If you ever watch this again, you never saw it before

some1Last night I watched Someone To Watch Over Me and The Front Page, a double-bill like in the old days when I used to have plenty of time for such things. There was no calculated decision regards which two films would make a good double-bill (i.e. Jaws and Alien = two films about Killing Machines!) – this was one of those accidental things, simply two of my recent purchases. Someone To Watch Over Me on Blu-Ray came in a box alongside with Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator a few days ago (yes folks more noir reviews coming soon-ish), and The Front Page on Blu-ray came from Amazon Germany (‘ExtraBlatt“). I’d noticed the latter had come back in stock at last, and as its one of the few Jack Lemmon films available on disc that I don’t own (and a Billy Wilder film at that) I thought it was past time I bought it, especially as it was just about £7.00. Now that I think I’ve pretty much caught up with these Lemmon/Wilder films available only in foreign territories (The Fortune Cookie last December and Avanti! sometime before that) no doubt Arrow or Eureka! will announce UK releases shortly.

I remember watching Someone To Watch Over Me back in 1987 when it came out at the cinema, and later on VHS- yeah the ‘old days’ indeed. At the time it was a very odd film for Ridley Scott, coming after Alien, Blade Runner and Legend and at a time when Scott was claiming he wanted to be the ‘John Ford of genre films’ or something of that nature. It was obvious even at the time that after the financial and critical drubbing of both Blade Runner and Legend, Scott was in the movie industry sin-bin and was having to find lower-budget, less-ambitious film projects in order to get a gig. Its funny now, with the hindsight of his later filmography to put things in better perspective, how at the time Someone To Watch Over Me seemed to me such a betrayal of Scott’s promise and ability. Its one of his weakest films, as low as any of his films are regards ambition or originality, and was clearly so at the time. Sure, it looked pretty, but it was more pretty vacuous, and even though Scott would later make worse films these days Someone To Watch Over Me is pretty low in the list of his movies that people even remember.   

I hadn’t seen the film myself in maybe twenty years, so I was pretty shocked when watching it how much came back to me, even being able to predict what characters were about to say (I could recall some dialogue verbatim) and elements in the plot and shots etc. What can I say, I must have had a better knack of committing films to memory back then. Its unfortunately one of those films that doesn’t really improve with age, so there’s no re-discovery of a lost classic here. Indeed, I had one of those moments when watching this last night that I wondered if I would ever watch the film again, which is a bit disconcerting when I’ve just plumped down money for a new Blu-ray edition, but being an Indicator release it does come with a few special features, including a new audio commentary (by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which will give me reason for at least one more watch). Anyway, I’m certain I’ll watch it again someday regardless of commentary track; its a Ridley Scott film, isn’t it? There’s a certain fun in spotting Blade Runner-lite shots in the location shooting and the cast is pretty great; I never understood why Tom Berenger didn’t have more success (although I guess maybe flops like this one did more harm than good) and Lorraine Bracco is quite terrific. Mimi Rogers is great too; its not a bad film, but its Ridley Scott, you know? Its my own personal baggage from when the film originally came out, I just can’t shake off the feeling, even after all these years, of comparing lightweight stuff like this to Alien and Blade Runner.

But whenever I do re-watch this film, it always reminds me of those days when Blade Runner was such a flop and critical failure, before it was ‘reappraised’; these days people forget how badly that film fared and how disastrous Legend was with its heavily-delayed American release and soundtrack change and how it was so badly edited. I so clearly recall the years when Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘cult film’.

Here’s another thing: when I first watched this film in 1987, it was way before Babylon 5. Andreas Katsulas, having to make do with a badly underwritten part here as bad guy Joey Venza, would be magnificent under lots of make-up as Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5, usurping expectations over a number of seasons turning a villain into a deeply nuanced hero. Its difficult to watch this film knowing, now, just how good an actor Katsulas was and how he deserved a better script here. Venza is terribly one-dimensional; there’s no attempt to add any depth or substance to him: he’s simply background noise, a plot mechanism to get Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers together. Its not that Someone To Watch Over Me is lazy film-making… or maybe it is, maybe its indication that Scott was just working as director for hire, here, because usually however simple a Ridley Scott film can be, usually there’s some nuance and depth, some sleight of darkness in his better films. 

Films are of their times and when examined on that criteria alone, something like Someone To Watch Over Me makes sense when considering Scott’s film career-path. I wonder what might have been had audiences been ready for Blade Runner and had Legend been given a decent chance (you can see Blade Runner‘s failure all over Scott’s second-guessing regards Legend, even in its European cut). Would Scott really have turned towards more low-key, real-world character drama, or would he have been off making another sci-fi or historical epic? I remember James Cameron commenting (I believe it was after T2) that he was weary of big blockbuster film-making and wanted to turn to a smaller, more intimate film and he never did (unless Titanic was his twisted idea of ‘intimate’). Likewise George Lucas always went on about making smaller, more experimental films after Star Wars, and he never did (well I guess one could describe Howard the Duck as an experiment). But Ridley Scott did, even if it wasn’t actually wholly by choice or totally successful. His road back to genre films was a long one and itself not wholly successful (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant)- it was too long a road, perhaps, over too many years. Maybe I should have guessed that back in 1987 when I watched Someone To Watch Over Me with such puzzled frustration- I can make my peace with the film now; its not a bad film, really, but it does have whiff of DTV/ ‘cable movie of the week’ about it, and for a Ridley Scott film that is… well, that’s about as bad as it gets.

 

The Good, the Bad & the * Ugly True Romance

true4kversOh dear, what has happened to my beloved Arrow Films? Is the boutique Blu-ray/DVD market suddenly on a slippery slope? A 4K release of True Romance, of both cuts and with a raft of extras making it pretty much definitive, is surely something to be championed and praised loudly, considering where physical media is going lately, but this release is blighted by some of the worst artwork I’ve had the misfortune to see in all my many years. It also appears to signal a cautionary note regards possible future 4K releases of The Thing (and maybe, even, Ridley Scott’s Legend if the rumours are valid) if they follow a similar release path to this one.

