Tag Archives: harrison ford

Blade Runner (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 4 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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*very mild spoilers*

What is the appeal of the sci-fi genre? Certainly the potential of catching a possible glimpse of the future is a draw, and people are always glad to see the exciting action sequences that are typical in sci-fi works. But I would argue that what sci-fi does well, often better than other genre films, is ask questions, present new ideas, and generally give us life questions to ponder after the credits roll. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner accomplishes all of the above.

In 2019 Los Angeles, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is brought in by his former supervisor Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and briefed on a new assignment: four Replicants – illegal androids – have escaped to Earth from off-planet human colonies, and they must now be killed. You see, Deckard used to be what they call a “Blade Runner”, a sort of bounty hunter tasked with tracking down these Replicants and “retiring” them. With Replicants being nearly indistinguishable from humans, Deckard has his work cut out for him, and he may just lose his humanity or even his life along the way.

The plot of the movie is relatively simple: good guy needs to hunt down robot bad guys and kill them before bad things happen. But, as I mentioned, the real highlights here are the questions…are the bad guys actually bad guys? Are the good guys actually good guys? What is right? What is wrong? What does it mean to be human? All of these questions carry quite a bit of heft and really drive the momentum of the film. I won’t attempt to answer any of these questions here – namely because my answers might be different than yours, as they’re meant to be.

Though the whole cast shines, there are three in particular that stand out in my mind when I watch this movie. The obvious choice is Harrison Ford as Deckard. As our primary human character, he brings us an interesting mix of the empathy we expect in a human but also the coldness and moral distance you would expect from a machine or, in this case, a Replicant. One of the biggest – if not the biggest – questions from this movie is whether Deckard is a human or a Replicant, and Ford masterfully plays along that fine line without definitively revealing anything either way. Another standout is Rutger Hauer as the Replicant Roy, who has perhaps the biggest character arc in the film, or at least the most interesting one. He possesses a strange energy that both endears and frightens, especially through the vibrancy of his bright blue eyes, but he also often shows more human traits than Deckard does: compassion, empathy, sadness, happiness, and he delivers one of the finest speeches to be found in any sci-fi film, or to be honest, in any film at all (and partially improvised, at that!). The last one I’ll mention here is Sean Young as the Replicant Rachael, who is particularly fascinating because her character initially believes herself to be a human thanks to implanted memories. Where Deckard is a human with many Replicant qualities, Rachael is just the opposite, and watching her cry as she learns that the memories of the life she thought she had were forgeries is heartbreaking. Throughout the rest of the movie, she expresses conflict between which faction she owes her allegiance to – the humans who created her or the Replicants who share her origin.

Vangelis, of Chariots of Fire fame, sets the tone of the film with another synth-based score that works extremely well in this futuristic dystopian setting; there’s a technological energy in the music as the film opens, but this eventually gives way to a strong feeling of melancholy and despair that matches the state of the world and the conflict going on within our characters’ minds.

The questions and the themes found in this movie could be talked about and written about for ages to come (and probably will be), but for now I’ll leave you to watch the film for yourself and ponder over everything on your own. If you do, I highly recommend checking out the basis for the film as well, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Reading the book really helped me to get into Deckard’s head and to understand some of his motivations and internal struggles. Once you have watched the movie and maybe read the book, talk about it with others! Blade Runner is a film that demands discussion because of the complex questions found within, but, for the more casual moviegoer, it still has a lot to offer in the way of good sci-fi worldbuilding and action. However you take it on, enjoy the ride and consider: what does it mean to live?

-Chad

(P.S. – Watch the Final Cut.)

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: R – for violence and brief nudity

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Ender’s Game (2013)

 Enders-Game

Has there been an excess of book-to-film adaptations this year, or is it just that I’m attending most of them this year? In any case, I’m not complaining…adaptations of books give me good excuses to set aside the time to read the original book. I had no knowledge of the existence of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 science fiction classic Ender’s Game until I heard word of this film being made. The trailers for the film sparked my interest a bit, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy the book when I finally picked it up to read it a couple of weeks before the film’s release…I loved it. So, naturally, I was excited for the film, like I always am for adaptations of my favorite books, and, like so many other book-to-film adaptations this year, the filmmakers did a great job.

Ender’s Game takes place in the unspecified future, sometime after the second invasion of an alien species (called “buggers” or “Formics”) nearly destroys human life on Earth. In anticipation of an imminent third invasion and convinced the humans’ victory in the second invasion was only due to luck, the International Fleet turns to the youth of the world as the next generation of great commanders. Enter Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a genius child who possesses the potential of being the greatest commander that the IF has ever seen. Ender must complete both Battle and Command School in order to lead the fleet against the Formics before time runs out and the human race is wiped out.

