Tag Archives: 16/20

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Benjamin Barker returns to London, his identity changed and hell-bent on dispatching the corrupt judge who falsely deported him to take advantage of his wife, his vengeance fuelled by learning the judge has taken Todd’s own daughter as his ward. He plots his revenge using his skills as an expert barber, and his bloody trade has fringe benefits for the mouldy pie-shop directly beneath his chair.

Despite being an admirer of musicals in both theatrical and cinematic forms, I must confess that Sondheim has always left me cold. For me, he over-complicates, musically and lyrically, for the sake of being complicated. Perhaps you listen to a lot of facile old rubbish, you may say. And you could be right: but I like to respond intuitively to music and Sondheim’s tricky rhythms, over-stuffed lines and gratuitous discords are distractions to doing so.

It is greatly to Burton’s credit, therefore, that Sweeney Todd is still a really enjoyable film. No doubt sacrificing potential audience to be true to his vision (the film has an ‘18’ Certificate in the UK), Burton’s Grand Guignol presentation of the story is literally drenched in blood. It’s not a film for the squeamish, but it is fitting to the tale that you should see the full horror of Todd’s cut-throat business. Though there are many moments of grim humour, in essence this is no laughing matter.

The film has two enormous aspects in its favour. The first is that the director’s imagination is perfectly suited to the material: if pie-shop owner Mrs Lovett is not a Corpse Bride she comes pretty damn close, and Todd is a living ghost, remaining on Earth with the sole purpose of revenge. In costume and set design (the main set, properly, stays close to its stage roots) the feeling of a stinking London town is vividly portrayed. The cinematography is right too, with a washed-out, murky palette, except for a few flashbacks and an amusing fantasy sequence at the beach.

The other delight is the cast. Johnny Depp is superb in the title role, completely switching off his natural charm to play the demented demon barber; we can see throughout that his eyes and his soul are already dead. Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs Lovett is a needy, cadaverous wretch, and the pairing of Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall as Judge Turpin and his beadle is inspired. Rickman’s lasciviousness is unsettling but necessary as we should feel that he deserves his fate. As the young sailor Anthony, Jamie Campbell Bower acquits himself well in a fairly unexciting role; Sacha Baron Cohen has an entertaining (and surprisingly powerful) cameo; and finally, young Ed Sanders is good as protective, gin-loving Toby.

The downsides? While it’s not fair to criticise the film for any faults in the musical, Sweeney Todd isn’t a film that you leave with a host of tunes on your lips. The soft ballad Johanna apart, it’s difficult to pick out a particularly memorable melody – although the comedy of Worst Pies in London and A Little Priest does help to offset this. Also, the singing, whilst in no respects of Tommy-esque proportions, is of variable quality.

I have no problems with Depp taking off Anthony Newley – it was good enough for David Bowie, after all – but Carter’s voice is a little thin, especially at the higher range. Also, I found Jayne Wisener to be unconvincing as both singer and actress in the role of Johanna, and found myself distracted by her doll-like features (most notably the size of her head) when she was on screen.

I was also very grateful that the main film featured none of the stylised but utterly unconvincing CGI of the opening credits. I had never previously considered how credits affected my perception of the impending film, but after Sweeney Todd’s I feared the worst.

Thankfully, however, my expectations were easily exceeded. Fans of Depp, Burton and musicals should definitely make space on their shelves for Sweeney Todd; and other viewers, so long as they have the constitution for it, should give the demon barber a visit too.


Strictly Ballroom

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: His prize-winning chances ruined by an insistence on trying new moves, impetuous young dancer Scott Hastings has only three weeks to find a new partner to dance Latin in the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. The last choice in his mind, and those looking after his interests, is Fran: plain, clumsy and a beginner. However, Fran is determined to earn her chance and the pair find they share more than just a love of dance.

We all know about ballroom dancing now, of course. Thanks to Strictly Come Dancing and its international spin-offs, dancing is officially cool. In 1992, however, ordinary Come Dancing was an esoteric late-night show watched only by a handful, and Luhrmann’s film must have presented an exotic and alien world to the majority of the public.

Initially presented in mockumentary fashion, though this is quickly dropped, Strictly Ballroom’s hero is Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), a flashy dancer who refuses to stick to established steps, much to the annoyance of partner Liz (Gia Carides, screaming for all she’s worth) and overbearing head honcho of the Australian dance world, Barry Fife (Bill Hunter, superb). Much like Dirty Dancing, ugly duckling Fran (Tara Morice) is the novice thrown into the fray.

