Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott and the value of life part two: Life, replicated

 

This article is part of a mini-series exploring the themes and ideas in Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi films; for the first part click the link here.

*Spoilers ahead for Alien and Blade Runner*

Blade Runner, based on the seminal novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? is a futuristic world sculpted by the Cold War. By 2019, the Tyrell corporation has created humanoid androids. The androids, called replicants, look like humans and surpass us in intelligence, speed, and strength. Despite their similarities to us, replicants are treated like tools, exploited as slave labour across the solar system and forbidden from coming to Earth.  Blade Runner begins after a group of escaped replicants arrive on Earth, which prompts retired Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford), to return to his old profession and hunt down the replicants.

Alien challenges our position in the universe and our assumptions about intelligent life. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott turns his gaze from the stars to earth, providing a condemning account of human society from the bottom-up. The replicants of Blade Runner are humanity in the neo-liberal age, dehumanised and robbed of an identity. They are the low-wage worker of today, an expendable commodity sacrificed for the benefit of the elite. The only difference is that replicants do not get a zero-hours contract but only four years to live.

Beyond our present day, the replicants represent ‘the other’ in society. They are the oppressed elements within every nation and culture branded as lesser and promptly exploited. The plight of the replicant parallels the medieval serf, the slave trade and the colonial subject. Despite its futuristic setting Blade Runner biopsies how society quietly exploits those at the bottom while we individuals, just like Deckard, look away.

Replicants: Machine or human?

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(Tyrell in all his glory)

Tyrell (Joe Turkel), wearing an imperial purple suit and thick glasses, is the god who underpins Blade Runner‘s society through his knowledge and technological prowess. The escaped replicants’ leader Roy (Rutger Hauer) even address Tyrrel as ‘The god of bio-mechanics’. Tyrrel’s apartment, guarded by an owl, symbol of the wise goddess Athena, is an Olympian temple supported by classical pillars, swathed in golden light from the sinking sun atop the pyramid superstructure witnessed in Blade Runner‘s introduction.

Deckard indulges Tyrell’s request to use the Voigt-Kampff test on Rachel (Sean Young), a supposed human. Deckard confronts Tyrrel after the test stating that Rachel is a replicant and asking, ‘how does she (Rachel) not know what she is?‘. Tyrell’s response is ‘commerce’. To Tyrell, replicants are a faulty product, becoming increasingly unstable as they develop memories and emotions. Rachel is ‘an experiment’ embedded with memories to believe that she is human, making her a more stable product.

Rachel reveals to Deckard that replicants are not just machines, but are parallel to regular humans through her morality and emotions. Ironically, it is Rachel, not any human, who questions Deckard about the moral and philosophical dilemmas of his work, asking him whether he ‘ has ever retired any humans by mistake?‘.

During Deckard’s attempts to chase and kill his replicant targets he begins to see them as increasingly human. At each encounter with an escaped replicant, the story shifts to their point of view, rendering Deckard and the human world around them to be cold, machine-like killers.

Challenging our assumptions

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(Our first encounter with Leon)

Leon is the audience’s first introduction to replicants when he is questioned by Dave Holden, another blade runner.  Leon is unstable from the beginning, his rage and confusion building until he abruptly shoots Holden in his stomach. Leon’s actions panders to the widespread view of replicants, repeated by Tyrell himself, as a tool that becomes a menace if they run amok. Later on in Blade Runner, Leon toys with Deckard after capturing him, stating to Deckard ‘painful living in fear isn’t it?’.  Deckard’s torture by Leon is Leon’s attempt to make another understand his suffering and pain.

Leon creates and later destroys the audience’s perception of replicants though his character arc. Leon transitions from a pyschopathic machine to a slave resisting his masters through the language they taught him, which was violence. Blade Runner uses Leon to challenge our own assumptions about ‘the other’ within society, by underlining how our opinions, just like Deckard’s can be unwittingly formed by convention. When given the chance to speak, the replicants, and ‘the other’ within our own society are exactly like us.