This year has also been a good year for casting in these book-to-film adaptations, and this film is no exception: Asa Butterfield is a brilliant Ender Wiggin. He perfectly portrays all facets of the character – focus, determination, despair, vulnerability. He successfully holds his own against veteran actor Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, a feat not easily matched by other actors at Butterfield’s age. Speaking of Harrison Ford, I have one word to say regarding his performance: FINALLY! It has been quite a long time since I last saw Ford in a role that I thought he did really well with, but I think that he really brought a lot to the character here. He is firm and, to a point, ruthless, but cracks appear when his decisions are held up to the light, which is exactly the way it should be. The role of Major Anderson is gender-flopped from the book, but it works with the aid of Viola Davis, who brings compassion to the character in light of Ender’s situation and the pressures placed upon him. Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, the commander who defeated the Formics in the second invasion, plays the character with the appropriate level of fierceness – he’s pretty much just the way I imagined him in the book, which is always a nice touch.

I have two minor quibbles in regards to casting – not that I think they were bad choices, but that I think there were better options available. Hailee Steinfeld plays the character of Petra as she written admirably, but the way she is written in the film contrasts with how I remember her being described in the book; I pictured a tougher female character, one who wasn’t afraid to throw a few punches at her male peers or curse with the others. In the film, however, she’s almost completely opposite – while she remains a highly capable shooter in the battle room, her character seems much more timid here, watered down so that she may be seen as a potential love interest for Ender. Now, this idea is only hinted at in the film, which I’m thankful for, but it’s still hinted at in a couple of scenes. My other minor complaint is with the choice of Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid, the commander of Salamander Army in Battle School and antagonist to Ender. Arias plays the character fine as far as his attitude and general demeanor, but he’s also tiny, which, in my opinion, makes him much less of a threat. I don’t remember how his size was described in the book or if it was even mentioned at all, but the fact that Ender looked down on him bothered me because it seemed to lessen the extent of their very important rivalry. (Also, I must admit, the fact that he played a character in Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana TV show might have made it difficult for me to take him seriously as well…)

One of the best aspects of the film is how it brings the locations of the film to life so beautifully; the exterior design of the Battle School is awe-inspiring, and the Battle Room and the battles between armies that take place inside help us to visualize some of the more active scenes in the book, scenes that almost require the visual aid in order to experience them fully. The design of the simulator at Command School is similar, despite the fact that it deviates a bit from the description given in the book. The way it is presented absorbs you fully into the environment, allowing you to experience the incredible interaction that Ender feels while operating and directing the fleet…these are the types of scenes that were designed to be seen on the big screen. The mind game sequences on Ender’s tablet are truncated quite a bit for time’s sake, but they still work really well in setting up the ending of the film.

The ideas of necessary (?) violence and the morality of what the IF is doing here are brought into question here, as they are in the book, though they are admittedly more diluted here. Is it right to force these kids into violence with each other, even if it turns them into more efficient military commanders? Do Colonel Graff, Mazer Rackham, and the rest of the IF have the right to withhold important information and/or the truth from Ender during the course of his training even if it means that he saves the world from a third invasion? These are hard-hitting questions with serious implications, and they are presented well in the context of the film, especially when Ender confronts Graff face-to-face at the conclusion of the final battle at Command School.

My only real complaint for this film is that there isn’t enough…of anything! I can justify all of the creative liberties taken with the author’s story, so that isn’t the problem. The problem is that in the Battle School, we only really are able to see a battle and a half before Ender is shipped off to Command School, where we see brief snippets of two or three battles before being treated to the final battle. These sequences are the coolest in the film, but they are so brief that we don’t get much of a feel for Ender’s military genius aside from the fact that we’re told by Graff and others that Ender is a military genius. In the book, we witness Ender’s growth as he faces opponent after opponent in the battle room, and, no matter the odds, he always wins! We know he’s a military genius, but the trick is to show us being one rather than simply telling us. I’m also slightly disappointed by the fact that Ender’s siblings’ roles are reduced so significantly; I didn’t need their entire subplot, but the issue here is that it is Ender’s relationship with his siblings and how his personality differs from theirs that makes him who we is, so we are missing a huge chunk of Ender’s personality since we are missing that aspect.

I loved this film. It’s a great adaptation of a fantastic book, and, despite the fact that I had some minor disappointments with what made it into the film and with what was significantly reduced, it is well-cast and well-told, and the musical score by Steve Jablonsky, who I’m not normally fond of (he is most known for his work on Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy), is his best work yet. Ender’s Game manages to take the themes and questions presented in the book and mostly keep them intact, albeit a bit watered down. I can’t imagine a fan of the book disliking this film because it so vividly and admirably brings Ender Wiggin and his story to the big screen.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material


42 (2013)

I love baseball. I grew up playing baseball and have fond memories of attending Texas Rangers games with my family as a child, so I can always appreciate a good baseball film, whether it’s a baseball film that isn’t really about baseball (i.e. Moneyball), baseball films that ARE about baseball, or even cult classics like The Sandlot. After last year’s Trouble with the Curve left much to be desired (my review), I was quite excited to see 42, even from the very first trailer I saw for it last fall sometime. I desperately wanted it to be a great film, but, unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed.

