First times for everything — and Prince Charles Cinema Leicester Square provides glorious and reasonably priced opportunities. Such opportunities have included watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner: The Final Cut for the first time. So what were they like?
2001: A Space Odyssey
My main reference for 2001: A Space Odyssey is the monotone computer HAL, and the terrific opening sequence in the Barbie Movie. Also the legends of weird side affects of watching the movie in the 1960’s. Given that it’s from 1968, it’s surprisingly undated and resonant. Based around an Arthur C Clarke short story from the 1950’s, watching it at Prince Charles Cinema offers a special experience in that they follow the Director’s instructions and show it Kubrick style. So you get music, then film, then an interval, then exit to music at the end. Not sponsored by Prince Charles Cinema, but this is unusual — maybe other cinemas do this too. This does mean that you get a break as it is a super long film.
It is wild — it starts with the Barbie reference — ‘early man’ discovering a curious black monolith in the desert, which seems to affect them and start them bashing bones and each other rather than unwanted baby dolls. Suddenly they start eating meat and killing each other. I feared for the Tapirs living with them at this point — hopefully stunt doubles!
Then we’re in space. Loved the attention to detail here — the graphics on the computers, the sticky pad shoes allowing people to stand upside down, the sense of weight and weightlessness and the trays of liquified food. So much thought has been given to how this space based world orbiting the Moon really works and styles itself. Amazingly Russia and America are friends at this point — as their space programmes shuttle in and out of the same shared facilities. However the future still looks remarkably like 1968 — women are still subordinate (in serving and admin roles) and there’s no diversity — clearly the dreams of Star Trek hadn’t got into this drama. Maybe some of the departing Russian cosmonaut party are female astronauts — commendably men and women can be friends here in this brave new world.
Something is up though — HAL (a super computer) is very curious about the human astronauts in their Moon orbiting station. Maybe too curious and too aware. This computer can read lips which leads to a nightmare scenario as the sentient, malfunctioning computer starts taking action to stop itself being shut down. But this is never resolved as there’s a digression to the Moon — where an ear piercing black monolith has been found, mysteriously buried. A similar structure is also shown floating out in deep space, like a beacon…
The remaining astronaut who survived the wrath of HAL ends up going Interstellar and travelling through some kind of worm hole or black hole. There are TRON-like light effects — but it is still a wonder. Bizarrely they end up observing themselves, much older though, in a rococo or neo-classical suite of rooms. At the same time there’s an even older version of themselves in a bed, who reaches out Sistine-chapel style. We inch closer and closer to an embryo in space — there’s the monolith — what’s it all about Arthur/Stanley?
HAL’s unblinking red light was terrifying. I’m also annoyed that the space story was left hanging — having nearly been murdered by HAL who’s attempting to save themself from being ‘shut down’, what happens to the abandoned astronaut buddy left floating into space? It’s survival of the fittest. Noticeably too is the lack of dialogue, as classical music (famously the ‘Blue Danube’ waltz) accompany scenes — including astronaut breathing and early man grunting. It’s very, very alienating — are we all just an alien experiment? Who knows?
Extraordinary are the space scenes — even what must have been animated model scenes are incredibly detailed. It doesn’t feel clunky or particularly dated. A wonder are the scenes of an astronaut jogging in a loop around the space station, and sinister when HAL lip-reads a discreet astronaut conversation. Don’t add drugs to a viewing of this movie — it’s mind blowing enough.
Real life footage of audience watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, with apologies to Back to the Future’s Doc Brown….
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
I haven’t watched this 1982 sci-fi classic movie for a long time and this is an equally what’s it all about Ridley/Philip K movie?! Well, in this case, it depends on the edit and what’s in or out.
The Final Cut restores the gritty noire elements of a society where everything can be made and is up for sale, and removes the happy ending voiceover at the end. It also made me really feel sympathy for the replicants throughout — they wanted to live and were being killed off, (not just retired and shut down like HAL), just because they were inconvenient, redundant, no longer needed. Like Frankenstein’s Creature, they just want to live — rather than being forced into unpleasant and sleazy roles to survive…and the things they’ve seen. Comparison too can be made in the ways they were misunderstood by the society and cultures they were in — seen as murderous and out of control rather than protecting themselves, clinging to life and trying to escape.
Sean Young’s Rachel is terrific — she just doesn’t stop crying as she realises that she isn’t human after all and maybe nothing she remembers is real, just implants of someone else’s memories. Is she refined or robotic? However, this is really Rutger Hauer’s movie — with facial gesture and posture alone as Roy Batty, he’s edgy, sympathetic, moving, heroic, horrified by death, not a killer , soulful, intelligent, a quoter of poetry (Milton!)— all at once. The nobility of his character is tremendous. Harrison Ford’s sleazy, jaded replicant retirer and cop Rick Deckard is superb too — although his encounter with Rachel doesn’t read well in 2023 — he seems to be ordering her or forcing her (purely because she’s a replicant and programmed to obey), rather than a big romantic moment with someone juddering with uncontrollable, suppressed, perhaps unwanted and unexpected emotions for the first time. The missing voiceover counterbalances this by restoring the obvious chemistry — without it, it just looks grim and I wonder why she stays with him. Run Rachel, run away! Overall their relationship is very old-school 1940’s detective noire, although Rachel is on a personal quest to work out who and what she really is. She clearly has feelings for Deckard or a really complicated identity as she’s previously shot a (fellow) replicant who was about to harm him.
Another wonder is Daryl Hannah — her charming, child-like replicant character Pris allows her to play such a different and complex role. She adds pathos in her death scene, and her panicked, self-protective fleeing (straight into solid surfaces) adds a layer of vulnerability. Though she has the potential to be deadly, her desire to live is all — can she and her ‘friend’ really be trusted?
The Final Cut is much more gory a version than I remember — it felt more squelchily violent here, but it also links more closely with the 1940’s noires/pulp fiction and Frankensteins which it seeks to emulate. Ridley Scott’s cinematography is a feast, as is the decaying Art Deco world they all live in — where those left behind all have something wrong with them. The styling and sets are everything, as is the amazing lighting. The attention to detail in the toy maker’s/befriender of replicants apartment is stunning — and disorientating. When the vehicles hover into buildings or Harrison Ford is pursued around a decaying department block — the scenes are so beautiful, matched by Vangelis's other-worldly yet noire-ish synth score. Loved noticing too how Denis Villeneuve had repurposed so much of the orange lighting here for Blade Runner 2049. Legend-like, there’s also a unicorn dream sequence in this version.
Despite the gore, the film still asks deep questions of who and what is sentient, what it means to be human and alive, and what happens when ‘things’ develop emotions, feelings of beauty and love. What does it mean to be made and to have agency? Who deserves to be free, and when does a what become a who? Without the voiceover, the fleeing to safety becomes more uncertain and just plain gritty, leaving us as an audience with more questions. Yet it touches us with beauty and endless striking images — such as the fluttering snowlike remnants after a fleeing replicant has been retired or Deckard’s own fragility hanging in despair at height or in assessing the damage after a fight.
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