Zavvi (yeah, boo hiss, everyone) bought Arrow Films recently and its pretty clear now how things are going to pan out. Announced for release mostly as Zavvi exclusives True Romance will be released as a 4K limited release steelbook with lots of tat, a 4K steelbook minus the tat with a slimmed-down 30-page booklet (both of these the Zavvi exclusives), and seperate 4K and Blu-ray limited editions (with the ‘proper’ 60-page booklet) which will presumably turn up on Amazon for pre-order next week. Luckily I couldn’t care less for the £40 and £30 steelbooks but even the tat-less 4K set is £30, and with cover artwork as ugly this one’s got they are perhaps pushing people into the direction of the steelbook, but only braver than I risk ordering from Zavvi (not renowned for the best mail packaging around).

true4k5Of course what’s on the discs is what matters but I do wonder who’s in charge of the art direction on this release and greenlit the poster art. Likenesses are pretty poor and worst of all I don’t think any of the designs -even the steelbook, which is the least ugly one of the bunch- actually feels right for the film. It rather seems something of a fudge and a surprising one, as Arrow in the past has been pretty good with their packaging (although their Blu-ray of The Thing was borderline bad, now that I think about it). The thing (sic) that concerns me (other than the Zavvi exclusivity, which was inevitable really) is the sudden tendency to load the releases with tat in order to justify a higher price-tag (their American Werewolf in London was another example of this). Is this just a refection of a last-ditch effort to save physical media?

Can’t imagine Indicator going that way with Columbia Noir tee-shirts and badges etc but I suppose this is the influence of Arrow’s new owner: Zavvi is infamous for re-packaging the same old discs with all-new ‘premium’ packaging, especially regards steelbooks which for some reason seem to drive fans/collectors into a buying frenzy. I’ve bought the odd steelbook in the past but have never second-dipped a film just for the new packaging (I’ve not been in the slightest interested, for instance, in Zavvi’s recent steelbooks for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, as the discs are just the same as I already have and you’d have to be out of your mind (or under the influence of too much Soylent Green) to spend £25 just for fancy re-packaging, no matter how much of a die-hard fan you might be – and believe me, few are as die-hard regards Blade Runner as I). Its surprisingly easy to part fools with their money, maybe, but I fear for where this indicates physical releases going.

As far as True Romance goes, its possibly my favourite Tarantino flick (if only because it was directed by a better director) and I’m really pretty chuffed about it, especially in 4K, and the extras look really fine. I never bought the film on Blu-ray so that’s a nicer bonus as it will be nice to watch the film again for the first time in quite awhile… but man, this artwork…. 

 

Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards

br2049storybAnother Blade Runner 2049 artbook. The irony doesn’t escape me- if any film ever deserved an ‘art-of’ book it was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; even its fiercest critics would admire its visual strengths and production design (whilst also damning it for it, usually). Back in 1982 a strange publishing deal had some weirdly-fashioned tie-in books for sale, paperbacks of the screenplay with accompanying storyboards, and a sketchbook, but each was fairly lacklustre compared to the ‘art-of’ books that the Star Wars films were getting. By the time Blade Runner recovered from its dismal release and was reappraised as a classic with a sizeable audience, the rights issues with the Blade Runner Partnership and the creatives involved (Syd Mead etc) had grown so complicated that attempts to publish a genuine ‘Art of Blade Runner’ always hit a licensing brick wall, or so I’ve been led to believe.

But here we are, just over four years after that unlikeliest of sequels, BR2049 was released and we have a third BR2049 art book. Following on from ‘The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049’ and last year’s ‘Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked – The Art’ we get ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards’ which is a pretty much self-explanatory title. All three books are handsomely sized and presented hardbacks; BR2049 has certainly gotten plenty of love from the publishing side. Indeed, my one major issue with this storyboards book is that it really is missing  the films screenplay, if not part of the storyboard presentation then certainly as an appendices at the rear of the book, so my natural suspicion is that a ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Screenplay’ book is almost inevitable. Titan Books, I’m leaving room on my shelf.

On the one hand, I am reassured that there is still interest in BR2049 sufficient enough to warrant these books, various comic tie-ins and an anime series, so that while a third film in the franchise is unlikely in the extreme there is still yet some life in it. As someone who well remembers that post-1982 wilderness when I used to name Blade Runner as my favourite film and always get puzzled blanks in response, it still feels like I’m now in some alternate reality worthy of Philip K Dick (The Man in the Blade Runner Castle, anyone?). The very existence of BR2049 alone has me sometimes reacting with a ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming.’

So forgive me for just going with the fact that we now have three artbooks for BR2049 and that we dare not discount more books in the future (we already have a few collections of essays etc). Maybe before physical media shuffles off this world we might get a BR2049 SE on disc with documentaries and commentaries: hey Charles de Lauzirika are you busy these days I have a project for you (well, one can dream, but as I’m possibly living in a Blade Runner Castle-alternate reality lets go with it).

How NOT to watch Blade Runner, Part Two

blade-runner-76Clearly these ‘reaction videos’ on YouTube are not for me. On the one hand, I cannot understand peoples fascination for them, albeit there is clearly an audience for them and those that put them up must evidently get some financial reward for doing so. I just don’t get it- why watch someone watching a film? What thrill does one get from seeing someone over-react in shock/horror at what they are watching? Do people really believe these YouTubers have never seen some of these iconic movies? And if they somehow haven’t seen the films or heard anything about them (I mean, The Empire Strikes Back and Vader’s ‘identity’- have they been buried under a rock or something?) then doesn’t that mean they are EXACTLY the least likely to be worthy of making a reaction video?