Violent recognition

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(Tyrrel’s death)

Both the audience and Deckard slowly begin to recognise the replicants as equal to humans. Then why does Tyrell, god of Blade Runner and father of the replicants still perceive them as below human?

The answer is found in Hegel’s philosophy.

According to Hegel, self-consciousness is not only the recognition of the self, but the recognition of that self by another self-conscious being. In human society, there exists a dominant and subservient consciousness with each recognising the other. This is what Hegel calls the master-slave dialectic.  Over time, the slave, having laboured for the master for so long, recognises his position as the inferior and demands the level of superiority enjoyed by the master.

Yet In Hegel’s words ‘Each (consciousness) wants to be securely recognised- has its certainty, but yet not truth.’ 

The master and the slave both want their identity to be recognised as superior. The master perceives his superiority due to his independence and power over the slave. The slave gains their own sense of superiority through the skill and hardship of their labour. Neither side will compromise and recognise the other as equal, causing as Michel Foucault states, a continual ebb and flow of power between one group and another within society as different identities emerge and conflict.

Tyrrel is the master and the replicants are the slaves.  He cannot recognise his own creations as more than human for fear of losing his own position. Tyrrel’s very identity and status in Blade Runner is literally built off the replicants and like the ancient Pharaohs he mimics, Tyrrel cannot be a god without an army of slaves beneath him. Roy’s quest to meet his maker Tyrrel is a struggle for identity, to climb the pyramid and be recognised by the master. Roy finally meets Tyrell, who continues to treat him and the other replicants as objects, calling Roy ‘a prize‘. Roy, disastisfied by Tyrell’s rejection, gauges Tyrrel’s eyes out.

At Blade Runner’s beginning, a superimposed eye blinks and dilates, reflecting the hellish cityscape of 2019 Los Angeles before it. The eyes in Blade Runner represent our own individual struggle with self-consciousness and recognition. The Voight-Kampff test, used to sniff out replicants, revolves around pupil dialation while the sodium orange flare of certain characters’ pupils teases who may be a replicant. After all, it is through our eyes alone that we perceive and recognise world, just like the eye gazing at 2019 Los Angeles. Roy’s gauging of Tyrrel’s eyes is the literal destruction of a worldview that rejects the replicants. Leon, in revenge for Zhora’s death, tries to do the same to Deckard before Rachel intervenes.

What about J.F.Sebastian?

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(J.F. being manipulated by Pris)

Perhaps the most unfortunate character in Blade Runner, J.F.Sebastian (J.F.), played by William Sanderson. He is a brilliant genetic designer who helped create the nexus 6 model of replicants. Befriended by replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah), J.F. is manipulated and later killed by Roy as part of his plot to meet Tyrrel. Afflicted by a genetic disorder accelerating his ageing, J.F. is denied ascension to the heavens and life among the solar system. Instead, J.F. dwells alone in a hellish derelict apartment block slowly succumbing to flood water.

J.F. blurs the artificial boundary between replicant and human. Deemed a faulty product, J.F. is valued for his productive capability like the replicants, while his desires are ignored and he is reduced to living alone. J.F’s plight is each our own tragedy, although the humans of Blade Runner are supposed to be superior, J.F. has been exiled and ignored by his fellow man. Strip back the scapegoat of today; be it the banks, the immigrants, or the replicants and we are only valued by society for our economic output while we each in turn dismiss the hardship of others. In a way, we are all replicants without realising it.

Writing about J.F. has made me excited for Blade Runner 2049 From the glimpses given in the reveal trailer, Blade Runner 2049 will witness the crumbling of the artificial line between replicant and human which J.F. straddles. Whatever happensI am more excited about Blader Runner 2049 now than when I reviewed the trailer.

By Saul Shimmin

Alien: Covenant

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Cast: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The Covenant and its crew are carrying 2,000 colonists towards a new life deep into unknown space. Just like the original Alien, the crew stumble across a distress signal from an unexplored planet. The covenant follows the signal and horror ensues.

