Saturday, October 07, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Lost Saucer: "The Tiny Years" (September 13, 1975)

The saucer travels through a time warp and lands on Earth in the year 2465 AD. There, the crew finds a culture of “Littleniks,” tiny humans who are the result of molecular cell reduction.

The tiny people capture Jerry after the Dorse accidentally litters near the city of Tiny-apolis. The mayor of the city (Gordon Jump) considers this incident no laughing matter, but rather an invasion by “Biggies.”

Meanwhile, Fi (Jim Nabors) has a case of the mechanical hiccups...

The title of this second episode of The Lost Saucer (1975) -- “The Tiny Years” -- has always seemed a play on Star Trek’s famous “The Deadly Years, only here the subject is tiny people, not aging. 

In terms of “tiny” people, this episode is also clearly a callback to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and the idea of tiny people -- there called Lilliputians -- capturing a normal-sized person and restraining him. In this case, the tiny people tie up one of the travelers, Jerry (Jarrod Johnson), with ropes and stakes.

Since this series is essentially a sitcom, the nature of the “enemy” encountered this story apparently necessitates an endless series of quips about height, or size. “Enough of this small talk,” says one character.  “What’s with this Gulliver routine?” says Jerry.

And, unfortunately, this episode repeats a shtick that was big in the seventies: one character constantly repeats what was just said by another character.

I suppose the most surprising element about the episode is that it isn’t really about size, or height, despite all the jokes, but rather a meditation on resources. Basically, the Littleniks dislike the Biggies because they are wasting the energy and resources of the world.  At the end, Alice (Alice Playden) sums it all up in one line of dialogue: “We biggies should learn to conserve our natural resources.”

It’s too bad the information has to be spoon-fed to the audience in so simplistic a way, and yet on the other hand, this is a kid’s show. Because of that, hammering home a theme or “moral” is clearly part of the game. What I enjoy, so far, about The Lost Saucer is that the series couples science-fiction imagination and slapstick comedy with these stabs at relevant social commentary.

That’s a lot of lifting to do in a half-hour show, and yet these episodes move by at a quick clip. Some of the insult humor (“You must have been put together with an erector set!”) grows wearisome after a while, but Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi sure seem to be having a good time.

In terms of technology, we see in this story that Fi and Fum are equipped with rocket boots that enable them to glide through the air, and run off their energizers. The flying scenes are realized through the ubiquitous technique of chroma-key.

Next Week: “My Fair Robot.”

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "Benita's Double Trouble"

In “Benita’s Double Trouble,” Peter Platter wants the Bugaloos to DJ his show while he is away at a convention.

However, this plan goes astray when Benita (Martha Raye) captures Platter so she can take over the show herself, and play only her own records.

The Bugaloos learn the truth, after a desperate phone call from Peter, and decide that I.Q. should pretend to be Benita to confuse her minions, and rescue their friend.

“Benita’s Double Trouble” is not a bad half-hour, but it nonetheless demonstrates the strain of writing fatigue, as it is basically the same story we have seen many times before, both on The Bugaloos (1970) and other Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning programs, such as Lidsville (1971).

In stories of this nature, the protagonists dress up in disguises as a “double” of the villain character (or some important guest character), so they can accomplish a particular mission. In this case, I.Q. -- who does only a marginally passable imitation of Benita -- dresses up as her to confuse her minions. 

Naturally, hilarity ensues as the dopey minions can’t tell the fake Benita from the real Benita.

“Benita’s Double Trouble” is made even less successful because it doesn’t culminate in a new song, instead repeating an old one. One can tell, basically, that we have arrived at the last-half of the series catalog. There are fewer new songs, and almost not new developments in terms of narratives, or ideas. The series is in a rut.

Here, there are some weird touches to discuss. For instance, the Bugaloos suddenly possess a telephone…in Tranquility Forest.  I know this is a fantasy series -- and one for children, at that -- but phones have to connect to wires (and poles), and there doesn’t seem to be any of that support infrastructure in the forest.

I know. It’s a nitpick.

The best joke in the episode involves a clue about Peter’s kidnapping. The Bugaloos must answer a question about The Beatles’ second movie. The answer, of course, is Help! (1965).

Next week: “Circus Time at Benita’s.”