Anyway, regards Blade Runner: running (sic) through some more various reaction videos I’m just more disheartened about how people watch the movie and what it possibly means re: how people watch films in general. I’m sure its no definitive example but goodness it made me think. Actually, it didn’t just make me think, it made me rant in various texts to my old friend Andy who watched Blade Runner with me back in September 1982. Andy just seemed amused at my sense of insult and affront, possibly winding me up with his texts back, but at one point I was like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction quoting his ‘furious anger’ speech. Some of these YouTubers seem very pleasant and all, but the Nexus 6 bit refers to a model line, not a supervillain team (imagining a team of Reps calling themselves the Nexus Six is very Marvel, maybe) and one very nice guy totally missing the point of the movie when he was absolutely convinced throughout the film that Rachel was human (and everyone in the film referring to her as a Replicant apparently lying) – I don’t understand it. 

My suspicion is that its all part of the deep fake of these reaction videos. In this day and age, how do you avoid spoilers for old movies even if you’ve never seen them? So maybe these guys getting confused or missing the point is a deliberate ploy to make it seem like they genuinely haven’t seen what they are watching. When they surely, obviously, have: even some of the ‘Oh My Gosh!!’ reactions seem so wild they have to have been rehearsed (watch some of the The Empire Strikes Back reaction-videos of no doubt, ahem, ‘aspiring’ actresses being horrified by who is Luke’s father). I think some of my horror is just.. its all madness out there, you know? Social media is just so INSANE. 

I have the digital footprint of a gnat. Clearly I’m from some other century.

(Actually, I really am, now that I think about it. That possibly explains things a little).

The Absurdity Of Everything.

I sometimes wonder… on one of my texts to Andy, I asked him what he thought Philip K Dick would think, had he lived to see the world we live in today. Even ignoring all things Covid, the political landscape in America alone… well, Andy balked at that (No! Thats too much!” he replied, refusing to even give it consideration and adding that he was reaching for a drink instead). Sometimes though, I really feel like I’m living inside a PKD novel that I haven’t read yet. And yes, its probably titled The Absurdity Of Everything.

Godzilla vs Kong must wait

godzillakongI want to watch Godzilla vs Kong (released this week on home rental) but I think I’ll save my £16 to put toward the 4K release in mid-June. The studios just haven’t got their rental pricing right for these new hybrid-release movies: the only film I could conceivably be suckered into paying that price for a rental for would be Villeneuve’s Dune if I absolutely can’t see it in a cinema come October.

I understand some premium level of pricing is inevitable and even necessary but I can’t see how its really going to work regards recouping the mounting costs these films have while waiting for release. How can they possibly break even whatever they charge, so shouldn’t they be aiming for something more towards the impulse-rental level? Maybe something like £10 would be sweet spot enough to tempt those like me in to giving it a rental and get sufficient rentals enough to be worthwhile. I don’t know.

My worry is where all of this leaves these franchises once the dust clears. How in the world Dune Part Two ever happens is quite beyond me, and I’m rather worried about the gap in time between the productions if they even get Part Two greenlit next year (Dune was completed last year). Will Villeneuve be enthusiastic following the HBO Max nonsense, or will he jump ship as Christopher Nolan is rumoured to have done?

You know, all this actually makes me thankful, in a weird way, that BR2049 proved a box-office failure back in 2017. Had it been successful enough to warrant a third entry in the Blade Runner franchise, it would possibly have been caught up in all this, even had it been still in pre-production. How do ‘big’ films get made in times such as this? 

Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2004/2007)

alex1…except that it wasn’t really a Final Cut at all, because Oliver Stone followed up with another cut (‘The Ultimate Cut’) a few years later, which was actually little shorter. In all, I think there are four different cuts of this film and only one of them, the theatrical cut, is currently available on Blu-ray here in the UK (I imported this ‘Final Cut‘ several years ago since when its languished on the Shelf of Shame until now). I think the theatrical version was 175 minutes, the Directors Cut several minutes shorter, the Final Cut is the longest version some 45 minutes longer than the theatrical  and the Ultimate Cut several minutes shorter than that- the biggest difference between all the versions (other than additional violence and gore) seems to be the sequencing of scenes and how Stone juxtaposes those sequences within the internal chronology of the film. 

I’m sitting here reconsidering how I started this post and where I’m going with it. Maybe it would be especially apt to revisit this post and post alternate versions, reordering paragraphs, remarshalling my train of thought. Stone himself would possibly appreciate the irony of that. 

It would be especially interesting to sit down with Stone and discuss this film and his experience making it and re-making it. As a movie lover, I think there is something almost endearing about a film-maker’s fascination with a project driving him to rethink himself, and not quite let go of something. I think Oliver Stone didn’t quite succeed in making the Alexander he dreamed of, and his frustrations drove him to return to it, trying to perfect it. It is clearly a passion project, and such films are not always the best films but they can be the most interesting. Sometimes I’d rather watch passion-project failures than formulaic by-the-numbers successes. Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is quite superior to the theatrical version I saw in the cinema- Stone was under immense pressure to trim the film down to a manageable length and he discusses this in the opening section of his commentary on this disc. Its indicative of the friction between the artist and the businessman, and clearly one of the boons of the home-video market of the past few decades on VHS/DVD and Blu-ray was the opportunity for film-makers to release longer cuts of the films, most of which are superior (but not always). Whether such opportunities will continue in the shift towards streaming is questionable.

I will say I really enjoyed this version of the film. How much of a success the film is, is probably a subject of some debate; there is always a sense of Oliver Stone reaching for something and not quite getting there- some sequences are breath-taking and others feel ill-judged, but you always feel an immense passion behind the film, for good or ill. I recall at the time the film came out in 2004, much criticism of Colin Farrell in the title role, but funnily enough, all these years later it doesn’t seem such a problem at all (how incongruous Kirk Douglas as Spartacus or Richard Burton in his own Alexander film? After awhile does it really matter?). I think Farrell does very well here and his Alexander lingers in the mind afterwards, so does Val Kilmer as his father, King Phillip- perhaps it is something to do with additional scenes or their sequencing in this version: its been so many years since I saw the theatrical cut that I cannot really vouch for any differences between the cuts. Maybe its just a case that Revisited works better, that Stone got the edit right. 