Halfway through Alien: Covenant one of the characters declares that ‘if one note is off, the whole symphony fails’. His words are prophetic for the film itself.

Alien: Covenant is an enjoyable film with scares equalling the terrifying Alien.  Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant shares the same problems as Prometheus. It self-proclaims its own profoundness and complexity but buckles under this ambition, resulting in occasionally poor dialogue and plot omissions. Only Scott’s renewed focus upon the monsters distracts you from Covenant’s flaws until the film ends.

The film evades any of the questions raised by Prometheus, concluding without any finality to the Alien arc. The cliff hanger ending was well-delivered, but exposes the whole film to be mere kindling for another sequel. Nor does Alien: Covenant provide an explanation of past events for new viewers.  I found the film engrossing, but Alien: Covenant will confuse the uninitiated, and disappoint fans expecting answers to Prometheus.

Alien: Covenant does have many merits. Scott has repeated the pragmatically futuristic design from Alien, coupled with CGI, to create a grounded and believable world. Alien: Covenant is genuinely terrifying, with Scott returning to the slasher-esque feel of the original as the crew scramble to fight or flee from the monsters. The monsters themselves do fall flat  in earlier scenes where they are clearly computer generated, but their menace grows, especially when they appear in glimmers before snatching their prey.

Scott, when interviewed in a Q and A about Alien, said that if you cast properly for a film you have done half of the work. For Alien: Covenant, Scott stuck to his maxim. The cast is a solid roster who convincingly portray the Covenant’s crew. Danny McBride (Tennessee) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) stand out from the cast. In the past Waterston has stuck to roles portraying damsels in distress. At Alien: Covenant’s beginning, it seemed that Waterston would repeat that role, but she transforms into the pragmatic leader of the survivors. Danny McBride, known for comedic roles, suits the slightly more serious character in Alien: Covenant. It would be great to see him in similar roles soon.

One of the best aspects of the film is the power play within the Covenant’s crew. Certain characters, as tragedies unfold, either break or harden, letting us witness a power shift between the crew from Alien: Covenant’s beginning to end.

Michael Fassbender, as identical androids David and Walter, delivers a great performance once more. Both characters are mirror opposites of each other, developing a twisted father-son relationship, repeating David’s own relationship with Peter Weyland, the androids’ creator.

Other characters may seem underdeveloped, but Alien: Covenant is a monster film, with a vast cast to boot. Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for many of the characters to be well-developed before they die off. However, the lack of expostion for David causes his surrounding air of mystery to dwindle, transforming him into a vaudeville villain.

David’s character underlines what might be the central flaw of Alien: Covenant and Prometheus. Both films require a near complete focus and prior viewing of Scott’s earlier sci-fi films, to understand and appreciate their stories and themes. Personally, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, through their focus on artificial intelligence and conflicts between the creator and the created, are spiritual successors to Blade Runner.

For the every-man, Alien: Covenant will likely disappoint and confuse as much as it may entertain.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Alien Covenant- Teaser

Outlook- Promising, but there are doubts

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Katherine Waterston, James Franco, Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup and others.

Prometheus was the first draft of a film, rather than the complete tale. It tried to explain the background to Alien, while exploring the premise of human life as an accident, devoid of intelligent design. The film was ambitious but relied on inferences and assumptions to cover up gaping holes in the story. To audiences who had not seen Alien or who were not fans of Scott’s work, Prometheus was incoherent. Ridley Scott is a talented director who can muster another  masterpiece equalling his earlier films. Following the teaser trailer which came out a few months ago, Alien: Covenant will be another classic film crafted by Scott’s hands.

20th Century Fox has just released the official trailer for  Alien: Covenant. Visually, the film is a gorgeous blend of CGI, practical effects, set-pieces, and on-location filming. The cut between the Covenant gliding across the stars to their landing on their new home was breathtaking. The trailer follows the transition of a great horror film, from cautious optimism to increasing terror. Scott has perfected the ambience for this film.

