Science Fiction Studies

#75= Volume 25, Part 2 = July, 1998





Brooks Landon

Dazzle and Disappointment in BFI Modern Classics

Sean French. The Terminator. BFI Modern Classics Series. Indiana UP (800-842-6796), 1996. 72pp., illus. $9.95 paper.

Anne Billson. The Thing. BFI Modern Classics Series. Indiana UP (800-842-6796), 1997. 96 pp., illus. $10.95 paper.

Scott Bukatman. Blade Runner. BFI Modern Classics Series. Indiana UP (800-842-6796), 1997. 96 pp., illus. $10.95 paper.

With books already published on Blade Runner, Blue Velvet, The Crying Game, Don't Look Now, Easy Rider, The Exorcist, The Right Stuff, The Terminator, The Thing, and Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the BFI Modern Classics series promises "insightful, considered, often impassioned" discussions of important films of recent years. Each exploration of the production and reception of a modern classic film proceeds "in the context of an argument about the film's quality and importance," and the series, editor Rob White asserts, "will set the agenda for debates about what matters in modern cinema." So far, I've seen three of the books in this series--Sean French's The Terminator, Anne Billson's The Thing, and Scott Bukatman's Blade Runner--and enjoyed all three, but while each of these discussions is in fact "insightful, considered, often impassioned," only Bukatman's celebration of Blade Runner will "set agendas about what matters in modern cinema in general" and in science-fiction film in particular. French's and Billson's books are informative, useful, enjoyable, but they pale in comparison with Bukatman's fine meditation on Blade Runner--more evidence that Bukatman is easily one of the most provocative and rewarding critics now working with sf film.

Of course, the above comparison is unfair insofar as Billson and French almost certainly never intended their books for an audience primarily concerned with issues of science fiction and science-fiction film. Neither did Bukatman, for that matter, but he is well aware that such an audience exists, is well versed in the salient issues of its discussions, and is committed to exploring the fascinating reciprocal relations between science-fiction film and postmodern culture. Billson and French, on the other hand, are invested in championing popular film, but only marginally interested in pursuing its cultural implications beyond rudimentary social symbolism. And, unlike Bukatman, neither seems particularly interested in exploring the phenomenology of cinema beyond defensively noting that special effects aren't nearly as obtrusive and unjustified as some critics would have us believe. I note these different assumptions about audience both to commend the BFI Modern Classics series for its eclecticism and to caution SFS readers that in this series a good book about a good science-fiction film is not necessarily a contribution to sf film scholarship. Indeed, while Bukatman's study of Blade Runner is an indispensable model of film and cultural criticism, both French's and Billson's books have little to offer beyond engaging information about and appreciation for their respective films.

My concern here is not primarily with French's The Terminator, which Peter Fitting has already reviewed in SFS #72 (24.2 [July 1997]: 351-53), but some of the odd, if not bizarre, strategies employed by French to argue for the classic status of Cameron's ode to Arnold Schwarzenegger bear remarking. French attributes the success of The Terminator almost exclusively to the genius of James Cameron, offering an auteurist analysis borrowed from the very film snobs French dismisses as theme- and symbol-mongers. And much of his praise of Cameron rests on the claim that despite a messy legal settlement with Harlan Ellison, Cameron did not plagiarize the story in his film. Rather than consider the evolution or adaptation of possible sources, French assures us that (a) everyone in Hollywood plagiarizes and (b) charges of plagiarism are "beside the point." I mention this not as a knock on Cameron's well-demonstrated inventiveness, but as a sign of the curiously defensive tone that permeates French's book. For example, rather than offering specific reasons why The Terminator should be thought a classic (following the BFI lead, let's agree to leave that very pesky term undefined), French simply quotes from Dr. Johnson's preface to his edition of Shakespeare and notes that, like Shakespeare's drama, Cameron's film has successfully outlived its time--that is, if you consider the decade of the 80s its time and are impressed, as French obviously is, that The Terminator can still be bought on video. And, when French struggles to move beyond his central explanation that audiences found naughty pleasure in the Schwarzenegger terminator because "there's a little bit of the terminator in everybody," to whom does he turn for critical support but...William Hazlitt! My point here is that, although French's discussion of The Terminator offers some interesting information about the production of the film (who knew, for example that Cameron resisted pressure from his financial backers to give hero-from-the-future Reese a canine cyborg?), it argues quite lamely for this film's "classic" status and has almost nothing of value to say about sf film.