There’s some big names in this film (Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson and Anthony Hopkins) and while its really a European film rather than an old-style Hollywood epic, it does seem something of a throwback to the big epics of the old days with such big names attached. It results in an odd tension within the film, of the old and the new: the incongruity of all those accents and Western actors of various nationalities appropriating Greek characters and the English language and text in scenes in ‘an enlightened, modern film’  feeling wrong: albeit inevitable, while attempting to visually be as authentic as it possibly can the film flounders on the edge of farce. While opening the film to criticism, I guess the old adage “its only a movie” holds so very true, and certainly, one could not expect someone like Oliver Stone to make some dry historical epic; this is Cinema.

To fully understand and ‘know’ such a complex character as Alexander and his achievements, you really need a time machine. In that sense, the real meaning of the film is in its tensions between West and East, in how Alexanders generals feared that Alexander had ‘gone native’ and forgotten his Greek origins, and how that makes Alexander seem to us, unconsciously in his part or not, a very modern individual. That might well be a Western, twentieth-century interpretation that gets it absolutely wrong, but Stone seems to paint a picture of Alexander of a man out of time. He’s us, in the Ancient World. Trying to bring modern sensibilities to it, trying to assimilate West and East. But there is also the sensation that’s just us appropriating Alexander, and one of the complexities of the film that nettles at Stone. Alexander and the Greeks were Pagans, who absolutely believed in their Gods and believed  that there was a limit to their world, physical as well as intellectual, that was a much smaller world than the world we know. We cannot really get into that mindset. Some things are human and universal, but other things are alien and unique: as I have written before, the distant past is as much science fiction as any story of the far-future.

Perhaps oddly, I think my favourite scenes of the film are those featuring Anthony Hopkins’ aged King Ptolemy that pretty much bookend it; Ptolemy’s reminisces of his old friend Alexander, trying to grasp who/what Alexander was or what his achievements meant, so likely mirror Oliver Stone’s struggles, and indeed those of historians for centuries. In some ways its trying to understand the human condition, our mortality and the impermanence of everything we create. Ptolemy in Alexandria of 285 BC, some forty years after Alexander died, is one of the last people to have lived in Alexander’s time and to have known him, so his thoughts would be the most definitive, but of course Alexandria itself would eventually fail, and the memoirs Ptolemy put down for posterity would themselves be eventually lost. In just the same way as Ptolemy’s effort failed, its impossible for Stone’s film to properly define who Alexander was;  all things fade, except Alexander himself, or certainly the myth of him that remains.

alex3Visually the film is quite amazing- I think the battles are gritty and brutal and give us a sense of what it must have been like, and the landscapes are wonderful: I have always been quite enchanted by the film’s representation of Babylon. What an astonishing place; one can understand how Alexander might have been so intoxicated by the East. Imagine a Greek, or anyone from the West, entering Babylon having conquered it and then himself becoming conquered by its unique beauty, its smells, its colours.

I love the Vangelis soundtrack. Like many of his scores, it lives differently within the film, his soundtrack album following his method of being a listening experience alternate to that music heard in the film. I think his music works better in the film; there is a romanticism brought to the film by Vangelis’ customary style that lifts the film up, and indeed makes some moments of the film quite transcendent. Its possibly why I enjoy the film so much, that I’m a huge fan of Vangelis for so many decades now that I cannot seperate my enjoyment of his music from the film itself, but certainly he brings a great deal to Alexander and it would be a much lesser film without this score. Being electronic it works against the pre-conceived notions of what a period film should sound like, in just the same way as his scores for Chariots of Fire and The Bounty do. Vangelis has a gift for keying into the ‘soul’ of a film- in Blade Runner it was the bluesy, electronic jazz of a future seen through the old, mirroring the films future noir sense of being caught in between two worlds . Here in Alexander he seems to capture the lyrical, almost classical romanticism of the story, the myth beneath the reality that has allowed the story of Alexander the Great to be so… ageless. Stone seems to have been frustrated by the episodic nature of film, trying to evoke some meaning or message in the sequencing of the it, feeling it lacking in a conventional chronological telling, hence all these different cuts, but Vangelis seems to have it at hand in his keyboard. Its the meshing of Western and Eastern and the ethnic music of each, while each transformed by his mostly electronic orchestration. I think the story of Alexander is too big for one film, or one film-maker (or classical historian for that matter) to really encompass but I think perhaps Vangelis comes closest to nailing it. Maybe Stone and Vangelis should have made Alexander as some great opera; in some ways, its almost there.

The increasingly curious journey of Vangelis’ Juno to Jupiter

Juno to JupiterThis may be more normal in the music industry than I expect, but the journey of Vangelis’ latest project continues to confound  (although referring it as ‘latest’ seems almost premature at this point- who knows, he may be releasing another album before Juno finally lands). Originally scheduled for digital release anytime between July and September last year, with a physical release a few months later in November, we’re still waiting. Well, some of us- a digital store inadvertently released the album in August over the weekend of the 7th, apparently in error. How they got hold of the music files (possibly a promotional copy?) could either be an interesting mystery or a mundane clerical error, but Decca and Vangelis’ team yelled foul and put a stop to it, citing an actual release date in September which never happened, nor later rumoured dates in December or January this year (including a vinyl release having an bonus track not on the digital or CD releases). Last week it transpired that even Amazon had gotten tired of the curious marketing dance, cancelling my CD pre-order.