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Cult-TV Blogging: Star Maidens: "The Trial"

On Medusa, where women rule, and men are lowly servants, Dr. Rudi Schmidt (Christian Quadflieg) of Earth, is made the domestic servant of Octavia (Christiane Kruger), the security chief for the planet.  He uses position, however, to obtain classified information about “rejects,” insurrectionist-males who have been banished to Medusa’s inhospitable surface.”

When Rudi’s treachery is discovered, he is taken to Medusan court, tried by computers, and banished to the surface with the “rejects.”  When he engineers an attempt to get back inside the city and steal a spacecraft from a hanger, however, the Medusans suspect that his talents can be harnessed elsewhere. 

He is brought back inside, and Liz (Lisa Harrow) his former assistant in Britain, schemes to make him her domestic, so they conspire to return to Earth.

“The Trial” moves at breakneck speed, and gets in much action for a 22 minute episode. This installment depicts the Medusan legal system (highly computerized, and completely discriminatory...), and reveals a rebellion, or insurrectionist movement among some domestic males.

The story provides more action in this installment than has been seen in a while (since the car chase on Earth in the second episode, “Nemesis.”  '

One of the best moments of the episode features Rudi and the “rejects” on the surface attempting to down a Medusan ship; a malevolent-looking black vessel that looks like a cross between a spider and the Eagle Transporter from Space:1999 (1975-1977). 

The ship fires a deadly beam, and the rebels are able to reflect the energy back at the craft.

The idea of men being banished to the surface is a good one, though one that may not make strict scientific sense. 

We have been told, in the weekly opening-narration, that Medusa left her system of origin and became a rogue planet, wandering through the space. In the process, her surface and atmosphere turned to ice.  

The surface seen in “The Trial” is definitely inhospitable, though not frozen.  One might argue, I suppose that the surface is growing more hospitable since Medusa moves nearer and nearer Sol, our sun. Of course, that still doesn’t explain how the atmosphere continues to exist, and be breathable for humanoids.

Although “The Trial” moves a little too fast, I find many aspects of it fascinating. Rudi’s trial, for instance, reveals computer lawyers and judges with female personalities, who, as a matter of course, discriminate against males.  So, on Medusa, the prejudice against men is actually encoded in the system; in the very dictates of law.

Another aspect of life on Medusa which is made plain in “The Trial”: constant surveillance. As chief security councilor of the planet, Octavia possesses the ability to spy on anyone, anywhere in the society. 

Here, she spies on Liz and Rudy in Liz’s private quarters, using a drone-like device with a Dalek-type eye stalk. 

We also learn that the men of Medusa find it very difficult to disobey the “voice” of women. The government of Medusa in “The Trial” attempts to put down the rebellion, and in one scene nearly does so just by having women order the men to stop.  

Obedience is so ingrained in these men that find it hard to cast off.

Fortunately, Rudi doesn't suffer from that problem. As a result, Medusan authorities constantly underestimate him.

Next week, we stay on Medusa for “Test for Love.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Pop Art: Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine Edition

Blade Runner Vehicles (ERTL Edition)

Model Kit of the Week: Blade Runner Spinner

Video Game of the Week: Blade Runner (1998; Westwood)

Board Game of the Week: Blade Runner (CPC; 1982)

Comic Book of the Week: Blade Runner (Marvel; 1982)

In October of 1982, Marvel Comics released "the official comics adaptation of the hit film" Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott. 

Setting aside the crazy marketing hyperbole (because Blade Runner was not a hit film at all on release in the summer of 1982...), I've always found this two-issue adaptation of the tech noir classic to be one of Marvel's finest movie-to-comic efforts.

Adapted by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon, the comic version of Blade Runner evidences an unusually high-degree of fidelity to the film's visuals. 

If you've seen Blade Runner (and I assume you have...), you understand immediately why that's so important. Blade Runner creates a distinctive mood and texture through its imaginative (yet wholly believable) visualizations of a future "dark city."

Just ponder Blade Runner for a minute, and your mind will fill with indelible images of incessant rain; neon signs, vast "talking" billboards on the sides of incredible skyscrapers, flying cars and the like. 

From the gleaming, smoking city-scape of the future, to the palatial penthouse of the Tyrell Building, Blade Runner proves itself one of the most visually unique and accomplished science fiction efforts in the cinema's history. Marvel seems to get that; it takes precious few liberties with the film's aura or production design.