The exposition feels as though it’s making fun of ballroom dancing, a preposterous whirl of extraordinary, garish costumes and big teeth and hair. The comedy is camp and broad, presenting a lot of caricatures but not many characters; and as far as the plot goes, you just know that Fran will lose the glasses, fix the hair, put a bit of slap on and look just fine.

But from this unpromising beginning something extraordinary emerges. Scott dances alone, then trains Fran to dance the rumba; in both these sequences the joy of performance is brought to the screen with brilliant clarity, and the rumba that the pair perform against a curtained backdrop is beautiful.

Mercurio is a great dancer, Morice an effective partner, and Luhrmann shows his love of dance in every frame. From their first dance the atmosphere builds and builds, through the paso doble training sequence to the stunning and emotional final dance. The plot machinations continue, with the old guard singled out as the villains, but these incidents simply serve to move the film along in entertaining fashion between dances.

Naturally, there are niggles: the subject matter will always be anathema to certain kinds of filmgoers; it’s rather too handy, too, that Fran’s family are expert paso dancers (why is she even going to the classes?). Furthermore, some of the comedy, like the dresses, remains over-bright. But these are all minor complaints, and even the cartoonish sequence explaining Scott’s father’s background is funny in its way, although it appears to be a relic of the earlier stage production.

In a refreshing change to established formula, the climax of Strictly Ballroom doesn’t see Scott and Fran walking off with the prize, but with the whole audience dancing. The message is that, essentially, competition doesn’t matter; the real prize is self-expression over rigid rules and discipline, a theme that Luhrmann has revisited again and again. If you want an experience that celebrates the joy of dance, and a nice little love story to boot, you should revisit this film again and again too.


WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Princess Elizabeth of England needs courage and good fortune to survive the bloody reign of her Catholic half-sister Mary. However, Mary’s death only slightly improves Elizabeth’s prospects, as her kingdom is impoverished and threatened from all sides. The Queen’s advisors all believe she needs to make a politic marriage; but if she is to give her heart to any man, it will be to her long-term lover Lord Robert Dudley.

England in 1554 is no place to be if you’re a Protestant, since ’Bloody’ Queen Mary (Kathy Burke) is all for burning heretics. The threat goes double for Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), whom the childless Queen considers a rival to the throne. Mary tasks the ambitious Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) to find treachery in Elizabeth, and she is indeed arrested and sent to the tower; but she is allowed to leave and resume her passionate love affair with Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), only to return to the court as Queen when Mary dies.

In the eyes of the Court, especially Council advisor Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough), Elizabeth’s reign is in constant peril whilst she remains unmarried, and since the French are camped in Scotland, the Court seem to have a point. Ambassadors to the Courts of both Spain and France (James Frain and Eric Cantona) push the claims of (respectively) King Phillip and the Duc D’Anjou (Vincent Cassel), but a visit by the Duc proves disastrous.

With Dudley also proving an ineligible suitor, Elizabeth turns her attention to parlous matters of state and the threat of assassination emanating from – among other places – Rome; to do this and still appear whiter than white, she relies on the quiet but ruthless machinations of her trusted eminence grise, Francis Walshingham (Geoffrey Rush).

The difficulty faced by any film based on historical events is that it has to balance the demands of telling its story dramatically, and in a narratively interesting framework, against the need to retain some historical accuracy – your audience will scoff if you’ve gone against the facts and invented too much of the story. And there are many who do scoff at the inaccuracies in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth, getting their knickers in an enormous twist in the process (if you want examples, Sir William was a much younger man than portrayed here, and Elizabeth was well aware of Dudley’s ‘secret’).

My feeling is that nobody complains about the dramatic licence Shakespeare takes with his histories, and why should they here, since the result is still an excellent film. Whatever the deviations from history, the events of Elizabeth feel as though they could have happened that way; nobody changes motivation unexpectedly, or acts without good reason, meaning that the story makes sense to itself. And Kapur unfolds the constantly shifting intrigues with great skill, creating an atmosphere of peril around Elizabeth that she confronts through sacrifice and courage – as she says herself, she becomes her father’s daughter. Interestingly, there’s a Thatcherite quality about her dealings with those around her which makes us consider her role as a woman in power.