I’ve been listening to the album since August, and its a great Vangelis album that everyone of his fans should be listening to, and I’m sure they will once they can actually buy it. I actually deleted the draft review I wrote up in September just in case I was the one jinxing it by some supernatural conjunction of the spheres (I’d written it hoping to post it on the albums release date, but hey, hope springs Eternal). I expect that Covid-related complications regards production might have something to do with it, as the Deluxe CD version is packaged with a book about the Juno mission, and its likely that its this book delaying things rather than something on the music side. I admit though to being curious after such a long delay as to whether Vangelis himself feels the inclination to revisit and revise the music in some way, but that’s surely a longshot (which would possibly mean those of us who purchased the digital version in August have something of a rarity).

So anyway, with no further rumoured release date in the air at all, we fans just need to wait awhile longer. But it is such a curious tale regards this release. Of course with everything going on in the world, there’s much more pressing things to get excited about, but Vangelis releases are so increasingly rare that we fans can only be more fascinated by Juno’s increasingly curious journey. I’ll post more news as it arises. There’s probably a major announcement due any day/week/month now. It does occur to me though, that it took the space probe five years from launch to eventually reach Jupiter, so who knows, maybe the maestro’s mirroring real-life space physics regards the journey-time of his album.  Isn’t that a sobering prospect.

I can only repeat its a fantastic album, and really, in all the years I’ve been buying Vangelis albums  I’ve known nothing quite like this (except, ominously, the ultimate no-show of the Polydor Blade Runner album advertised on that films end-credit crawl in 1982 that had me visiting record stores every week in vain).

 

How NOT to watch Blade Runner

Reaction videos/reviews on YouTube are an oddity I really try to avoid (clearly, most are simply monstrous, evidently staged) and I absolutely cannot fathom people’s fascination with them, I mean why would anyone want to watch someone else watch a movie? So yeah, don’t worry, you’re never likely to see my mug on your screen anytime, ever, I promise, but I did stumble upon one such reaction video in which two guys watched Blade Runner for the first time. Naturally, I was curious about what young turks of a new generation might take from my old  favourite film watching it for the first time. Out of respect I won’t mention the guys by name or link to the video in question, but I was quite taken aback by one of them totally misreading the film in a way I didn’t think possible. He seemed to think the photo Rachel dropped in Deckard’s apartment (“Its me, with my mother”) was the same photo Deckard puts in his Esper to ‘see’ inside Leon’s apartment and get the clue to Zhora, which set the guy off thinking Rachel was one of the four Replicants. On the one hand, I was thinking PAY ATTENTION TO THE GODDAM MOVIE and on the other I was just blown away by someone even thinking/seeing that. It bugged me for days. Just so bizarre.  

So anyway, this makes me wonder, when people watch movies, do they really WATCH the movie? 

A Christmas Blade Runner

Los Angeles, December 2020

One icy-cold Christmas Eve the city lay covered in a blanket of mildly acidic snow. Those poor defective souls unable to have fled to the Off-World paradise sheltered in their miserable hovels, while the snowfall wreaked a festive nightmare under a leaden sky. Christmas 2020 was far different from those of old: children could no longer build snowmen in parks or front yards without eventually melting their gloves and mildly burning their hands.  Indeed wee nippers everywhere didn’t hope for toys, instead they hoped that Santa would bring them new shoes and boots to replace those melting away from walking through puddles of stinging wet slush. But mostly they wished for tickets to Off World. Not that Santa could oblige.

Mr Bob Cratchit lived in Kindred Lane, in the outskirts of the city, his home surrounded by streets of the empty, slowly decaying houses of luckier people who had long since fled for Off-World and left Mr Cratchit behind. Mr Cratchit’s house was the only house in his street still occupied, its festive lights swinging across his front window and doorway a lonely source of light in the gathering twilight gloom for miles in any direction.

Mr Cratchit rather enjoyed the peace and solitude, but he worried for the wellbeing of his children. School was some distance away in the heart of the city, and the Spinner Bus that ferried them there every day was increasingly at risk of a funding cut. No doubt someday next year the family would finally have to up sticks and move into the city, where there were many vacant apartments waiting for them. Moving Off-World, alas, was not an option; poor Tiny Tim failed the medical fitness requirements. 

But what place would Off-World have had for the Cratchits, and what did the Cratchits care for Off-World? For himself, Cratchit was content. He had his family, and his home, and his job at the Van Ness Animal Pet Store Repair Shop (they weren’t real pets, of course, they had all died after the Great War Terminus, but they kept up the pretence that the artificial pets were real, an artifice carefully  maintained by its proprietor, Hannibal Sloat).

And of course it was Christmas, Cratchit’s favourite time of year. In this decaying world of madness there was something reassuring about tradition, and family, and never was this clearer than at Christmas. And Cratchit was convinced Christmas 2020 would be something special. 

So he cooked a special Christmas Eve meal and waited for Mrs Cratchit and the children to return from their Christmas Eve Church Service, while he left the television set tuned to a dead channel, confident that the lone city station would resume transmission at the scheduled time for some festive programming, and maybe even, as hoped, a special message from the President from the Oval Dome on Mars. Cratchit broke the silence of his home and the streets beyond with Christmas songs that he sang over the stove and as he prepared the table, feeling quite jovial and full of the Christmas spirit. His merry melodies were suddenly halted by a knock at the door. Why, had Mrs Cratchit yet again got her arms so full with the children that she could not put her key in the door?  

Cratchit swung open the door expecting to see his lovely wife and his adorable little children, but was instead confronted by a dark, tall and imposing figure that seemed to soak up all the darkness of the gathering night, his face deep in shadow.

 “Cratchit? Bob Cratchit?” The figure grunted.

“Why, yes,” Bob replied, utterly at a loss, forlorn at the sight of the case the man was carrying.

“Hart,” the figure barked. “My name’s Hart. Detective Hart.”

“Oh,” Bob sighed, looking more curiously at the man’s large briefcase. “I thought you were some kind of salesman. “

Hart leaned forward so that what dim light emanated from Bob’s hallway lit up his brutish, heavily-lined face. “I’m getting cold and wet standing here, Cratchit, and this snow stings like shit. Can I come in?”