Alien: Covenant boasts a great cast overall, and their respective characters have been developed through the ominously titled The Last Supper prologue for Alien: Covenant. The scene itself presents the traits of the main characters very effectively through snippets of dialogue, and imparts a real sense of comradeship, excitement, and trepidation as the Covenant’s crew embarks on the landmark colonisation of a distant planet.

I would recommend watching The Last Supper prologue before watching the Alien: Covenant trailer.

 

While watching the full Alien: Covenant trailer, I occasionally noticed the same incoherence that afflicted Prometheus. The trailer reveals multiple threats to the Covenant’s crew, a hooded-figure, an airborne virus, and strangely enough two different types of alien. The alien in the later scenes of the trailer is the classic xenomorph we know and love, but halfway through, one of the covenant’s crew is gored by an anaemic and wiry variant. Hopefully Scott has returned to Alien’s template of a monster film in space, instead of building an overly complicated plot like Prometheus.

I still have issues with Katherine Waterston as the lead character, Daniels. Alien and Prometheus centred upon a strong female lead, and so far I have only seen Katherine Waterston playing helpless and unsympathetic characters. Scott has stated that casting is the pivotal part of his film-making process, but Waterston still comes across as wet, which disappoints me because in Inherent Vice, she tantalised us with glimpses of potential.

Having watched the trailer a few times, here are a few things I have noticed so far:

1.36: The dog-tag in the Alien ship definitely belongs to Elizabeth Shaw, the sole human survivor of Prometheus, as the Weyland corporation logo is present.

1.56: The hooded figure, seen in the teaser trailer and who does not belong to the Covenant crew, heads towards an engineer settlement, surrounded by dead xenomorphs and maybe even dead engineers. From the number of bodies which fill this large landscape shot, it looks the engineers made one last stand against the xenomorphs.

If you are a fan of Ridley Scott’s work, check out our 4th wall post, Ridley Scott and the value of life: part one . This is the first piece in a miniseries exploring Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus.

Let us know if you spot any more secrets in the new trailer!

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Ridley Scott and the value of life: part one

Alert: Spoilers below for Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus

Science-fiction is a genre which invites writers and directors to explore deeper topics and philosophical questions. No other director working today has better used Sci-fi for this purpose than Ridley Scott, renowned for AlienBlade Runner, and Prometheus. 

We see the human race as the world’s axis.  Our species continues to grow and consume at an unsustainable pace, placing our demands above all other forms of planetary life. Western religion claims that we are the pinnacle of creation, moulded in the image of God. Outside the West, other philosophies and religions share the belief that humanity alone has been imbued with a soul, placing us apart from the rest of creation.

AlienBlade Runner, and Prometheus are each a different premise where Scott questions our beliefs, and our hypocrisies about the value of human life.

Alien and ‘intelligent life’ 

Around 400 years ago, people still believed the solar system revolved around the Earth. Humanity has moved on since then, but we still perceive the universe from a self-centered perspective.

Today the world balances on the axis of humanity, and the universe revolves around our pull. In popular culture our forays into space commonly belong to three types: conflict, contact or isolation. In film, typically, humanity is found by another species with a familiar system of civilization and technology to our own. The arriving species may invade our planet, or guide us, or we attack them. The final two types are contact and isolation. Humanity comes into contact with something incomprehensible like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey or we wander the galaxy, completely alone.

Few have depicted a universe where humanity is inconsequential, even unnoticed. These works belong to Cosmic Horror, a genre formed by H.P. Lovecraft. Cosmic Horror topples the assumption we have held, from biblical times and beyond, that we have some measure of control on the world. Western thought has developed the idea that we were designed for a purpose, that we can master everything both tangible and intangible. Plato’s The Republic is the earliest work I know that claims we will eventually understand everything, becoming gods in our own right. Plato’s concept of the Philosopher-King, just like Nietschze’s Ubermensche, shares the belief that humanity’s pre-destined superiority over the world, and the universe, will arise.

Cosmic Horror challenges humanity’s sense of purpose and superiority. Across Lovercraft’s works, in the Universe beyond our understanding, characters come across forces far more powerful than ourselves. Humanity’s divine trajectory to masters of the universe is shattered, our species is shown to be at the whim of random, and often chaotic forces beyond our grasp.