Elizabeth explores the Queen’s dilemmas in love and in ruling the country, complicated by the link between the two; and while it debunks the concept of the Virgin Queen as so much propaganda, we see her choosing an unexpected path as she weds herself to her country. The viewer is invited into the heart of Elizabeth’s and England’s turmoil (for example, the grisly battle scene in Scotland), and from start to finish the film is violent and sexy, political and lyrical: in other words, everything The Other Boleyn Girl isn’t.

Elizabeth also benefits from some wonderful acting, chiefly an honest, raw performance from Cate Blanchett. Blanchett’s monarch is at times immensely unsure of herself, and some commentators have decried the notion that Elizabeth would exhibit such weakness. However, the idea that she had to overcome private anxieties, set aside her true emotions, is appealing on a human level and Blanchett works wonders to convey her emotions in gestures both small and grand. Her final transformation into the sexless, marble-like Virgin Queen is extraordinary, though musical pedants may consider Elgar and Mozart an anachronistic touch every bit as vulgar as the pop inserted into Marie Antoinette.

Blanchett’s multi-faceted performance is admirably supported by Fiennes (handsome but fundamentally weak), Rush (terrifically devious), Eccleston (solid and true to himself) and Attenborough (venerable), as well as Emily Mortimer as her chief Lady-in-Waiting, Kat Ashley (Kelly Macdonald also pops up and meets a tragic end). Star names also feature in minor roles, not least John Gielgud in a fleeting cameo as the Pope, his last role in a feature film, and Daniel Craig as the Vatican’s would-be assassin (not for the last time, getting tortured for his troubles).

There are also a few curious casting decisions, such as Wayne Sleep, Lily Allen (then unknown, of course), and Angus Deayton; but it‘s Eric Cantona who sticks out, even now his footballing days are long gone. The fact that Cantona largely speaks in a foreign tongue does help a bit, but compared with the French actors on show (Fanny Ardant, Vincent Cassel) it’s obvious that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. However, while he’s not very good, he’s not ruinously bad and is no more than a minor distraction.

In other facets, Elizabeth shows itself to have majestic production values. The locations and sets are fabulously sumptuous yet authentic in feel, as are the dresses and other costumes. The camerawork is fluid, and Michael Hirst (who went on to pen the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age and The Tudors) provides an intelligent script which feels neither jarringly modern nor stiflingly Elizabethan. The only false notes are struck by Cassel’s zany, cross-dressing Duc D’Anjou: he adds humour to the film (Elizabeth certainly has a laugh about him), but his scenes appear out of place when there are life and death decisions being made elsewhere.

It may well re-arrange events and embroider characters for dramatic gain, but Elizabeth – like The King’s Speech more recently* – does an impressive job of bringing across both the events and the people who shaped them without feeling sensationalist or artificial. Frequently dark in tone and colour, it’s a heavy-going film and not one you’d want to watch twice in quick succession: but in contrast to the fluff that has passed for historical drama in more recent times, it’s a minor masterpiece. Good Queen Bess!

NOTES: The moral? If you’re a British Monarch in need, call Geoffrey Rush.

The Hurt Locker

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: The tragic death of a bomb disposal expert in Iraq brings a new face to Bravo Company. However, unlike his predecessor, Sgt James walks relentlessly towards grave danger, much to the dismay of colleagues Sanborn and Eldridge who rather fancy surviving their tour of duty. As the days tick down, James can’t help but involve himself – and others – in potentially lethal situations.

The curse of the roadside bomb is a constant hazard in and around Baghdad, as Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) discovers to his cost. Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is devastated to lose his friend, while Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) carries the guilt of not preventing the tragedy around with him. The pair are partially consoled by the fact that Bravo Company have only 38 days left in Iraq, but the arrival of Sgt William James (Jeremy Renner) in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team shakes up their careful, methodical ways.

Ignoring the unit’s robot, James puts on the blast suit and snips away at wires first, unconcerned for his own safety and that of his colleagues, who immediately fear for their own lives. They even wonder whether, given the inevitability of James getting them all killed, it would be preferable to save themselves by killing him first. Not that, given James’ habit of going beyond his missions to find answers, he doesn’t give plenty of opportunities to the US Army’s enemies.