"The mark of a serious SF movie used to be," French solemnly intones, "that at some point a scientist would give a speech about the future of humanity...." Low audience expectations "born of bitter experience of cheap SF movies" helped account for The Terminator's surprise success, French informs us, and the film further distinguishes itself because it "eschews the usual blind adoration for technology that is traditionally at the heart of the science fiction genre." And, if wrongheaded banalities such as the above were not bad enough, French, taking his cue from a Cameron comment, cutely speculates about how an imaginary 45-year-old Stanford English professor might find value in this film. Such a professor in search of "socio-political significance between the lines" (Cameron's words) might notice, French helpfully offers, that The Terminator is "a feminist subversion of what had been a quintessentially male genre," might notice that the film is "anti-establishment," "anti-capitalist," and "pro-gun control," and "might even argue that The Terminator is a serious work of art because of its religious theme" (John Connor = J. C. = Jesus Christ, get it?). To be fair, French then rejects these imaginary-English-professor insights as "well-intentioned but misguided defences" that cannot account for the film's "darker and more ambiguous" politics, but even his ostensibly more sophisticated real-movie-reviewer reading of The Terminator offers a painfully narrow sense of cinematic value, one limited almost entirely to the film's paraphrasable thematic content. If this particular discussion of a modern classic film is going to set any agendas, it will need to borrow The Terminator's time machine and head backward another fifty years or so.

Anne Billson's The Thing also falls short in the agenda-setting department, but its enthusiastic attempts to recapture the feel of Carpenter's film are much more thoughtful, more attuned to cinema-specific aspects, and a lot more fun to read. Paralleling director Carpenter's commitment to take horror and science-fiction genres "seriously without ever degenerating into po-faced pretentiousness" (either a term I need to learn or a wonderful typo), Billson declares her thoroughgoing loyalty to this film:

When The Thing first came out, I was bowled over by it. I was transfixed by the tension all the critics had maintained was non-existent; the build-up made me so nervous that I thought I would have to leave the cinema even before the first hint of a tentacle. I was knocked out by Dean Cundy's spare yet elegant widescreen cinematography. And I was impressed by the economical but effective performances from a cleverly chosen cast, which, together with Bill Lancaster's deft screenplay, never for one moment left you stranded in limbo, trying to work out which character was which.

(That last point about not confusing the characters figures a bit too prominently in Billson's fondness for this film, apparently having something to do with her claim that "The Thing is an exemplary film in its arrangement of groups of men within the frame.")

Billson's central conceit for writing about this film is that the film itself is something of a monster that waves its "repulsive yet fascinating tentacles" in her face, splices "paranoia, body horror, group politics and vital questions of human identity" into a "single throbbing entity which--as befits a film about an amorphous alien being--throws out all sorts of disturbing tentacles and wormy entrails as it slithers on its inexorable way along its doom-laden storyline." Perhaps hyperbolic prose is unavoidable when we're talking about the film with several of the gooiest and most outrageous special effects scenes in film history, including the sequence Billson admiringly details in which a supposedly human chest of a heart-attack victim opens up to reveal jagged teeth which bite off the arms of a doctor trying to shock the patient's heart back to life; the supposed patient's neck then stretches, the head detaches from the body, drags itself along the floor by extruding a long lizard-like tongue, turns upside down, sprouts spider legs, and scurries across the floor. When an appalled witness to this sequence blurts out "You've gotta be fucking kidding," Carpenter's The Thing achieves one of the self-reflexive high points of science-fiction film. Billson gets all this, calling the scene "an extraordinary coup de cinema," and rightly wonders why so many film critics "failed to recognize the quality of imagination on display in the film's special effects," but her analysis of this sequence degenerates into simplistic symbol-labeling:

The spider-head is, without a doubt, the film's most memorable and disturbing image. Fear of spiders is a common enough phobia, but the frisson factor of this particular arachnid is multiplied many times by its being formed out of what is, in effect, a severed head--another classic symbol of castration, hence the Symbolist movement's fondness for femmes fatales such as Judith and Salome.

Here Billson strains to tie this scene to a case she obviously wants to make but to which she cannot quite commit--that the Thing is "the eternal female," "a true femme fatale, an unknowable creature of mystery composed of all sorts of orifices in the most surprising places, soft gooey tissue where normally there should be hard muscle, and a shape which changes in order to assist propagation of her species." More on this half-advanced quasi-thesis later. What surprises and disappoints me most is that Billson stretches for such a superficial and non-film-specific sexual reading while ignoring the fascinatingly film-specific issue Steve Neale has identified in this very scene. Neale's "'You've Got To Be Fucking Kidding!' Knowledge, Belief and Judgment in Science Fiction," published in Annette Kuhn's widely taught and cited anthology, Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema (Verso, 1990), argues that The Thing is "determined not only to display the latest special effects, but also to display an awareness that they are the latest," as part of the larger phenomenon of sf film's foregrounding and celebration of its production technology. The case that Neale makes specifically for The Thing has been more generally advanced by a number of other critics, including Garrett Stewart and myself, and goes to the heart of the nature of science- fiction film. It is quite odd that Billson fails to mention either Neale or this well-established discussion of the role of special effects in sf film, but, for that matter, she does not cite any of the published scholarship devoted to The Thing or to science-fiction cinema. Her only citation of a work of film criticism is to Ado Kyrou's 1963 Le Surréalisme au cinéma, and she uses it only to make the claim that The Thing "most closely resembles an adult fairytale." While occasional bursts of technical specificity, such as references to Carpenter's "trademark tracking shots" or his making "full use of the widescreen frame and depth of field" suggest Billson's knowledge of film production, she makes no effort to consider the impact of these shots, nor to relate them to a larger cinematic tradition. It's hard to set agendas when you fail to acknowledge that your writing joins long-standing critical discourses about film, much less science-fiction film.

Although Billson's efforts to recreate what it feels like to watch this movie ("We're now about 45 minutes into the film, and this is our first sight of the alien effect on one of the human characters, but it's not as bad as we'd been fearing." "The film is now approaching the one hour mark, and things are really cooking.") generally succeed and certainly establish her fondness for its every moment, her actual "defense" of the film, the case for its classic status, is surprisingly weak. Dismissing its original poor reception as predictable mistreatment at the hands of old and stuffy critics, predictable audience unease in the era of Reagan and Thatcher to a film that was an edgy throwback to films of the 70s, and predictable overshadowing by the phenomenal success of E.T. (released the same summer of 1982 as was The Thing), Billson offers a timid, scattered, and occasionally goofy rationale for rehabilitating The Thing's critical reputation. Those yucky special effects, she suggests, are not really that yucky: "The Thing is by no means a Splatter Movie per se; it's splattery only in the broadest sense." Furthermore, this is "incontrovertibly an adult horror film, with grown-up characters and themes, released at a time when horror films were increasingly being populated with disposable teenage victims, kitted out with interchangeable rock 'n' roll soundtracks, and aimed directly at the youth market." Today, Carpenter's film makes it impossible not to think of AIDS, and it could also be "a prescient commentary on the spread of mad cow disease." And, if all of that hasn't yet convinced us The Thing is a classic, Billson informs us that Quentin Tarantino really likes it, the movie is better than the graphic novels that have continued the film's story, and, uh, uhm, the movie "is also a testament to the human spirit battling against insurmountable odds in a hostile environment."

Now, like Billson I do believe this is an important, under-appreciated, and under-studied film (I devoted a chapter to John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" [1938] and the Hawks and Carpenter adaptations in my book The Aesthetics of Ambivalence [Greenwood, 1992]), and, along with Billson, I think this film is a lot of fun. But I also think it offers a unique opportunity for rethinking the history and the function of science-fiction film. So her essentially fannish approach to the film impresses me with its enthusiasm and engagement, but disappoints in its failure to say much of anything about the functioning of film in general and sf film in particular. When Billson spends time second-guessing the actions of the characters in the film ("if he'd only thought to train that unerring aim on the Norwegian's leg, instead of on his head, he would have saved himself and his men a whole lot of trouble") or trying to explain narrative stretches ("There is, however, a plausible explanation for Blair's instinctive grasp of what the men are dealing with"), or recording her affective responses ("our nerves are shot to hell, Carpenter can throw the works at us now, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it"), I admire her unpretentious honesty, but I expect more than to be told what parts of a film kept the critic(?) on the edge of her seat. And when I find half of a page devoted to listing the seven "rules" that characters in horror movies invariably break (#3. "Never take a shortcut through the woods, especially when dressed in only a nightgown"), I wonder whether BFI has decided to make a big play for the fanzine market.