One pertinent example: Marvel is the outfit that could never quite get the look of William Shatner's Captain Kirk right in Star Trek; but the artists here do a bang-up job of making Rick Deckard look exactly like Harrison Ford. Indeed, all of the likenesses to the cast are eerily, commendably good.

A good comic-book adaptation of a film doesn't just live and die by the visuals, but also by the way it successfully opens up a story we've experienced already; thus showing audiences something familiar and different at the same time. 

Here, again, I find Blade Runner quite an achievement. For instance, during one of the film's exposition-heavy early scenes (involving Deckard and his boss, Bryant), the comic-book actually cuts to images of the information/data Bryant is relating about the escaped Replicants.

When Bryant describes Roy Batty's history ("They used Roy Batty in every off world conflict in the last three years. He'd flown Gypsy ships with the Russians at Tannhauser Gate and been with the squadron of Night Timers in the wars near Jupiter..."), we see frames of burning spaceships, in planetary orbit.

It's just one more way to open up Blade Runner's world, but a powerful one. I remember when I first saw the film thinking about the incessant advertisements (carried on blimps...) for life "off world." That idea carried such import for me: who would stay behind in this overpopulated, nihilistic world? And what kind of life did the "off world" promise? Well, obviously someone at Marvel thought about that too, and inserted this nice little explanatory frame about Batty's outer space exploits as a "super soldier."

On the downside, the Marvel comic includes the theatrical version's hammy voice-over narration (though it reads better on the page than it did on the screen), as well as the sort-of-unbelievable ending sequence featuring Deckard and Rachel heading off to a natural northwestern paradise (really left-over stock footage from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining [1980]).

So far, Marvel hasn't offered an official adaptation of the "director's cut," so don't expect any unicorns.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Cloud Minders" (February 28, 1969)

Stardate 5818.4

The Enterprise has been tasked with stopping a terrible botanical plague on Merak 3. To do so, the ship requires supplies of the rare mineral known as zenite. The only zenite in the quadrant, however, can be found on the planet Ardana, a member of the Federation.

As Captain Kirk (William Shatner) learns very quickly, Ardana is a world of “violent contrasts.” The government, artists, and social elite are all housed in Stratos, a floating city in the clouds. Meanwhile, those who support the city, Troglytes, live in dark, dank condition on the nearly inhospitable planet surface.

Kirk and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) are attacked by “disruptors” -- a Troglyte reactionary group -- at the collection site for the Zenite. When it looks like the needed material may not be forthcoming ant time soon, Kirk must attempt to negotiate the social breach, befriending a Troglyte named Vanna (Charlene Polite), and earning the enmity of High Advisor Plasus (Jeff Corey), who runs the city and believes that all Troglytes are inherently inferior.

Spock attempts to get through to Droxine (Diana Ewing), daughter of Plasus, while Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) learns that the “diminished mental activity” of the Troglytes is caused by exposure to the Zenite in its natural form, not any physiological or genetic inferiority.

Kirk realizes that filter masks could prevent such exposure and heal the Troglytes. But Plasus refuses to believe that the Troglytes could ever be the intellectual equals of the Stratos city-dwellers.

Based on a story once called “Castles in the Sky,” by David Gerrold, “The Cloud Minders” has long been controversial in terms of its genesis. Back in the early 1980’s, Gerrold and producer Fred Freiberger each had their respective say about the episode in Starlog. That dialogue, in many ways, has formed the conventional wisdom about the story.

And what is the conventional wisdom?

That, specifically, “The Cloud Minders” -- a story about social inequality -- missed the mark to some degree.

By focusing on the filter masks, the critics suggest, the episode suggest that the Troglytes will keep working, and keep being unequal in the society. The real issue -- the racism and ethnocentrism of the Stratos city dwellers -- is largely unaddressed. The Troglytes, with their gas masks, can now be happy slaves!

I don’t concur with this interpretation. And I think the argument is silly.

My feeling about the show’s finale is this: Before Kirk’s intervention with the filter masks, the Troglytes can’t effectively “disrupt” Stratos. They are affected by the gas, and not able to rally a truly effective strategy to combat the establishment. By giving the Troglytes the tools to fight for themselves, Kirk is making them a worthy opponent to the establishment. Their grievances will be redressed, as the Troglytes return to normal.

