Mention the combination of detective and science fiction film and one title instantly comes to mind: Blade Runner. But while Ridley Scott’s 1982 film may work as science fiction, it’s actually a terrible detective film, and Rick Deckard is one of the worst investigators ever.
Consider: his job as a “blade runner” requires him to discover and eliminate “replicants,” organic robot people created to do dangerous off-world work. Now, these replicants are built by private industry whose motto is “more human than human,” so they look exactly like us. Which means that to pick them out, Deckard must use a special machine. But does it simply beep when a replicant enters the room, or show them in a beam or light, or anything useful and efficient like that?
Nope. It looks the potential replicant in the eye and breathes at them.
And that’s because to detect a replicant, a blade runner has to get the suspect to sit quietly and take a standardized test. That’s right, future law enforcement depends on a version of “No Child Left Behind.”
All detectives ask questions. From Philip Marlowe to Columbo, it’s their primary job skill. But imagine Humphrey Bogart asking Peter Lorre to sit still and answer the 30-40 questions it takes to spot a replicant (and the new Nexus 6 need over a hundred!) I mean, really—even the densest replicant, slack-jawed Leon, catches on after one question about turtles.
Ah, you say, but Deckard ferrets out Zhora by tracking down her snake supplier. If you watch the scene closely, though, Deckard actually hits a dead end with Taffy Lewis, who snidely offers him a free drink in his bar. Deckard then tries to call Rachel, but she snubs him as well. It’s not his whip-smart investigative technique, it’s dumb luck and alcoholism that keeps him in the bar long enough to see Zhora do her snake dance.
The film’s theme, about the nature of humanity, is significant, and it’s the kind of idea that draws people to SF in the first place. But the story that supports it falls apart the moment you look past the spinners, giant Coca Cola advertisements and Daryl Hannah’s eye makeup. A detective can function in almost any genre, but you can’t use that other genre as an excuse for having a terrible detective. Blade Runner tries to sell us on the brilliance of its hero, a detective (who may be a replicant as well) so good he’s forced back on the job to deal with a crisis. But based on his job performance in the film, I don’t think Rick Deckard could find the remote control lost under the sofa cushions.
Unless the couch first answered a few dozen questions.
Alex Bledsoe, author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels (The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, and the forthcoming Dark Jenny), the novels of the Memphis vampires (Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood) and the first Tufa novel, the forthcoming The Hum and the Shiver.