Alien and Prometheus both draw from Cosmic Horror, although in different ways. Prometheus upends the Christian belief that humans were purposefully created. Instead humanity, just like Frankenstein’s monster, is the product of an experiment gone awry, feared by our creator, who is bent upon destroying us. While Prometheus challenges humanity’s purpose, Alien questions our superiority.

Alien exists in a future where space, the last frontier, has become tamer than a front lawn. The crew of the Nostromo are not daring adventurers, but space truckers who want to get home and get paid. The Nostromo’s crew stumble upon a life form that is the polar opposite of human beings. It makes no attempts to understand the crew, the alien is designed to kill and is driven to survive, at the cost of all other life. 

The alien is not a monster, but the first intelligent life this universe has come across. The most chilling scene in the film is when the android Ash, gurgling from his detached head, admires the alien as superior to humans. To Ash, the alien is not a monster, but the ‘perfect organism… designed to survive… unclouded by delusions by remorse… or delusions of morality.’

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrf0cH4o_g4

Ash’s final words reveal the true horror of Alien. A being emerges from the depths of space, shattering the belief in our own dominance in the universe. Despite our technology and brainpower, the lifeform butchers the Nostromo’s crew in a few hours. By the end of Alien, humanity is no longer the masters of space, but weaklings in a universe where darker beings, just like the Alien, may be lurking on forgotten planets. Space no longer tanatalises us with the chance of discovery and progress. The optimism we held for space in the 1960’s has been replaced, with a dread of what lies beyond our planet.

The alien is, like Ash states, intelligent life. If a being like an Alien did exist, it would challenge what we consider to be intelligent alien life. It does not have our intelligence, or social structures, but it lives and strives to survive above all else. How would we value such a being, and more importantly, how would we deal with it?

By Saul Shimmin

 

 

Future Imperfect (Blade Runner 2049) (2017) -Teaser

All those moments are rebooted in time

A Blade Runner sequel has been rumoured for a long time. I was hoping a sequel would never materialise but we live amidst a swathe of reboots, spin-offs and sequels.

The original Blade Runner was in a reality where human sentience had become mass produced, leading to android slaves who were disposed of and hunted by natural humans. Thirty years later, I felt a nagging wave of irony that Blade Runner 2049 has replaced Harrison Ford, who played the original Blade Runner Deckard, with a younger model. Gosling’s character is an updated Deckard, a version that will may reach Blade Runner 2069 before his own ‘retirement’.

Blade Runner was a complete arc that needed no addition. I am wary that this new film is simply a reboot, the vanguard for a cycle of spin offs which belittle the world penned by the great Phillip.K.Dick.

Many have forgotten that Blade Runner was not a box-office smash. The film has become acclaimed over time due to its influence over following generations of filmmakers, writers, film theorists and other creatives. We live in a time where nostalgia is profitable, but if Blade Runner 2049 will match the original, it will have to bear an intellectual profoundness that is starkly different from the nostalgia action experiences of recent years.

I am disheartened that Ridley Scott is only acting as the executive producer for Blade Runner 2049, but Denis Villeneuve is an excellent director who most know for Sicario. His earlier film, Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal in a tale of doppelgangers, proves that Villeneuve is willing to make films that challenge viewers.

The new film is still going to be set in the 1980’s conception of L.A in the near but radically different future. In the trailer, Gosling’s character ventures outside of L.A., into some hazardous hinterland where the environment has become a dust-bowl. Having read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? four years before watching Blade Runner, I am curious to see how much of the land beyond L.A will be formed from the book, a world ravaged by Soviet-American nuclear war.

Blade Runner is a statement about existence, reality and whether we can leave a legacy after we die. Every time I watch the original, I am both relieved and unsettled, unable to answer all the questions the film raises. If Blade Runner 2049 does not deliver the same reaction, I hope it is forgotten, like tears in rain.

By Saul Shimmin