42 tells the story of how Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) became the first African American baseball player to play in Major League Baseball in modern times. He’s now considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. His legacy continues in the form of Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated by players in the MLB every year on April 15 (which, not-so-coincidentally, is the date on which I’m typing up this review). Robinson was and continues to be a giant in the world of baseball; however, this film does a poor job of showing all of this.

Almost all of my complaints have to do with characters and dialogue. I understand the need to take liberties with history to make it fit into a movie that caters to its audience better, but 42 seems to me to be severely over-romanticized. The relationship shown between Jackie and his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie), is sickeningly sugar-sweet throughout, with there not being a single bit of conflict shown between the two of them. While “lack of conflict” is not a problem in and of itself, Rachel’s dialogue is disgustingly cutesy and over the top. Harrison Ford as Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey is strange; he talks in as low a voice register as possible, makes analogies that never make sense, talks at the rate of about seven words per minute, and constantly waves around a half-smoked, chewed-on cigar. As much as I love Harrison Ford in just about everything else he’s done, I really didn’t care for him here. Another character, a small African American boy who is apparently supposed to be younger version of someone who was inspired by Robinson in real life and eventually made it to professional baseball, has incredibly corny lines, namely one in which, after running after a train that Robinson is riding in, he places his head on the tracks and says to his friends, “I can still hear him!” It would have been perfectly achievable to show us that people were inspired by Robinson without this awful child character, and, in fact, that is done better later in the film when Rickey tells Robinson that he saw a little white boy pretending to be Robinson.

The only actor in this film who I can actually praise is Boseman, who plays the closest thing to a believable character to be found in the film. He never tries to be over-extravagant with his actions or emotions, and the moments in which his emotions ARE heightened never feel false. He plays the role admirably, which is a good thing considering the fact that the film is about him and we’re supposed to care about him; frankly, I didn’t care about any of the other characters. I liked some of the Christian statements made in the film by Rickey, who was known for his strong Christian beliefs, though I wasn’t overly fond of the bad language that often accompanied his biblical wisdom. I also liked some of the themes of struggle and equality that were present in the film, though I wasn’t overly fond of the characters who embodied these themes (i.e. Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), an African American journalist who wasn’t allowed to sit in the press box with the white journalists).

You can tell that I really didn’t enjoy this film, but you should also know that I didn’t hate it. Yes, it has its problems (including several that I didn’t mention here), but it’s still a decent baseball movie, and Boseman in the main role makes up for a lot of the film’s faults. I don’t claim to be a Jackie Robinson expert or even remotely knowledgeable on the subject, but I’d like to think that my points are valid and that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. 42 will certainly please casual moviegoers and those who may not be as bothered by the characters as I was, and hopefully fellow baseball lovers will find something to enjoy as well. After all, this movie is all about one person who just wanted to play the game.

-Chad

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for thematic elements including language


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Unfortunately, Indiana Jones was not a household name in my family. As a child, I might have watched bits and pieces of the original trilogy every now and again, but I did not sit down to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark all the way through until I was a sophomore in high school. From the epic boulder chase scene onward, I was hooked, and I’ve been a fan ever since…I even dressed as him for Halloween a while back, and the brown leather jacket that I own and wear regularly is an homage to this iconic character.

The appeal of Raiders of the Lost Ark isn’t its storytelling, its special effects, or its score. Though all of these aspects are fantastic, the real appeal of the film is Indiana Jones as a character, and, likewise, Harrison Ford’s performance within that character. A cross between James Bond, Han Solo, and the sort of swashbuckling adventure characters portrayed by Errol Flynn, Professor Henry Jones, Jr., is chock-full of surprises, whether it’s his witty one-liners, his narrow escapes, or his ability to keep track of his hat at all times. He’s not an overly compassionate hero, and he may be a bit of a jerk at times, but his heart is in the right place and we can’t help but love him. Perhaps the coolest part of his character is knowing that he’s a college professor and that his archaeological adventures are just a hobby on the side…imagine if you had a college professor travelling the world and punching bad guys in addition to his teaching position!

The sets in this film are particularly spectacular, with the jungle at the beginning of the film and the Well of Souls being two of my favorites. Seeing Indy travel from a university to a tavern in Nepal to the streets of Cairo is a heck of a ride, and it all feels authentic and epic on a large scale. The action is fun and entirely fitting of Indy’s personality; the car chase scene is probably my favorite action scene of the Indiana Jones franchise, and who could forget the scene where an exhausted Indy shoots the scimitar-wielding Egyptian in the streets of Cairo? The characters on the side, especially John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, are lovable and memorable, with the Nazi villain Toht being one of the creepiest I’ve ever seen.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic for a reason. While George Lucas has proven himself to be a nutcase over the years, his talent for creating an original concept and Spielberg’s talent for bringing life to a movie screen join together for this film, backed by John Williams’ fantastic main theme and score, making one of the most iconic characters and films of all time. When I saw it on the IMAX screen a few months ago, it was as magical as if I was seeing it for the first time, so, in that sense, it is timeless and more and more fun every time I watch it.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG