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Double Bill : Cerebral Sci-Fi

The love of compiling the double bill features is, in my opinion, a lost art form. It has long since found a resting place in the early 80’s with the death of the drive-in. But what of the more recent cult classics that have been released years after the now, almost defunct, double bill feature has bypassed them? And what is to stop the double bill feature from being recreated within the comfort of the home cinema. Well there are the few independent cinema chains that try and make the tradition live on and to a certain extent so am I as a film obsessed fanatic. With that in mind I have come up with my own double bill features, tentatively titled ‘Geeky Double Bills.

So for the tweeting cinephiles among you I present the cerebral (without there being any mind numbingly dull moments ) double bill of Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi cult classic ‘Blade Runner’ mixed with the cyber-punk stylings of Mamoru Oshii’s A.I masterpiece, ‘Ghost in the Shell’. Released in 1982 ‘Blade Runner’ based on the Phillip K. Dick novel (titled ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’) is set in the year 2019 where a corporation in a dystopian Los Angles has built realistic and organic cyborgs called ‘Replicants’. When four of these ‘Replicants’ arrive on earth a retired Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, has to track and terminate the out of control robots.

For the first part of this cerebral double bill feature of dystopian futurism you will need: One DVD of ‘Blade Runner-The Directors Cut’ vintage matured from 1992 with added Vangelis score. You could opt for the more recent vintage and less aged 2007 ‘Final Cut’.  But the ‘Theatrical Cut’ is a firm no-no.

The second feature for this double bill is ‘Ghost in the Shell’, released simultaneously within the UK, Japan and America. Based on Masamune Shirow’s cult manga of the same name, it charts the story of a secret security force (section 9), cybernetic enhanced police who prevent cyber terrorism. Lead by a cyborg cop known as the Major who’s only human aspect is her memory and thoughts, has to track and capture an entity known only as ‘The Puppet Master’.

Which brings us to the final item needed: One DVD of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ circa 1995 as the 2009 2.0 version just will not do. This is due to the bitter after taste the added CGI reworked scenes give. Place both films into a solid double which encompasses the very best of artificial intelligence gone awry. Watch it simmer for three hours in the back of your subconscious and if required add a few sundries such as, popcorn (salted) and drink, non-alcoholic if possible as alcoholic will just lead to headaches. Then allow it to stew.

Now even though there are four varying versions of ‘Blade Runner’ my definitive version which I constantly come back to time and again is Scott’s Directors Cut. This is due to it being the first version I ever had the patience to watch and even at a tender young age, I knew this was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. I was drawn into its slow but stylistically detailed futuristic look. For a long time I was deep in thought ‘what could compliment this futuristic slice of dystopia?’ my answer came in the form of Oshii’s cyber extravaganza.

So why do both work so well in a double bill, well the answer comes in various different responses. Firstly both contain a lead protagonist who is the best at what they do; in this case it would be hunting and eliminating cybernetic entities which break the law. Deckard is a retired ‘Blade Runner’ a hunter of ‘Replicants’ who is deemed the only one who can take down a group of robotic murders. The Major in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is the head of a specialist team of cybernetic enforcers, hunting after a cyber terrorist ‘Puppet Master’.

Both contain a high tension foot chase between the protagonist and a potential suspect who is working for their respective antagonists. Blade Runner contains the now iconic Deckard vs. Zora chase, which culminates in Zora being shot in slow-motion through the chest leading to the now ‘infamous’ crash through multiple window frames. It is still one of the most standout moments from the film, due in large part to the lack of a score being used within the sequence. Scott instead relies on a didactic soundtrack, the hustle and bustle of crowded street teeming with scurrying passer-by who only get in Deckard’s line of fire. It is full of tension and frustration as you hope he gets his target.The same goes for the Majors chase of a suspect through the lower levels of an over populated Tokyo market. There is even a similar sequence where her college Batou is stopped from shooting at the suspect, as the public get in his line of fire, much like Deckard’s aforementioned scene. Slowly but surely these science fiction double bills are becoming intertwined as one, but lets not stop lets keep going.

Even their respective ‘final showdowns’ are similar in style; before the philosophical conclusions are presented both sequences take place within heavy rain. Whether this can be seen as a way to invoke symbolism or just used as a stylistic device is, basically, reading too much into the action sequence. But the use of a heavy down pour with the ambient sound over powering the underpinned score atmospherically goes further to (one again like the chase scenes) draw you into the action. It is also worth noting that they duly contain sequences where both characters are crippled in someway. Deckard unceremoniously has is fingers broken by antagonist Roy Batty but it is quickly bettered by the Major’s attempt to open a single manned tank with her bare, cybernetic enhanced body. What unfolds next is deceptive as you believe she is about to open the lid, only to have her limbs separate from their original position. Muscles inhumanly flexing (the squelching sound still resonating through me as I type this) with flesh suddenly, in slow motion, tearing from her body as she falls defeated. Pound for pound this shot leaves more of an impression then Deckard’s pain inducing finger break.

When push comes to cinematic shove, why are these sci-fi greats best suited as a geeky double? It possibly is because of the cerebral nature that underlines the context of both narratives, this is a thinking film fans double bill. It relies very much on the human aspects of morality and existence. Esoteric, yes, but never heavy handed in its execution as this is a double feature for those who want to be challenged, granted it could be seen as a case of style over substance at various points. These cyberpunk masterpieces constantly compliment each other as each of their scenes unfold, it is a cerebral double whammy of intelligent sci-fi. Stylistically each film has similar elements which play off each other, similar dystopian fantasies set within a futuristic landscape full of towering skyscrapers and advanced technology. All of which accumulate into recurring motifs, which genuinely make you ponder and question technology. Either that or I have too many bottles of beer. The second best way to double bill these two classics, watch Ghost in the Shell with the Vangelis soundtrack. Then allow the lucid dream like futurism to slowly seep into your subconscious.


2 thoughts on “Double Bill : Cerebral Sci-Fi

  1. Agreed, those two go together really well. On the other hand, I thought both were a bit overrated on first watch – Ghost I thought was great for what it was but it felt a bit like half a film to me for some reason and Blade Runner… I just didn’t get. Dunno, I might have just been in the wrong mood for it. Both are due a rewatch though, so I might do that over the holidays now you’ve reminded me.

    Posted by Lukasz | December 9, 2010, 9:13 pm
    • I think they are pretty much both visually captivating. I first watched Blade Runner at bout 10 years old, it bored me to tears.
      But as I got older I started to appericate the futuristic noir stylings, same goes for Ghost in the Shell.
      Both could also be viewed as style over substance with added pseudo musings on A.I.
      Either way they are still a great double bill for serious fans of sci-fi.

      Posted by thegreatob | December 10, 2010, 10:08 am

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