In Defense of the Slow Burn & Blade Runner

So I am a big fan of Blade Runner and am very excited to see 2049 sometime this weekend. I begged my friends Mary and Kyle to watch it. Now, in hindsight, Mary doesn’t go in for that kind of stuff. She is much more partial to Baby Driver and faster-paced movies because, you know, attention span. She found it boring and couldn’t get past the scene where Deckard meets Rachel. Kyle, on the other hand, is the biggest nerd I know aside from his roommate Alec. I thought they would both be totally down for Blade Runner, and was disappointed when they said they didn’t really dig it. Mary, I get, though. Anyway, she sent me the Honest Trailer for Blade Runner.

I actually agree with the Honest Trailer for Blade Runner. It is slow but that isn’t a bad thing. Baby Driver was very fast in every regard, from the editing to the action. Baby Driver, though, never explored anything thematic. I can’t really tell you what the broader themes of Baby Driver are, but that’s OK. Baby Driver did not ask questions of the audience. Baby Driver was meant to be fun. It was not a character study; actually most of the characters were very thinly written. That’s not a criticism, they don’t need to be complex. It’s not that type of movie. The more complex the themes and characters in the film are, the more analysis needs to be done. The more analysis needs to be done, the slower the film needs to be. Slow does not necessarily mean bad, although being slow can often leave general audiences bored and distracted. I’m not saying Joe Public is wrong for not appreciating slower movies, but Joe Public, if watching a film, may need to be prepared to invest himself. My parents didn’t really enjoy Hell Or High Water because it ended up being a deliberately paced, slow burning character study rather than a high-octane bank robbery thriller. My parents aren’t one for slow. Some of the movies I enjoy a whole lot are ones they really don’t. I, knowing what type of film it was going in, found it rather enjoyable.

Of course, there’s rare films like Heat that can do both high-octane and deep at the same time. Those are very rare, though. Heat might actually be the only film I know to pull off that tightrope act successfully.

The Godfather, a film Mary and I both enjoy very much, is slow as balls. I tried to watch it at various points throughout my life. I hated it. I could not stand it. Because, on the surface, nothing ever happens. No crazy gunfights, no action, no flash, no style. I hated it. That is until I was forced to watch it in class for Sociology. By the time Kay closed the door, 17-year-old me was like “That was brilliant.” The Godfather isn’t Heat. It’s not a crime film. It is a family drama with crime as a backdrop. It is a complex, slow, methodical character study of a good man slowly and subtly driven to evil. You need it to be long, and drawn out for that reason. Films like that are an investment that some people, like my friend Lauren, my parents, sometimes Mary, and sometimes Kyle aren’t willing to make. And that’s OK. The thing is, people are then very confused at how anyone could enjoy this, mainly because they don’t understand the concept I am attempting to explain. I encountered this with my aunt. She didn’t like The Godfather, or at least, she didn’t enjoy it as much as I do. I was surprised, because she indirectly introduced me to The Wire, which, though different, follows the same logic I am trying to explain. Due to the fact that The Wire asks weighty questions about society, socioeconomics, institutional corruption, basically all the things, it has to be methodical. Exploration of those themes cannot be done quickly.

In the 1940s and 1950s, a popular genre of film was noir. Noir were films inspired by pulp fiction popular at the time. Noir movies, like the hardboiled detective novels which they draw inspiration from, focused on the seedy underbelly of society and featured characters of dubious morals and were chock full of violence and sex. The Maltese Falcon and Sunset Boulevard were two you’ve probably heard of. Noir films were often told through the lens of a detective or PI who must navigate and deal with these shady people in order to find and discover the truth. Stylistically speaking, noir films made use of low-light and exaggerated shadows to create a feel of mystery and bewilderment. A character’s face will be obscured by shadow until the lighting of a cigarette reveals his face, for example. I can’t find a good video of a scene that properly demonstrates this but you get it.

With the advent of color, the neo-noir was created. My favorite film, The Usual Suspectsis a neo-noir. Chinatown is another great example.

The core concepts of what we now deem science-fiction were created by a guy named Isaac Asimov. Interesting dude; I would recommend further reading. He pioneered the genre and used it to ask complicated questions concerning humanity and the meaning of humanity using robots as a proxy. I have read some of his work in grade school. I haven’t read anything by him since seventh grade, and I was too young to fully grasp the thematic approach to his work. Surface level, they were still excellent and captivating to young me and got me to appreciate the genre more. Seriously, he’s good. Back to Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott said from the get-go that he wanted to make a combination of neo-noir and science-fiction. At the time in 1982, a genre-bender like that had never been attempted. It was very ambitious and, although it underwhelmed upon its theatrical release (mainly because that cut sucked, but you can reread my review for further explanation), it found success after several other cuts surfaced over a period of several years showing Scott’s true vision.

Blade Runner asks a bunch of very complex Asimovian questions: What constitutes a human, the philosophical questions surrounding slavery, rebellion, emotions, personal experiences, the list could go on endlessly. My Film Studies class took two whole class periods analyzing the film’s philosophical implications. In order to sufficiently cover all these complex ideas, it has to slow down and pull a Godfather. And it does this very well. Not to mention the score is amazing and the special effects still hold up because of the Final Cut rerelease. It is slow, and I realize that, I think everyone does, but people appreciate that.