“Well its a little inconvenient,” Bob protested. “My wife and children are out at church but they’ll be back soon, and we’ll be having dinner. What’s this about, officer?”

“Church, eh?” Hart said, glancing back at the gathering wet dusk outside. “We need to talk,” he said, stepping into the hallway and brushing Bob aside.

“Wait one moment!” Bob cried, staring in disbelief at his now empty doorway and then spinning after the large brutish figure striding down his hallway into the apartment beyond. This man was obviously a salesman after all. “Now this won’t do at all! I don’t know what it is you’re peddling but I’m not interested!” After a moment in which he realised that the man was no longer paying attention, Bob reluctantly shut his door and chased after the retreating figure.

He found the man standing in the centre of the lounge, dropping his suitcase onto a vacant chair. The man’s eyes were taking in the room, slowly turning until he faced Bob. “Nice. Homely,” he spat, as if it was the most disgusting thing in the world.

“Now look here, Mr…. what was it, Hart? Now look here Mr Hart, this is most irregular. I don’t know what you’re selling but this is Christmas Eve, and I know that sort of thing doesn’t mean very much to some… people,” he hesitated, suddenly wary. “But my family take it very seriously, very seriously indeed, and I won’t have you ruining things. I didn’t invite you in and I’m not interested in whatever rubbish you’re peddling from your case there and-“

“What I’m selling, no-ones buying,” Hart grumbled, nodding.

“Well I’m very sorry but neither am I!” Bob shrieked, pointing an indignant arm back in the direction of his hallway as dramatically as he could muster. In truth, he was getting a little worried. All sorts of people walked the streets these days, there were all sorts of horrible stories, stories that nobody in their right mind wanted to invite into their house at night, particularly on Christmas Eve. “Its Christmas Eve!” Bob wailed.

“Calm down, Cratchit,” Hart sighed, brushing a huge calloused hand through the short-cropped grey hair thinning on his leathery scalp. He peered at the hallway behind Bob, as if considering the door and the cold wintry world beyond. “Sit down. I’m certain we’ll be done before your wife returns”.

Bob suddenly found himself stepping to a chair and mutely siting down, immediately feeling foolish for doing so, but he was beginning to realise this stranger in his house was not someone easily thrown out. “What’s all this about?” he finally asked.

“My names Detective Hart, Rep-Detect,” the detective sighed, his gravelly voice cracking a little with some weariness, as if he was repeating something he’s stated so often that it had long since become a crushing exercise in boredom. While he did so he shrugged off his trench coat, and slung it on top of the case discarded on the sofa. In doing so he revealed the huge heavy blaster fastened to his belt. Seeing this Bob blanched, horrified.

“Oh my God,” Bob croaked. “You’re a… a….”

Blade Runner,” Hart coldly grinned, no warmth in his smile, only ice. “That’s what they call us now.” he walked over to a chair across from Bob and sat down, stretching his legs before him. “I hate that bloody name. I’m a detective, a professional, not some kind of bogey man.”

“But…what are you doing here? What do you want with me?”

Hart wasn’t listening. “Back in the old days, it was always looked down on,” Hart continued. “Rep-Detect was something openly sneered at, even by the traffic cops. Hidden down in the Precinct basement. Like a shameful secret where lousy cops deemed unworthy of ‘proper’ police work were dumped.” Hart paused, as if reflecting upon something. “I was good. Bryant always said so. Just because it was a shit job, you didn’t have to be shit at it.”

Suddenly Hart looked across at Bob, and stared at him intently. It was an unnerving, penetrating gaze. After a few moments he seemed to relax, his gaze softened, and he glanced again at the hallway. “When I started, it was the Nexus 3. Anybody could detect one of them toasters. Not so easy now- I guess that’s what they call progress. Progress!” Hart barked, flashing a sudden and disconcerting grin as he laughed at some joke.

He reached across towards the sofa and tapped at the case resting there. “These VK-decks. Humbug! For amateurs. Old-school Detectives like me, we don’t use them if we can help it. No skill involved in those gadgets. Nexus 3, Nexus 6, all the same to me.”

Bob looked across and felt a cold feeling settling in his stomach. Suddenly he seemed to be looking at a broken man. A broken man with a very dangerous gun. What were those stories he’d heard, of crazy cops going around shooting people?

Hart looked back across at Bob as if he was reading his mind. “Blade Runners,” he nodded. “Stupid bastards at Rep-Detect took it like some badge of courage.  It’s something the shrinks thought out, some bullshit medical term about Detectives losing their shit. You retire so many Reps they said, Reps that become more and more like real people with every new model, they said it messes with your head. They said it messes everybody up eventually, just a matter of time. Too long running the blade. Eventually you get cut.” Hart groaned.

“You know how long the average Blade Runner lasts before they dump you in the gutter?” Hart asked. “Four years. Just four bloody years. The irony doesn’t escape me: four years,” he added, weighing up those words in the silence that followed.

“I don’t understand,” Bob croaked, his voice awfully dry. This man was obviously unhinged, Bob had let a madman into his house on Christmas Eve and Mrs Cratchit would be home soon with the children, and this madman had a gun- this could ruin Christmas. What was Bob to do?

“I like you, Cratchit. I can see you’re a listener. The world’s full of talkers and listeners, and the talkers are always talking shit. I have to listen to them all the time. Yeah, I listen, I hear some shit, Cratchit. I hear some things”. Hart leaned forward, as if  intimating with Bob something important, his voice lowering. “I hear some things,” he repeated, levelly. “You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I hear. Those stupid bastards at Tyrell, crazy fucking bastards”.

“T–Tyrell?” Bob dimly realised he was leaning forwards now himself. “Isn’t he dead? Dead last year?”

“Maybe. Some reckon he’s in cryo-freeze in the heart of his Pyramid, that the one people saw and ‘died’ last year was some kind of a Replicant.  I don’t know, I never met him. But  I’d have known straight away if I did. ” Hart relaxed a little, tapped his nose. “Never fails, I never miss one. Don’t need no VK-deck to know a real human from a filthy toaster. I got this skill, see. How I lasted all these years.