I don’t necessarily see this as a weaker resolution, but one that maintains, at least to some degree, the independence of the Enterprise. I think it’s a better solution, at least in terms of drama (and drama as it applies to a continuing series).

How so? 

Well, Kirk and his party ameliorate a health concern, but don’t overtly involve themselves in the politics -- or civil war -- of a sovereign Federation member planet. I don’t believe the episode would have worked effectively had Kirk merely taken sides, and helped the disruptors overthrow Stratos. 

Writing in terms of history now, often on Star Trek much of the drama often arises from the fact that starship crews seek to help planets they encounter but can’t fight their battles for them. Instead, the captains and crews can sort of “nibble” around the edges of the problem in hopes of fostering legitimate and meaningful change.

I would argue that “The Cloud Minders” is squarely in that tradition. Kirk has helped wrong a right, but he also hasn’t smashed a culture based on his own moral judgement of it.

None of this means that the episode is perfect.

In particular, “The Cloud Minders” handles Spock very badly. Just a season ago, Spock was willing to die rather than discuss Pon Farr with his very best friend, James Kirk.

In “The Cloud Minders,” he discusses Vulcan mating with Droxine, a woman – and non-Vulcan -- he has only just met.  The contradiction is jarring. 

Of course, one might argue that Spock only adhered to that secrecy because he was a Pon Farr virgin, so-to-speak, at the time of “Amok Time.” Here, having gone through it, the experience needn’t be handled with such sensitivity. 

But, that explanation is likely a stretch, considering how Tuvok handles the experience on Voyager (1995-2001): with extreme privacy and secrecy.

Also, Spock’s monologue and reverie about Stratos -- in which he flashes back to events already established, and re-hashes the plot -- seems a terrible waste of time, and an unnecessary bit of editorializing. It is quite clear from the performances of Shatner and Nimoy that Kirk and Spock don’t approve of the “segregated” nature of life on Ardana. No need to spoon-feed the audience the same information already communicated.

Finally, though Droxine is lovely indeed (and garbed in a fantastic Star Trek gown), it is not clear why Spock would be attracted to someone so set in her ways, and so prejudiced in her thinking. Droxine is a very shallow person, and not the type of person I see Spock being drawn to. She supports, after all, segregation.

And in some sense, that is what “The Cloud Minders” is really about: segregation between the haves and the have nots. As Spock notes, those on Stratos who receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens, in this case, the Troglytes. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. As Spock observes, such a system does not suggest “wise” leadership. One group of citizens is haughty and entitled, while possessing no useful skill set. The other group of citizens barely eke by, a situation that, of course, fosters utter resentment.

The brilliance of Kirk’s move -- giving the Troglytes the filter masks -- is that he has presented the Troglytes with the platform or stability to fight back, and use their superior bargaining position. Freed from the negative effects of Zenite, they can now use their power to extract basic rights and freedoms from the people of Stratos.

Without the Troglytes, Stratos will, literally, fall.

Many writers and fans see in “The Cloud Minders” resonances of the science fiction classic, Metropolis (1927). That movie also concerned an uprising against an unfair and imbalanced social structure, with the workers striking back against the rich and powerful.  “The Cloud Minders,” however, is a different animal because it must also negotiate the role of a third party: Starfleet.  

And that’s where, I believe, some of the episode’s cleverness arises. Kirk’s unnecessarily brutal treatment of Plasus is, after all, a result of his exposure to Zenite. When Kirk expresses his distaste, he has a reason for acting in a manner not appropriate for a starship captain.

Some fans also view it as a weakness that Ardana was granted membership to the Federation, even though its society is patently unjust. I don’t view this as a weakness of the story, but as a strength. No world is perfect, and the Federation, in hoping to grow and expand, obviously chose poorly in accepting Ardana’s application for membership.  Perhaps Ardana’s application was accepted only because of the presence of zenite.

I have always wondered if the events of this episode jeopardized Ardana’s membership in the United Federation of Planets.

Next Week: “The Savage Curtain.”

The Films of 1982: Blade Runner

Although released to decidedly mixed reviews and audience ennui in the summer of 1982, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner has since ascended to the pinnacle of the sci-fi cinema Valhalla.  

In fact, the Scott film is often mentioned in the same breath as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as, perhaps, the greatest science fiction film yet produced.

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman wrote thatBlade Runner is a singular and enthralling experience. Never mind the plot. From its spectacular opening shot, a hellishly beautiful vision of 21st-century Los Angeles, the movie casts a druggy, hypnotic spell.”  

Reviewing the director’s cut of the film The Boston Globe wrote that the film was “a triumph of production design and cinematic mood.

As many reviews suggest, much of Blade Runner's now sterling reputation arises from the film's meticulously-crafted, pioneering production design and dazzling visual presentation. An heir to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), the 1982 Scott film visualizes a world of corporate control, class warfare, and the next-stage in our understanding of what it means to be man…or machine.  

Or as a special effects guru on the film noted to Richard Corliss in his Time Magazine review, “The environment in the film is almost a protagonist.”

Yet Blade Runner's triumph isn't merely one of forward-thinking, dramatic visualization. 

The film assiduously echoes the up-to-the-minute social worries of the era in which it was crafted (the 1980's), and obsesses on issues that remain of great importance in our nation, even today: race, and wealth.

Set in the future year of 2019 -- in a monolithic, blighted metropolis -- Blade Runner presents a future world in which business and technology have ballooned to titanic proportions and dwarfed the human spirit.

Advertisements for Coca-Cola and other products stand several stories high.  

And as human dwellings reach closer to the very sky itself, the more grand and opulent those residences appear. 

The lucky rich are literally awash in warm golden light, as though access to the sun is itself a perk of extreme wealth. We see this fact visualized in the classical, clean lines of Tyrell's (Joe Turkel) sun-soaked penthouse apartment: a veritable Mount Olympus, and a home not just for a Man, but for a God on Earth.

This is appropriate, because, of course, he is a man who plays God, creating a race of slaves, essentially, known as Replicants.

Meanwhile, far down below on street's a roiling Hell of ugly industry, punk fashion, neon lights, steam, and ubiquitous rain. 

The hungry and the poor toil there like mindless ants, mostly unnoticed by those living in luxury and wealth high above. 

This is the world of today -- the haves vs. the have-nots -- but forecast into a grim future, where the divisions have grown even worse.

Again, it’s illustrative to consider Metropolis, and the idea there of a split “future” society: rich men above the Earth, living in opulent gardens and residences, while the lower class, the workers, dwell beneath the ground, in a utilitarian city carved out of rock.  Blade Runner takes that status quo, but adds a layer of fantastic new special effects visualizations to it.

Thematically, the world of Blade Runner might best be expressed by a throwaway line featured in the film: “If you're not a cop, you're little people.” 

And if you're not human, if you're a Replicant, you aren't even little people.

Importantly, that dynamic represents the core of the film's race-based statement. That mankind has played God by creating the Replicants, but then steadfastly refused to acknowledge this creation, this child, with the very dignities we all cherish every day: equality and liberty.

Like all underclasses throughout history, the android Replicants in Blade Runner are known by a derogatory slang term: skin-jobs. And Replicants also boast a built-in expiration date that makes them seem less than fully human: they die four years after their "incept date."

As you may well imagine, this fact doesn't sit well with some Replicants, and that's what precipitates much of the action in the film. A cadre of Replicants returns to Earth (from off-world) on a spiritual quest; on a search for more life that, in sub-textual terms, might be interpreted as the search for racial equality.  

The Replicants don’t want to be classified inferior, their very lives and identities unimportant and unrecognized.  

They want equality (and more life)…fucker.

Man Has Made His Match. Now It's His Problem.

In narrative terms, Blade Runner revolves around the hunt and pursuit of six renegade replicants. 

Yep, I wrote six, and that's according to Los Angeles' police chief, Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) in explicitly stated dialogue. 

This number is important to note, especially according to one specific interpretation of the film. But more on that reading later.

The man doing the hunting in this case is the laconic, hard-boiled and lonely Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former detective in a special police squad called Blade Runners. Blade Runners are famous for "retiring" skin jobs.

The quarry this time includes Leon (Brion James), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Pris (Daryl Hannah) and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). And yes, that's only four names, even though Bryant specifically mentioned six Replicants.

Over the course of his investigation, Deckard questions the latest model of Replicant, a new upgrade built by the Tyrell Corporation named Rachel (Sean Young). "More human than human" as the slogan goes, and Rachel doesn't realize she's actually a machine. She even boasts distinctive memories from her childhood. But these memories are really just clever implants; the memories of "Tyrell's niece."