There are a lot of “slow burn” movies out there that mainstream audiences may not appreciate. Heck, there are a lot of truly great movies that I didn’t appreciate at first. Slow burners may very well require a passage of time, a change in perspective, multiple viewings, or a combination of all three to really get to a point of appreciation, as Chris Stuckmann explains in this video.

I’m fine with Mary, Kyle, and Alec not digging Blade Runner, although I do hope they give it another shot someday. Maybe they’ll never like it, and that’s OK. I really just felt like talking about Blade Runner again.

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Westworld (Pilot) [SPOILERS]

Westworld is a science-fiction psuedo-Western mystery drama television series created by Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy for HBO. It is based upon the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton. The series stars Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris. Westworld premiered on October 2nd. I have been anticipating the series for quite some time, and it is finally time to see if my high expectations can be met.

Taking place some time in the future, Westworld is a hyper-realistic theme park populated by lifelike androids called hosts. Regular programming updates occur, managed by head of the Programming Division, Bernard, the successor to the brilliant and enigmatic Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of both the Host androids and Westworld itself.There are also updates to the main narrative of Westworld, managed by the arrogant but creative Lee Sizemore. Theresa Cullen is the Operations Director of Westworld, working closely with Bernard to deal with any malfunctioning Hosts or other developments. Hosts that are either outdated or begin to malfunction are sent to cold storage. Bernard is usually able to fix the bugs and send them back into rotation. Westworld Hosts begin to experience a number of bugs and glitches. Bernard discovers that these glitches are due to Dr. Ford’s “reveries.” These reveries are subtle gestures Hosts use that make them seem more human and lifelike to the guests. Hosts have their memories purged regularly, but Dr. Ford discovered a way to access them, creating a subconscious of sorts. The updated Hosts are all killed in a robbery orchestrated by the team and rolled back.

Meanwhile, we follow Delores, a Host in Westworld. She wakes up every morning and goes down to the station (where guests arrive) and normally, barring any interruptions by the guests, encounters Teddy, another Host and the love of her life, who arrives on the train with the guests every morning. A peaceful day with Teddy is interrupted by The Man in Black, a sadistic and mysterious guest with a hidden agenda, who spends the episode searching for answers to his unknown query. The Man in Black ruthlessly murders Delores’ father, mother, and Teddy, and presumably rapes and kills Delores. It is possible and probable that guests kill the Hosts, but Hosts cannot, due to their programming, bring harm to any living thing, even a fly. Hosts kill other Hosts all the time. One of the Hosts glitches out, killing several other Hosts in a psychotic rampage. Throughout the episode, Delores must deal with the turmoil in her life caused by the glitched out Hosts and the mysterious Man in Black. Of course, she has no memory of these events after being killed.

The film on which the series is based is a rather straightforward narrative about AI gone bad with hidden depths. Westworld as a series is so much more than that. Instead of AI gone bad, we are presented with an Asmovian tale of the android Hosts and their benevolent and omnipresent masters behind the scenes. Delores is the series’ de facto protagonist, as it seems. You end up caring more for the Hosts than you do about the humans, who are presented in a more antagonistic vibe, though you can understand and empathize with everyone’s perspective. as well. The Hosts have thoughts, beliefs, emotions, much like humans, but they are treated as tools. Peter, Delores’ father, discovers a picture of a guest from the real world, which causes the android to have nothing less than a complete and utter breakdown.

In the film, the robots go bad in a big way, but I don’t think that is what the series will focus on. We are one hour in, and there are already many questions, both philosophical and narrative ones, that need to be answered, questions about the nature of reality, the nature of artificial intelligence, ethics when it comes to technology, and humanity’s reach exceeding its grasp. Westworld is truly a work of narrative brilliance.

The acting in Westworld is flawless. Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Jeffery Wright, James Marsden, Ed Harris, and Louis Herthum are all great. Westworld has a budget of $100 million. With this massive budget, series creator, writer, and director of the pilot episode, Jonathon Nolan, is able to create a believable Westworld, and a believable future, as well. Subtle visual effects were used to make the actors seem more robotic.

Westworld is as intense as it is philosophical. The events that occur in Westworld itself are brutal, violent, and vicious. The series is as much a straight western as it is a sci-fi. To me, the most important question isn’t what’s going on with the Hosts at large, but what is up with the Man in Black? What does he want, and why is he torturing and slaughtering Hosts to get it?

Speaking of black, Westworld showed off its musical stylings and cinematic flair in one very interesting and engrossing scene. Using an orchestral cover of Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, the saloon robbery is possibly the most notable scene of the entire episode.

Featuring a score by Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, the music of Westworld is as haunting as it is addicting; it is another wonderfully constructed piece of the wonderfully constructed puzzle that is this series.

Westworld’s premiere episode had the network’s highest viewer count since True Detective in 2014, drawing in 3.3 million viewers. It is already well on its way to being HBO’s flagship series following the soon-approaching end to Game of Thrones. This excellent revival of an excellent film is certainly a must watch for me, and it should be for you, as well. The pilot episode is free to stream right now. As for any further reviews, I will most likely wait until the season is over to share the entirety of my thoughts on it, I just felt it necessary to get the word out, because this show is awesome and it can only get better.