“But I heard this thing, Cratchit. This thing that makes me think, hurts my head. I got to say, it scares me, scares me shitless.” Anything that scared this scary man was obviously something bloody terrifying to Cratchit, who could feel whatever remaining colour was in his cheeks paling away to a shade as white as the snow outside in the night.

“Memories. They been messing with memories. At first it was some control mechanism, to manage emotions, feelings, from fucking up Nexus behaviour programming, but they got too fancy, too clever, too complex. Over time, some of the Nexus 6, especially those on the run, they get confused, they keep photos, they cling to these memories, they start thinking they are real, that the things happened to them. Take your wife. How’d do you know?”

“What about my wife?” Cratchit croaked in a hoary whisper.

“How do you know? How do you know she’s really going to come through that door? How do you know you’re not a Nexus 6 on the run who finally went loopy, that you are in some crazy loop everyday hiding out here in the ‘burbs, always convinced you got some family that’s only a loaded memory intended to keep you easily controlled but that has finally driven you crazy?”  

Cratchit reddened. “You’re mad You’ll see. She’s late, but she’ll be here soon. With the children.”

Hart acted like he was someplace else, not listening. He shook his head, slowly. “That’s not what really fucks me up. You see, I got to thinking. I started thinking, how do I know? How does anyone know?” He leaned forward. “I wake up in my apartment, I have photos of family, heirlooms and shit. It all looks real. But how do I know? How do I know I’ve not just been switched on that morning, placed in that apartment, switched on with my memories preloaded. I could be just like the things I’m set to hunting and never know it. Set a toaster to catch a toaster.” Hart broke into a wide, agonised smile. “Its been done. I’m sure of it. They fucking cut us within four years, none of us last more than four years. Christ,” he groaned. “Four years, its obvious, its right in our bloody faces and we didn’t see it.” 

Cratchit found himself shivering a little, suddenly cold. “You’re real. I’m sure of it,” Cratchit declared (as real as Santa Claus, he thought, but it wouldn’t be wise to upset a mad man with a big gun).

“I was flying my Spinner up from San Diego, few nights ago. Some rumour about a Rep down in the refuse yards, but I never found anything. Anyway, I was flying back up, and I noticed your lights, out here all alone in the ‘burbs. Reps tend to live the lies of their lives out in the sticks, away from anyone who’d notice.”

“Well I don’t know what you’re insinuating, Detective. Its no crime to live out here in my family home after everyone else has either died or gone Off World. I don’t see why I should abandon everything I worked hard for just because everyone else has. How dare you come here, on tonight of all nights, and threaten me, and my family, without cause.” Cratchit didn’t know where the courage to rebuke this giant monster came from, but his words seemed to hang there in the air, suddenly spoken before he’d chosen to.

Hart seemed amused by Cratchit’s defiance. “Just doing my job, Cratchit-“

Suddenly there was a crash at the door, a rush of cold and laughter and giggling that was swiftly followed by three children racing in, excited faces beaming and suddenly turned to confusion by the sight of this stranger in their home. Almost as quickly Mrs Cratchit loomed behind them, breathless and similarly confused at the sight of this hulking brute in her home.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Hart gasped. 

The television screen sprang into life, arresting their attention: “My dear fellow Americans,” a jolly clown beamed. “I’m looking down on the Dear Old Earth and while I’m glad I’m not down there with you, you poor bastards, my thoughts are with you as I wish you a very Merry Christmas. My husbands and hand maidens all share my hopes that you are fairly well and your rotting appendages haven’t entirely dropped off, as we sit here by our Christmas Tree- yes we grow Christmas trees here on Mars. You poor bastards probably never seen one, so here it is, here’s what a Christmas Tree looks like.”

“Looks fake,” grunted Tiny Tim with a frown as he limped over towards the tv screen. 

Hart laughed. “Kid, the whole of Mars is fake. Its all smoke and mirrors in those domes.”  

Mrs Cratchit reached over towards Tim, pulling him close to her as she did the rest of the children. “Well, Mr Cratchit,” she nervously spoke, her voice fragile and broken. “Who is this?”

“Why, this is Mr Hart,” Cratchit beamed, “and he’s spending Christmas with us, he’s our very special guest,” he said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Part of him figured, if you can’t get rid of him, invite him. It nearly gave him some calming sense of control over this strangest of Christmas Eves.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Hart said, again. 

“Not at all,” Cratchit replied. “Its Christmas.”

And that was how Detective Hart spent Christmas with the Cratchits.

__________________________

It was the day after Christmas Day, and Harry Bryant needed a drink more than ever as he surveyed the bloody carnage before him. He was standing in the lounge of the Cratchit residence, and the Cratchit family -well, the bloody and dismembered pieces of them- were scattered over the floor, walls and ceiling. A clean-up team had put sheeting down and were proceeding to mop up the remains. Better they had a hose with a bucket- the body bags were largely redundant. Why were they even clearing this mess up, better to just burn the place down. Why weren’t they burning the place down, he wondered absently.

“Goddam it I need a drink,” Bryant shuddered, feeling his guts already twisting in fiery protest. Part of Tiny Tim dripped down from the ceiling and Bryant stepped back to avoid the grisly ooze that splattered onto the plastic sheeting. “Goddam it Gaff, its Christmas and I’m dodging some kid’s intestines raining down on me. Its worse than the goddam snow. You told me you’d got Hart tracked down.”

Gaff, as chillingly smooth and sharply-dressed as ever, leaned on his walking stick as he moved toward his boss, effortlessly avoiding the remnants of Tiny Tim. Bryant always marvelled out how Gaff moved. For a guy with a smashed leg walking with a cane, he always seemed to dance rather than limp.