Deckard soon falls in love with the winsome, confused Rachel and -- depending on which version of the film you see -- also experiences strange dreams of a unicorn in a primeval forest. After hunting down the last of the Replicants, Deckard must decide if he should pursue his romantic relationship with a Replicant.

Meanwhile, the aggrieved Replicants go in search of their God, Tyrell, only to learn that he knowingly created not children...but slaves.

"I Think It Was Manufactured Locally:" 1980's Terrors Lurking in Los Angeles, 2019

Early in the 1980's, many citizens in the United States of America feared that the country had a new, powerful and sinister competitor: Japan. At the time, that Pacific nation excelled in industry, manufacturing, and the development of new technologies. 

Importantly, Japan was also the United States' main international creditor in this era, and it benefited financially from a forty-to-fifty-billion dollar trade gap with the United States.

In particular, the Japanese auto industry seemed to be cleaning Detroit's clock. Many World War II veterans who had fought in the Pacific and had witnessed the draconian, brutal behavior of the Japanese in a time of conflict, perceived a new danger to America from this old foe.

As a character in Die Hard (1988) knowingly jokes, "Pearl Harbor didn't work" so Japan was conquering the United States economically: with "VCRs." There were many Americans of the Greatest Generation who felt precisely that way in the early 1980's, and my beloved, now-deceased paternal grandfather was one of them. He never bought a Japanese car.

Although structurally and visually a deliberate reprise of the 1940's film noir (an era, incidentally of actual rather than economic war with Japan), one of Blade Runner's many undercurrents involves this 1980's'incursion of Japanese business interests in future America.

In particular, it appears that in 2019, American business (always ahead of the curve and looking for ways to stay alive....), has assimilated Japanese business interests into its very structure so as to continue turning huge profits and remain on the top of the food chain.  

Or, as authors Douglas Kellner, Flo Leibowitz and Michael Ryan wrote in their essay, Blade Runner: A Diagnostic Critique (Jump Cut, February 1985, pages 6-8):

"Crowds of people mill through rain-soaked streets, evoking common fears about overpopulation and "foreigners" overrunning future cities. On the East and West coasts of the U.S., for example, Japanese ramen and sushi cafes have replaced U.S. fast food chains, and visibly prominent are many Asian merchants and street people. The film here seems to articulate paranoia about Japanese capitalism "taking over" the United States. Nevertheless, the film’s city (Los Angeles) seems under the hegemony of U.S. capitalism, which now seems to have incorporated its rivals into its structure. The society’s economic structure combines small, street-merchant-style, "free enterprise" with paternalistic capitalist control. Most of the merchants in the film are Asian or European, whereas the corporate president and executives of the Tyrell Corporation are all North Americans."

So Blade Runner acknowledges the timely fear of a Japanese take-over in America, but puts a spin on it. Even the resourceful Japanese have become slaves to a Corporate Nation – the 1% -- in the future.

Similarly, Replicants -- constructed piece-meal in Mom/Dad, Asian-controlled shops such as the Eye Factory run by Chew (James Hong) -- are another symbol of Big Business run amok in the future of Blade Runner; of the consumer culture of the 1980's carried to the next level. It's a world where human beings use other beings (androids) for pleasure, to fight wars, and to perform menial tasks that humans apparently no longer wish to do.

And yes, this description today rather uncannily mirrors how immigrants are viewed in modern American society. Interestingly, the film suggests that Big Business will go along with a new influx of workers from other nations, and even co-opt that work force so to stay on "top," literally, of the situation (living high, high above it, in palatial skyscrapers).

"Is This to Be An Empathy Test?" A Replicant Civil Rights Movement in Blade Runner

In the World War II era, a dedicated drive towards equality for all U.S. citizens was begun here at home. The 1940's was the epoch of Roosevelt's Executive Order 8802, which opened up new job possibilities for African-Americans. It was also the era in which white-only primaries were judged unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Importantly, the noir era in film was also the age of Truman's National Committee on Civil Rights, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and the election of Chicago's William Dawson in the House of Representatives. There was still a long way to go, but the long march towards racial equality was beginning in earnest.