Appreciating films ‘properly’ is often a matter of timing. What that specifically means here is that I should ideally have watched The Hurt Locker before contemporaries such as The Men Who Stare at Goats and Green Zone, and before the hoo-hah surrounding the Best Picture nominations given to Bigelow and ex-husband James Cameron. Because I didn’t manage that, I arrived at the film with certain expectations that – to be fair – are mostly met: Iraq (this time, actually Jordan) is presented as a chaotic, searingly hot place, its buildings bombed-out and/or bullet-ridden, Baghdad’s citizens interfering or desperately trying to turn the situation to their advantage.

The action is filmed in the uneasy, shifting style of Green Zone, too, the handheld camera bringing the viewer into the action as we nervously look towards the sinisterly static watchers, uncertain (like Sanford and Eldridge) whether they are holding remote detonators. The film deftly exploits the tension of bomb disposal, and when bombs go off, the explosions are filmed with some stunning slow-motion photography.

Yet The Hurt Locker is much more than the standard Why are we here?/My ‘friends’ are as likely to kill me as my enemies/War is Hell movie. Indeed, the film explicitly states that ‘War is a drug’, and as Kathryn Bigelow draws out both action and characterisation in extraordinarily long scenes (my mind having been conditioned by decades of ADHD editing), we see that this is certainly the case for James. His bravado initially comes across as recklessness, or perhaps a deathwish; but as we discover more about him and his colleagues, we discover that beyond the cigarette-smoking pursuit of cool is a complicated man, with a failed marriage at home and reminders of the bombs he’s defused under the bed.

His relationship with Sanford and Eldridge is also well developed, the film giving plenty of time to their violent social interactions, to Sanford’s desire for a family and to Eldridge’s conversations with his confessor, Colonel Cambridge (Christian Camargo). Writer Mark Boal consistently and cleverly subverts the viewers’ expectations; at first, James’ friendship with a soccer-playing lad called Beckham (Christopher Sayegh) seems like a facile and sentimental touch, but it becomes an essential part of the plot, which shifts in unexpected and uncomfortable, gruesome ways.

The brief, uneasy section of the James family’s home life approaches genius, as does the grim comedy of the final caption: here’s a man who loves the idea of having a son to go back to, but finds that his life only has meaning on duty, not among the mundane choices of suburban day-to-day existence. Which is not to say that everything works – the episode with Ralph Fiennes’ contractors goes on much, much too long and fails to say much about the mercenary private operators attached to the war – but on the whole, the film does its job brilliantly. I’ve not mentioned the actors, but it’s not because of any deficiencies on their part; rather, it’s because they inhabit their roles so well – Renner is particularly fine.

The Hurt Locker isn’t a film which tries to say anything particularly profound about the Iraq War, or war in particular; and experts may nitpick about the realism or otherwise of what it portrays. On the other hand, it does provide a superbly-filmed and acted insight into the work of an astonishingly brave group of men, also revealing conflicts between colleagues and exploring their troubled minds. A superior film in every respect and one which, it goes without saying, kicks Avatar’s dumb blue ass from here to next week.


WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Struggling writer Miles takes his actor friend Jack away on a stag week, looking to relax with wine-tasting, golf and (hopefully) good news about his novel.  However, Jack is determined to enjoy his last week of freedom to the full and pairs up with Stephanie, an impulsive single parent. Although Miles is drawn to her friend Maya, he is held back by his fatalistic attitude and thoughts of his ex-wife.

Feted by critics on its release, Sideways is a modest comedy that was swept up by awards buzz in 2005, earning an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and a nomination for Best Picture, alongside dozens of other awards. Some viewers seeing the film for the first time may wonder what the fuss was about.

I say this because, at heart, Sideways is an incredibly simple story, focusing on Miles and Jack’s road trip and Miles’ attempts to move on with life after his divorce from re-married ex Victoria and a breakdown he suffered subsequently. The trip is set against the luscious backdrop of California vineyards, but the subject matter and its pat conclusion of “All you really need is a woman who understands” has been dealt with many times before.

Two elements distinguish the film. First off, the actors are brilliant – as Miles, Paul Giamatti is masterful at treading fine lines, making his character sympathetic even as he is stealing money from his mother or reading Barely Legal magazine. Miles is also educated, sensitive and a good friend; and even if you think he’s a loser, the film tells you why he’s a loser. During the course of the first evening spent with Maya and Stephanie, Miles’ descent into introspection and drunk-dialling is uncomfortable but compelling.

Contrasting completely with Miles, Thomas Haden Church’s Jack rarely thinks about anything except getting his end away; he is utterly selfish, morally indefensible, yet still retains a dudeish charm; and it is not as though he goes unpunished for his actions, physically at least.