“We had a trap set up in San Diego, a report of a rogue Nexus,” Gaff explained in a hushed voice only Bryant was intended to hear (you could always count on Gaff being discreet). “But he’s good. Hart must have smelled trouble. By the time we realised he’d flown…”

Bryant waved a hand in the air, dismissing Gaff’s excuses. “Well thank Christ all this is out in the sticks and no-one to see it. Nobody’s going to miss the Cratchits, that’s damned clear.” Well, that was about the best of it, Bryant thought. Everything else had Bryant reaching for a drink and exploding the molten ulcer in his gut. His fists trembled in his trouser pockets. “Shit, Gaff,” he whined, “how many is this? Hart’s running around like a one-man murder squad slaughtering anyone he comes across. Crazy bastard sees toasters everywhere.”

“I’m confident the stats will state the Cratchits were Replicants,” Gaff observed with a casual glance at the clean-up team diligently working. “Good for our stats, more retired Reps. Not that it matters. Little people,” he added.

Bryant could have punched him there and then, but instead spun around and stormed out of the room, heading for the exit and his party back home. “Goddam it Gaff. get that bastard,” he yelled back. “Get him soon. I don’t need a rogue Blade Runner running amok, especially at Christmas. It reflects badly on the Department, no matter which way you write it.”

Outside, the dusk was gathering again, the shadows drawing in around him. Bryant looked around at the empty houses, broken windows, collapsing roofs. It almost seemed like a cemetery. What compelled a guy like Cratchit to live out here in a practical wilderness? Sometimes humans could be like Nexus clinging to their memories. This street, this place, meant something to Cratchit. The old life, the old world, possibly.

But that old world was long gone. This world was now a grave.

“Merry Christmas,” Bryant muttered, reaching his Spinner and dropping into its pilot seat. He flicked a switch and the car coughed into life and rose up in a twisting curve up into the leaden, ashy sky.

Last Week

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                                              Great Scott! Those Mattes!

Well there goes another week in the mad tumble towards what some people are still hoping will turn out to be Christmas. Regular readers may have noticed a wee drop in the number of reviews being posted lately- its partly because I’ve been turning my attention to watching television shows this month, which obviously take more time to watch than a movie does. This week, though, much of my time has been taken up with other distractions, including watching Back to the Future and its sequel, the imaginatively titled Back to the Future Part II which have just been released on 4K UHD (I’ll likely get around to the third entry sometime today). Visually these films are rather more problematic than some catalogue releases on 4K UHD, which I gather is partly down to the filmstock used at the time and the optical effects, which is a particular problem with the second entry. I remember watching the film at the cinema and being wowed by those visual effects, particularly the flying cars (at the time seeming much more sophisticated than the flying car sequences in Blade Runner) and the clever split screen techniques. Watching them on this 4K presentation, some shots still impress but goodness some are pretty terrible, really: in some places the optical effects leave the flying cars looking like smudgy animation and at other moments almost pasted on like cut-outs. I don’t know if its a degradation of the original elements, or an inevitable consequence of 4K resolution and HDR making mattes etc much more problematic, but some of that once so impressive stuff looks fairly dire now and quite distracting. If anything, it makes those flying car sequences in Blade Runner all the more impressive as they seem to hold up much better (probably a case of the more simple shots being easier to realise back then, or the digital trickery that was applied to the restoration for the Final Cut).

I do have to wonder though about how this film originally looked in the cinema, my memories of it- were we so much more forgiving? Or is it something to do with how we watch films now on these 4K panels. Back when I saw the film it was blown up on a huge cinema screen, and yet still seemed to hold up better than now on my unforgiving OLED- or is it really just how I’m remembering it? Was my old VHS copy, say, simply much more low-resolution, low-contrast and therefore much more forgiving itself, too?

Fortunately the films themselves remain quite fun and endearingly old-fashioned- once all blockbusters were made this way; there’s a sense of innocence to them that was possibly cynically calculated for all I know, but nostalgia certainly clouds over some of the bad points. In some ways Part Two seems eerily prescient- the middle section looking rather uncannily Trumpworld- I’ll never see those alternate 1985 sequences the same way as I used to.

But thinking of how the films effects turned out some thirty years later on 4K UHD, and how problematic these BTTF films have been on home video over the years (some purists reckon the Blu-rays were unwatchable), made me think about home video and owning films. I remember a time when owning a film was impossible, frankly, and a time when expensive early VHS tapes were sold (I recall seeing a copy of Jaws in a cardboard slipcase for sale for something like £76 in a posh department store in 1982). Eventually films could be found more cheaply, early examples being the Cinema Club range I remember seeing in Woolworths. One of the latter included 2001: A Space Odyssey, a copy of which I had for Christmas one year.

But of course it wasn’t really a case of owning the movie, not properly. That copy of 2001 I had was on a pan and scan, horribly fuzzy VHS- if Kubrick himself ever had the misfortune to watch a copy I’m sure he would have been mortified. Which makes me wonder how film-makers re-watch their films and what they really think of some of the home video editions over the years, but that’s really another conversation entirely.

So anyway, it wasn’t really owning a copy of the film properly- more like owning a second-rate approximation of 2001. One could argue that of all the formats, the only version where I came really close to owning a genuine proper copy of Kubrick’s epic is the 4K UHD released late last year, which looks utterly gorgeous and certainly far superior to how those Back to the Future films look in 4K. Which is where filmstocks used over the years, and how certain prestige films were shot over the decades, complicate matters (Vertigo, for instance, is a revelation in 4K UHD).

Some great, classic films, some of which are my favourites, have been released on 4K UHD over the past few years, surely the last home video format we’ll ever be asked to buy, and which some of us are fortunate to watch on pretty large, sophisticated 4K panels. Returning to that £76 copy of Jaws I looked at in that department store so many years ago, I’m pretty confident it looked bloody horrible compared to the excellent 4K UHD disc of the film that came out earlier this year. Are we REALLY owning definitive copies of our favourite films now, ironically at the end of physical media?