Blade Runner explicitly discusses race and the history of race inequality in America. As I noted above, it speaks deliberately and forcefully in the film language (noir) of the 1940s, an era when race was a concern in the United States as enumerated above.

More than that, the Replicants in the film are described in historically racist terms, ones involving the nature of their skin, not the quality of their character. They are not "colored" or "negro," but "skin-jobs." Replicants are not considered "fully" human, and again, this reflects our very tragic history: In 1789, in the Constitution, African-Americans were considered 3/5s of a person...not the equivalent of a white person, in other words. 

Why is this important?  If you see someone as being less than fully human (like, say an "illegal"), that descriptor makes it much easier to enslave them, or to deny them basic human rights. In the film, Roy Batty acknowledges this fact and contextualizes his experience, and the experience of the Replicants…as slavery. He discusses with Deckard what "it is to be a slave."

I suppose there is no need to describe Deckard's hunt of the Replicants as a "high-tech lynching" but certainly, the Replicants are treated harshly as a matter of course in 2019. Deckard shoots Zhora in the back, exposing the ugly truth that Replicants have no legal rights in this society. They are not arrested and afforded due process of law. They are not innocent until proven guilty. 

Instead, Replicants are shot on sight because of what they are, not because of their conduct. This is the essential characteristic of institutional racism: denying people freedom not because of their behavior; but because of their origin, skin color and heritage. 

If you desire to delve deeply into the visuals of Blade Runner, consider that Zhora is murdered while crashing through a series of transparent glass barriers, a metaphor, perhaps, for the oft-mentioned "glass ceiling" that keeps racial/ethnic minorities from achieving high level positions in society.

Leon attempts to kill Deckard and says to him, "painful to live in fear, isn't it?" And that too is a crucial part of the racial equation. For the Replicants, it's the knowledge that they can be shot and killed at any time simply for living in a city where the authorities deem they do not belong. 

You can travel pretty deep down the rabbit hole with this interpretation of the film, if that's your inclination. 

There's a test in Blade Runner for determining if a person is human or Replicant, and it is called a "Voigt-Kampff" Test. That name sounds uncomfortably like Hitler's manifesto Mein Kampf, doesn't it? And when we think of the Nazis, we remember their belief in racial purity, the subjugating of "lesser" races, right? The Voight-Kampf functions as a tool to identify one such lesser race: the Replicant.

And interestingly, what this test seeks is the "empathy" response in the iris, in the eyeball. 

"Empathy," of course, has become a racial code word in America today, as we saw during the two Supreme Court justice nominating processes in the Obama Era. What Blade Runner doesn't make plain, however, is if Replicants possess a surfeit or lack of empathy in their iris responses. What do humans possess?  More or less empathy than a Replicant?

Finally, what's abundantly clear in Blade Runner is that Replicants are people too. They are, as the saying goes, more human than human.  They love, they mourn, and they want what all human beings want: more life. 

In fact, the Replicants undergo a real spiritual quest in the film. They seek to find their God, Tyrell, and petition him for more life. They seek forgiveness from him too, at least after a fashion, for their brutal methods of self-preservation. In answer, they are told by Tyrell, Our Corporate God, that they have done nothing "the God of biomechanics wouldn't let you into heaven for."

Of course, the Replicants then kill God, but the relevant point is that Replicants, like humans, seek to understand their very nature, and turn to the divine for that knowledge. Some might say that by playing God, humans too have killed God.

Roy Batty does even more than that, however. He not only seeks answers from his God, but, ultimately, shows mercy to his enemies, which is something you cannot say for the police in Blade Runner. Batty could kill Deckard...but chooses to save his life instead.  In his final moment of life, he decides that life is too beautiful to snuff out, even in an enemy.

In this beautiful and emotionally-wrenching climactic scene of Blade Runner, Batty is depicted grasping a white dove as his time on Earth runs out. 

This bird is a representation of the Holy Spirit in Christian Mythology, and its presence suggests that Batty is truly one of God's creatures and, through his mercy, has earned the right to be considered such. 

When the dove flies heavenward, released by Batty, the image suggests that Batty's soul has fled his body; that he was more than just a machine.  Like all of us, he possesses a spirit.

