranging a meeting between him and Dr. Tyrell. At the meeting, Tyrell says there is nothing that can be done. In fury, Roy kills Tyrell and Sebastian.

The police investigating the scene contact Deckard with Sebastian’s address. Deckard heads there, where he finds, fights, and retires Pris. Roy is there, too, but proves too tough for Deckard to retire. Roy could kill Deckard but instead opts to die peacefully, even poetically. Witnessing this act of grace, Deckard comes to appreciate the “humanity” of the replicants, and returns home to elope with Rachel.

In the last scene, Gaff hints to Deckard with this unicorn origami that Deckard himself is a replicant.


P.S. This series uses “The Final Cut” edit of the movie, so I don’t have to hear that wretchedly-scripted voiceover from the theatrical release. If you can, I recommend seeing that version.

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The Museum of One Film

Years ago in grad school I heard a speaker tell of a possibly-imaginary museum called the Museum of One Painting. In that telling, the museum was a long hall. The current One Painting (they were occasionally switched out) was hung at the far end from the entrance. As you walked the length of it, to your left you would see paintings and exhibits of the things that had influenced the One Painting. Then at the end you would spend time with the One Painting. On your way out, to your left you could see paintings and other artworks that were influenced by the One Painting.

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Ah yes, I believe this was made during Henry Hillinick’s Robbie the Robot phase.
Hat tip to the awesome Matte Shot.

I loved this museum concept. It was about depth of understanding. It provided context. It focused visits on building a shared understanding that you could discuss with other visitors, even if they’d gone a week before you. My kind of art museum. I fell in love with this concept pretty hard and began to believe in the intervening decades that it was just a fable, constructed by wishful museum theorists.

Nope. Today I searched for it, and found it. It’s real. It’s housed in a small building in Penza, Russia. The reality is a little different than how I had it described (or, rather, how I wrote it to memory), and I think it’s only in Russian (mine is a pittance), and given recent politics I’m not sure I’d be welcome there; but its beautiful core concept is intact. A deep dive into a single painting at a time.

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Just a quick 9-hour drive from Moscow.

The whole reason I bring this up on the blog is because the awesome American cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse is doing something like this, but for film. And not just any film, but for the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. Their Road to Nowhere series examines dystopian films that influenced or were influenced by Blade Runner. Some you probably know and love. (Metropolis! Logan’s Run! The Fifth Element!) Some I’d never heard of but now want to. (1990: The Bronx Warriors! Hardware! Prayer of the Rollerboys!)

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I try not to be a gushing fanboy for anything on this blog, but I gotta hand it to the Drafthouse for this. This is my kind of film nerdery. If I was to run a film series, it would be just like this, only with some sci-fi interface analysis and redesign meetups thrown in for good measure. Just thrilled that it’s happening, and there’s a Drafthouse near me in San Francisco. (Sorry if there’s not one near you, but maybe there’s something similar?)

Anyway, I was not paid by anyone to write this. Just…just happy and nerding out. Hope to see you there.

Alien / Blade Runner crossover

I’m interrupting my review of the Prometheus interfaces for a post to share this piece of movie trivia. A few months ago, a number of blogs were all giddy with excitement by the release of the Prometheus Blu-Ray, because it gave a little hint that the Alien world and the Blade Runner world were one and the same. Hey internets, if you’d paid attention to the interfaces, you’d realize that this was already well established by 1982, or 30 years before.

A bit of interface evidence that Alien and Blade Runner happen in the same universe.