Whilst the female characters exist primarily as reflections of what the men are looking for, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh do well to round out the parts of Maya and Stephanie respectively. Miles and Maya’s relationship grows organically, realising they have more in common than merely a love of wine; Jack and Stephanie, on the other hand, have nothing but animal instincts drawing them to each other, and Stephanie is equally wild when she finds out the true reason for Jack and Miles’ trip. These four actors dominate the film and do a fantastic job at holding the viewer’s interest.

The second distinguishing element is the film’s sharp script. It’s entertaining, informative and a little bitchy about wine and wine-tasting, and equally clever on relationships. The script draws out Miles’ passion for wine (Jack, conversely, says everything’s pretty good), but establishes that what he really enjoys is talking about it, criticising it; his oenophilia really only conceals his frustrations as a writer.

Whilst Jack is wavering over his impending marriage, a clever scene with Stephanie’s mother and neglected daughter in a bowling alley shows that he would find the domestic situation hell after less than a week. Of course, the script is also very funny, in particular on the golf course, or when Miles has to recover Jack’s wallet after a liaison too far; despite their ups and downs (so to speak) you can see why Jack and Miles would be friends.

As in Election, director Payne is not afraid to bring things bluntly to the screen, so you should be prepared for some fruity language and the odd bit of nudity – mostly male, it should be said, and very funny too. It is refreshing to see a romantic comedy centred on the lives of people who have been around the block a bit, and although the themes are familiar the ending is left nicely open, for Miles at least: discovering his ex-wife is pregnant (and therefore not drinking!), he drinks his precious ‘special occasion’ wine in a fast-food restaurant before visiting Maya, and we are left entirely to our own devices as to whether we think they will be successful in love.

Essentially, this is where the script, Giamatti’s performance, and Sideways as a whole earns respect. In its modest, bittersweet way, the film says that you will never be guaranteed a happy ever after in life: but if an opportunity comes along, you should at least give yourself a chance.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Two aspiring guitarists seem destined to failure at school and separation, until the intervention of the mysterious Rufus and his time-travelling phone box. Will their race against time see them present their all-important history report and thereby secure the future happiness of the entire planet?

Some films, without even knowing it at the time, capture and shape a moment brilliantly. For the benefit of those who weren’t there or weren’t listening, for a number of years in the late 80s and beyond films such as Bill and Ted’s… and Wayne’s World shaped the vocabulary of English-speaking youngsters with phrases such as ‘Excellent!’ and ‘Party on!’ Not having seen the original Saturday Night Live sketches, I am unable to say whether Bill and Ted or Wayne and Garth first brought these ubiquitous slacker phrases to the world’s attention, but I would like to think the honour lies with this film’s pairing.

The similarities between Wayne’s World and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure go beyond vocabulary, as both feature the protagonists as aspiring musicians, creating videos and an awful racket in their parents’ basement/garage. However, unlike the later film, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (as Bill and Ted respectively) at least look the same age as the characters they portray; and unlike the later film’s concentration on Myers’ mugging to the camera, Bill and Ted actually have a story to tell.

More concerned with forming a rock band than studying, Ted is threatened with being sent to a military academy in Alaska unless he achieves an extremely unlikely A+ in his and Bill’s history presentation. Unbeknownst to them, the happiness of 27th Century San Dimas, California relies on the success of Wild Stallyns (sic), so a cool dude called Rufus (the late George Carlin) is dispatched to make sure the assignment is a knockout. The boys bag a host of historical figures to give their impressions of present-day San Dimas, impeded by the unreliability of their phone booth, the threat of execution in medieval England, and the meddling of Ted’s uptight father.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has much more to offer than the dumb amiability of its title characters, though this is a good part of its charm (Reeves in particular is uncommonly cheerful). The script makes good use of the double incongruity the plot device offers, getting comedy out of the pair plucking figures such as Socrates, Napoleon, Beethoven and Freud out of history, as well as the historical figures’ reactions to modern day California. The mall scene and Napoleon at the water park are standouts, but there is always something going on in the film that, at a trim 83 or so minutes, never does anything simply to beef up the running time.