You've Done A Man's Job, or Less Human Than Human: The Deckard Equation

One of the key questions regarding Blade Runner involves its protagonist, Deckard. Director Ridley Scott has suggested that Deckard is, in fact, a Replicant himself. Harrison Ford has gone on record as saying he believes the opposite, that Deckard is human.

As in all great art, a case can probably be made either way.

If Deckard is a Replicant, then he is clearly "passing" as a human being, and that seems to fit in with the film's racial overtones.  

Indeed, there are passages of dialogue in the film that hint at Deckard's mechanical nature. In particular, Gaff (Edward James Olmos) tells Deckard after Batty is dead that the blade runner performed a "man's job." 

In other words, a job worthy of a man, or a human being.  

This description could be interpreted to mean that the Replicant Deckard has performed as well as a human would under similar circumstances. It is thus a race-centric remark (Hey, you did good….for a black guy!) and thus an acknowledgment of Deckard's genetic origin.

Also, Gaff leaves behind at Deckard's apartment a small origami Unicorn. In the director's cut of Blade Runner, Deckard dreams of a unicorn in the forest. If Gaff is aware that all Replicants are encoded with the unicorn dream as part of their unusual genetic make-up, then he has left behind the origami unicorn to help Deckard understand the truth about himself. If only Deckard can put it all together...

In the final battle at the Bradbury building, Batty also says to Deckard "let's see what you're made of," as if there is a question about Deckard truly is made of, genetically-speaking. 

Well, what is Deckard made of?

The ensuing fight scene suggests that our hero is made of much the same stuff as Batty. 

Notice that during this fight, Scott's camera catches both Deckard and Batty mending damaged hands at roughly the same time, through the art of cross-cutting. 

This editing choice could represent a subtle, visual connection. Both men share something in common: an injury. 

On one level this could simply be an indication that a Replicant boasts the same survival instinct as a human does.

On another level, it could mean that these men share a different kind of "kinship," Replicant-hood, if that's a word. 

Also, it's important to note that both Batty and Deckard are slaves, though in service of different masters. But this too could be interpreted either way. To demonstrate, perhaps, that the gulf between human and Replicant is not so wide; or more pointedly, to sub-textually suggest that both men are Replicants.

Lastly, remember that Bryant discussed six free Replicants.  

Yet the movie depicts four Replicants, and notes that one (the fifth?) was killed attempting to cross a border, a fence (a death which again, reeks of racial connotations in today's America).

That leaves one Replicant remaining, right?

So who is the sixth and final Replicant?  It can't be Rachel, because when Bryant conveys the story of the six Replicants to Deckard, Rachel has not yet left the custodianship of Tyrell.  

Therefore, by process of elimination, the sixth Replicant must be Deckard himself.

Finally, the very form that Blade Runner utilizes -- the film noir detective story -- suggests Deckard's mechanical heritage. In the best film noir movies, the investigation by a detective leads, inevitably, to some shattering personal revelation.

Consider Johnny Favorite's journey of self-discovery in a Blade Runner contemporary, Angel Heart (1987), or the shattering revelation by Faye Dunaway's character in Polanski's Chinatown (1974). 

In noir, we must conclude that the ultimate discovery is not who-did-it.

Rather, it is "who am I?," the discovery or assertion of identity

If Deckard is indeed a Replicant, then the film adheres closely to this noir format and tradition. That's ultimately why I favor this interpretation (that Deckard is a machine); it seems encoded in the film's very DNA.

On the other side of the equation, if Deckard is not a Replicant, then, at the very least the film's racial overtones carry an optimistic message to go out on. If even a Blade Runner can fall in love with a Replicant, as Deckard does here, then there is hope yet for the human race to overcome bigotry and prejudice. There is some hope of future equality for these artificial people.

But whether Deckard is a Replicant or a human being, Blade Runner remains a brilliantly-conceived and dynamically-executed motion picture. The film noir approach grants some breathing room for the film to contextualize the Replicant experience of 2019 in language that we all understand and recognize, at least subconsciously. It is the language of race, spoken in an inherently unequal society in terms of wealth.

Blade Runner is so packed with fascinating ideas and subtexts (like the quest for immortality; for example), that it's almost impossible to do the film any sort of justice in one blog post.  As critic Rita Kempley wrote in The Washington Post (back in 1992): 

"Every viewing of "Blade Runner" brings new discoveries..."

I wonder what Blade Runner 2049 will bring...