What passes in Billson's book for deeper analysis of The Thing is her inchoate sense that this movie must have something to do with sex. In an early scene, you see, Macready calls the female-voiced chess-playing computer a "cheating bitch," and in one of the final scenes he yells "Fuck you too!" at the Thing. When Mac's flamethrower fails to ignite at a crucial moment, Billson defends him as "all man, even though he's been suffering from temporary ejaculatory problems," and when he tries to blow up the Thing, Billson reminds us that he does so with a "(phallic-shaped) stick of dynamite" that produces an "orgasmic explosion," leaving Macready "exhausted from having shot his load." Somewhat troubled by the fact that Bill Lancaster--following Campbell's lead in "Who Goes There?"--excluded women characters, Billson seems determined to find sexual connotation anywhere she can (as she pointedly ignores the film's racial politics). While her casting of the Thing as "the eternal female" seems the endpoint of her analysis, it's difficult to tell what Billson actually thinks of this identification. And, if the following gender analysis is any sign of the sophistication of her thinking, her lack of further reflection on the alien as femme fatale may be a blessing. Noting that the men in the film make absolutely no attempt to communicate with the Thing, and briefly suggesting that its aggression is understandable, Billson declares:

Groups of males, especially, are unable to abide anything that stands out as different from the crowd. It hits them where it hurts--threatening their fragile egos and undermining their sense of individual manhood. At the same time, assimilation by the Thing offers them a chance to cast off their human identities and merge into the alternative safety of another sort of crowd. And there you have it--modern man's dilemma. He wants to maintain his free will, yet at the same time he wants to be part of the tribe.

My dilemma lies in the fact that I found much of Billson's book to be hopeless twaddle, but it did make me want to watch The Thing again, and, for all my carping, I admire her determination to have fun writing about a fun film in a fun genre made by a fun-loving director. That part she got right. But, like French, Billson sets her analytical sights so low that her supposed valorization of a science-fiction film rests more on her own liking for the movie rather than on any developed sense of its film-specific attributes or any sense of its cultural instrumentality.

As irony would have it, Scott Bukatman provides a most instructive counterpoint to the 45-year-old Stanford English professor imagined by Cameron and French. OK, Bukatman isn't exactly an English professor (Comp. Lit. and Film), and it will be a while before he sees 45, but he is at Stanford, and "between the lines" analysis (also above, below, beside, and behind) is something he does with gusto to exciting effect. Bukatman's Blade Runner shows us what can and should be the importance of science-fiction film criticism. It reminds us that science-fiction film is much more than science-fiction story--that sf film pushes the perceptual agendas of its medium, that sf film arises from and reflects film traditions not necessarily the same as those of sf literature, and, most basic of all, that moving pictures move. While I'd quickly agree that Blade Runner gave Bukatman more to work with than The Terminator offered to French or The Thing offered to Billson, I'd also argue that Bukatman's book suggests a number of ways of looking at and thinking about sf film from which Billson's and French's studies would have greatly profited.

In the first place, Bukatman declines the inherently losing gambit of trying to argue that Blade Runner is a "classic," opting instead to contend that the film does a number of interesting things and to connect those aspects to larger issues in sf, sf film, film, and the culture at large. Indeed, Bukatman returns again and again not to Blade Runner's classical status, but to its status as a site of "delirious" effects and affect. When we remember that delirium is defined as a "temporary state of mental confusion and clouded consciousness," a state of uncontrolled excitement or emotion "characterized by anxiety, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions," the singular appropriateness of this word choice becomes clear. The delirious technological excesses of special effects in sf films in general and in Blade Runner in particular, the delirious nature of urban space as constructed in Blade Runner and other city films, the delirious refiguration of urban space to cyberspace, and the delirious questioning of distinctions between the real and the artificial, the human and the inhuman, are all recurrent concerns in Bukatman's superb discussion of this exhilarating and perplexing film.

Blade Runner is a film "all about vision," Bukatman argues, quickly establishing that his concern is equally with vision as a theme within the film's semblance and with vision as we watch the film. Accordingly, this drama about vision is also a drama of vision and takes its place in a genre of science-fiction films that is itself more centered on vision than are most other genres. "The most significant 'meanings' of science fiction films," Bukatman suggests, "are often found in their visual organisation and their emphasis on perception and 'perceptual selves.'" Continually thrusting their spectators into "new spaces that are alien and technologically determined," sf films serve in technological culture to construct an important "space of accommodation to an intensely technological existence." Within such a visual context, the brilliance of Blade Runner, Bukatman holds, is "in its visual density," as director Ridley Scott's "layering" effect of accumulating detail in every corner of the frame (Scott calls a film a "700-layer cake") makes the film "a total environment that one inhabits in real time." Quite beyond its troubling story of humans and replicants, of humanity and inhumanity, quite beyond its numerous references to and emphasis on eyes within its semblance, Blade Runner gives us a striking visual environment, "an infinity of surfaces to be encountered and explored." As Bukatman's Introduction sums it up:

Like the best science fiction stories and city films, Blade Runner incorporates at once the magisterial gaze of the panorama, the sublime obscurity of the phantasmagoria and the shifting fields of the kaleidoscope. Blade Runner's elaborate mise-en-scène and probing cameras create a tension that is fundamental to a period of inexorably advancing technological change. The inescapable and immersive city becomes a synecdoche for, and distillation of, all these unsettling technologies that continue to pervade lived experience. The film's aesthetic and its narrative underpinnings magnify and enhance the admixture of anxiety and delirium inherent in its experience. Its instability induces the epistemological and ontological uncertainties--the crises of knowing and being--that it narrates and theorizes. Seeing is everything in Blade Runner, but it guarantees absolutely nothing.

From such an intriguing opening, Bukatman's study organizes itself into three main parts dealing with "Filming," "The Metropolis," and "Replicants and Mental Life." Each of these primary categories is further divided into seven or eight sub-categories, with the result that Bukatman's discussion is both easy to follow and an effective critical parallel to Scott's visual layering in the film itself. While Billson's The Thing and French's The Terminator felt like expanded reviews, Bukatman's Blade Runner feels like a major book that has been expertly pared down. Indeed, an index to this study (books in the BFI Modern Classics series do not offer indexes) would be a Ballardian treat, implying worlds of discourse, only one of which would be focused exclusively on Blade Runner.

In detailing Blade Runner's pre-production and filming history Bukatman works from a savvy understanding of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) through a series of would-be producers and scriptwriters as the novel lurched toward the screen. Ridley Scott eventually introduced screenwriter Hampton Fancher and then David Peoples to the visual example of Metal Hurlant, leading to influence from comic artists such as Moebius, Philippe Druillet, and Angus McKie. Drawing from films noir, production design by Lawrence Paull, the retrofitting aesthetic of futurist Syd Mead, and artists ranging from Hogarth to Hopper, Scott fashioned the film's stunning look, at once an evocation of an appealing techno-sublime and of a threatening tech noir. Bukatman does a particularly fine job of describing Douglas Trumbull's special-effects work for the film and Jordan Cronenweth's cinematography. Speculating about reasons for Blade Runner's initially disappointing critical and public reception, Bukatman closes this first section with a brief account of the film's eventual rise to critical, commercial, and cult success, the release of the Director's Cut in 1992, and the continuing expansion of Blade Runner's influence.

It is in his second section, "The Metropolis," that Bukatman makes some of his most original and most provocative contributions to our understanding of this film. This is, after all, familiar territory for him, refocusing some of the central concerns of his excellent Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (Duke, 1993). In this section centered on Blade Runner's construction of the city, Bukatman offers as an example of the film's shift of emphasis from urban space toward cyberspace the scene in which Deckard uses a computer to move into the space depicted in a replicant's photograph. This scene, apart from being "a most hypnotic meditation on cinematic power," also takes its place in a larger representational crisis in which Bukatman argues that both sf and sf film have struggled "to construct a new position from which humans could interface with the global, yet hidden, realm of data circulation; a new identity to occupy the emerging electronic realm." Blade Runner presents terminal identity displacing urban identity and the traditional subject itself as the city-state becomes the cybernetic state.

Covering the now well-recognized reciprocal relationship between postmodernism and cyberpunk (and between this film and the dominant issues of postmodern cultural criticism) and moving to consider "the alienated spaces" of hardboiled detective fiction and film noir, Bukatman describes Blade Runner's "Dark City" of "mean streets, moral ambiguities and an air of irresolution" as "an almost literal Inferno," compared to the dystopian purgatory in noir. The film's retrofitting of noir narrative onto sf concerns with human definition might even spur us, Bukatman suggests, to think of retrofitting "as a useful--and convenient--metaphor" not only for Blade Runner as a whole, but for science fiction itself. "If the genre often combines speculation with an uncanny resistance to change," he reasons, "this can be understood as an unavoidable part of its retrofitted nature."

Bukatman's discussion of Blade Runner's Dark City then yields to a much more surprising consideration of the film's representation of the Bright City, its utopian face. Following Rem Koolhaas's consideration of New York as "a delirious space masquerading behind a rational facade of gridded streets and high technology," Bukatman asks what if the positive value of Blade Runner's city actually derives "from its status as an irrational space?" Invoking the bright, carnivalesque, chaotic "city" of Coney Island as a delirious ancestor of Blade Runner's futuristic Los Angeles and of aspects of cinema itself, Bukatman considers possibly positive aspects of urban congestion as a provider of kaleidoscopic varieties of experience, and he suggests that cinema can play an important role in our recognition and celebration of this Bright City. The essence of cinema is motion and Blade Runner's "incessant movement through urban space" can be profitably considered, Bukatman argues, in terms of Wolfgang Schivelbusch's concept of "panoramic perception," one result of technology's ability to put visual perception in motion. Cinema extends the experience of panoramic perception from Schivelbusch's train riders to Bukatman's film-goers--Blade Runner's audience.

For that audience, Blade Runner's "urban experience of inexhaustible fluidity, endless passage and infinite perceptibility" provides what Bukatman terms "a utopian distinct from a vision of utopia." The early sequence in which Deckard flies through the city in a police spinner illustrates this phenomenon, reminding Bukatman of the famous trolley ride in Sunrise (1927), "perhaps the most profound expression of panoramic perception in the history of the cinema." Against such panoramic moments, Blade Runner presents equally striking camera tracking "through endless levels of scale," moving into as well as across the spaces of the city (as Deckard does with the photo), exploring its "fractal geography." Bukatman concludes his focus on the representation of the city in Blade Runner by considering whether it may actually be more modernist than postmodern--possibly as much a New York film in the tradition of Lang's Metropolis as it is a film of the quintessentially postmodern Los Angeles.

Bukatman's final section turns to Blade Runner's story--to issues relating to the adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and to new issues of character and theme developed in the film. Yet even in this discussion of "Replicants and Mental Life," Bukatman maintains his focus on Blade Runner's film-specific strengths, tying its story of synthetic humans not just to other synthetic-human and definition-of-human films, but also to ways in which cinema is itself an animator of human simulacra. In addressing ways in which Blade Runner develops Dick's central oppositions between Human/Android and Human/Inhuman, Bukatman also explores the film's cyborg politics (a retro-fitted category following Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto") as well as its gender and racial politics. Bukatman emphasizes ways in which Blade Runner desta-bilizes its apparent racial and gender categories, confounding "simple definitions and distinctions" by refusing "to naturalise" its victims as either women or blacks.

Replicants in Blade Runner are programmed with ersatz memories emblem-ized in their omnipresent photographs. This externalization and commodification of memory usurps history both here and in other sf films, leading Bukatman to a brief but valuable meditation on the nature of constructed memory. The value of Blade Runner and of much of Dick's writing, concludes Bukatman, "is that it makes us unreal--we are forced, or at least encouraged, to confront our own constructedness, and by confronting our selves, to remake them."

Finally, Bukatman sidesteps the inevitable question of whether Deckard is a replicant, persuasively arguing that the ambiguity of his status--the result of a crafted double reading--is what is crucial to the film's take on what it means to be human. Moreover, we are reminded that we focus on Deckard's status at the risk of overlooking or undervaluing Roy Batty's exuberant performance of self. Terming Batty a "perfect denizen of the modern city," Bukatman urges us to pay more attention to him as a "figure of resistance and play" who gleefully transgresses "the given topographies of urban space." Batty's fluid personality may be crucial to "the continuing struggle to exist in the bright dark spaces of the metropolis." Even when addressing the condition of the replicants, the question of their humanity or inhumanity, Bukatman insists that we see Blade Runner as a film, as a science-fiction film, and as a city film.

Throughout this indispensable addition to the body of criticism devoted to this fascinating film, Bukatman writes exuberantly--but clearly. To read this conceptually packed book is to participate in the joy of thinking about the interface between sf and sf film, to see the useful power of theory, and to revel in the hypertext-like connections Bukatman consistently makes from Blade Runner to the world. Bukatman writes criticism in much the same spirit good sf is written and his book on Blade Runner is nothing less than a delight.

A final note. All three of these BFI Modern Classics books are generously and effectively illustrated and their overall visual design is superb. Unfortunately, however, all three had begun to disintegrate before I finished a second reading; the binding is atrocious.

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