It also has fun with its sci-fi elements, the choice of phone box/booth being, presumably, a nod to Dr Who’s TARDIS; and while you can drive yourself mad with the paradox that Rufus would not visit them unless they ultimately succeeded which wouldn’t happen unless Rufus visited them (if you follow me), the film knows and revels in this with the Eddie Van Halen conundrum and the business with Ted’s Dad’s keys. Speaking of Van Halen, the noodly riffs accompanying Bill and Ted’s air guitar movements are also cute.

If I have to gripe, the cursory introduction of the princesses as love interest is so brief as to be almost totally redundant, and Beethoven’s keyboard masterpiece in the shopping mall contains no keyboard whatsoever, as far as I can tell. But the film is full of so much charm, playfulness and invention that you hardly notice flaws, and are left totally inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s exhortation to ‘Be excellent to each other’ during Bill and Ted’s exciting (and educational!) history concert. In an age where comedy is pitched at the level of getting laid, naked or drunk for laughs, to watch a film that entertains by doing none of these things is indeed – how best to put it – most excellent. Bodacious, even.

Blade Runner

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: 2019: Alarmed by a massacre on an off-world shuttle, the police order ‘Blade Runner’ Rick Deckard to seek out and destroy the latest generation of Replicants, robots virtually indistinguishable from humans. His deadly game of hide and seek is complicated by his relationship with Rachel: beautiful, intelligent, and one of the Replicants he is assigned to ‘retire.’

Based on the Philip K Dick story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridley Scott’s second future-based film (the first being Alien) was infamously messed about with by nervous studio bosses concerned at the ambiguity of the film’s denouement. This review is of the 1992 director’s cut which restores most of Scott’s vision.

And what a vision it is. Calling on the services of 2001 effects maestro and Silent Running director Douglas Trumbull, Blade Runner presents a vision of the future that is both credible and convincing, Los Angeles presented as a perpetually dark city where neon tubes provide the main source of light and adverts are projected onto buildings, where hovering police cars patrol the poor, immigrant-filled quarters of town. It’s not a unique vision, but only because the style has been copied in endless films, games, and television shows since (Total Recall – based on another Dick story – perhaps unsurprisingly springs to mind).

Rising high above the poverty are glittering buildings such as that belonging to the Tyrell Corporation, the makers of the ‘more human than human’ Nexus 6 Replicants that Deckard (Harrison Ford) has been assigned to kill, or rather ‘retire’. Such care has been taken in the set design of this building (inside and out) and others, and in the costumes for Deckard, elderly ‘Creator’ Dr Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and his special project Rachel (Sean Young, looking like a film noir femme fatale), it is hard to tell when the film was made.

Of course, clues are given in details like the CRT televisions and primitive computer graphics, and the age of the actors is fairly obvious; but by and large Blade Runner succeeds because it projects a view of the future which does not have 1982 stamped all over it. This is also true of Vangelis’ sparse, spacey score which adds greatly to the atmosphere.

The story itself is a very simple game of hide and seek. The Replicants are led by Roy (Rutger Hauer), who with the help of Pris (Daryl Hannah) gains access to genetic engineer J F Sebastian (William Sanderson) and via him, their ‘Maker’ Tyrell. Deckard must find and retire the Replicants, but he is distracted by Rachel, who does not know she is a Replicant until Deckard conducts tests on her.

Aside from a chase which sees the other Replicants killed – exotic dancer Zhora and disturbed manual worker Leon – there is little action other than the final hunt in the creepy building where Sebastian lives. Again, atmosphere is key here, and the scene where Deckard searches for Pris among Sebastian’s weird toys is nothing short of brilliant.

As with the special effects, the film’s script thrives on attention to detail. The provoking questions of the test used to expose Replicants and Rachel’s vivid childhood memories that blind her to her artificiality are just two examples of the film’s intelligence, which creates atmosphere in the absence of action and raises significant questions. If the Replicants are virtually human, do ‘humans’ have the right to enslave or destroy them? What, in fact, constitutes being human? Not to give the game away, but Roy’s last speech is a thing of beauty, as is the ‘proper’ ending to the film that the director’s cut restores.

However, you can understand why studio bosses may have wobbled. In the era of The Empire Strikes Back and E.T., this is a science fiction film with no laser gun duels or spacecraft battles, few laughs, zero merchandising opportunities and an ambiguous ending. Blade Runner is undoubtedly serious stuff and there are only so many times you can use the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘atmospheric’ when the word you really want to use is ‘slow.’ Blade Runner excites the mind rather than the heart, but it should be seen: as the director intended, and on as big a screen as possible.