Review: Chicago Philharmonic’s Soundtrack Live Heightens the Drama of 1982 Blade Runner

One of the coolest things I have had the pleasure of doing is watching classic movies with the soundtrack played live by the Chicago Philharmonic. The live music is much more pleasant than the deafening blast of Dolby at a traditional screening. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) played on Saturday at the Auditorium Theatre as a part of its Auditorium Philms series with the Chicago Philharmonic playing the soundtrack live.

Blade Runner is now considered a science fiction classic. It is based on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Blade Runner portrays a future America that is steeped in consumerism promoted by sex, fetishism, and violence. Harrison Ford plays retired cop Rick Deckard, who is an expert blade runner or replicant hunter. The Tyrell corporation hires Deckard to hunt down and 'retire' a group of renegade replicants who have escaped a space colony where they are slave labor for dangerous missions.

This movie has perfect casting with M. Emmet Walsh as a skeevy recruiter Bryant with Edward James Olmos as Gaff, his assistant with ethereal blue eyes. The look is more Village of the Damned (1960) than a DNA anomaly. Joanna Cassidy, Daryl Hannah, and Brion James are the escaped replicants led by the truly ethereal Rutger Hauer. Deckard falls for a replicant named Rachael, played by Sean Young, while hunting down "skin jobs," as Bryant calls the androids.

The Chicago Philharmonic was a pared-down group using more electric instruments than usual for this score by Vangelis. The setup included three Nord keyboards, an electric bass, a full trap set of drums, and electric strings. The conductor for the evening was Michael Moricz, standing in for Scott Speck, who is conducting the music for Studies in Blue by the Joffrey Ballet at the Lyric Opera House. Cheryl Wilson of the Philharmonic was featured singing the haunting vocals and playing the electric viola. It was a masterful rendering of Vangelis' electronic style, which won an Oscar for Chariots of Fire in 1981.

At the beginning of the movie, "Los Angeles 2019" announced the location and time of the movie. I chuckled along with the audience but also felt some existential dread because human interference with nature has produced a Blade Runner world. Artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and what I believe is a loss of sentience due to an obsession with electronics, cell phones, and virtual reality. There is also the specter of climate change portrayed by the eternal night and incessant rain. The scenery suggests that there has been a change in the land mass because Los Angeles looks like a jacked-up Tokyo. Noodle shops are everywhere, geisha-like women wink from giant electric billboards, and all of the vendors are Asian.

The only criticism I have of the Auditorium Philms series is that they should install a larger screen. All of the films on the slate are laden with action and special effects. The Philharmonic excels with the music and deserves a giant projection of the film to equal their sound. That screen in use Saturday night belonged in a home theater setup, not a theater with a capacity of 3000 plus. I do recommend checking out future screenings which include Black Panther and Batman 1989.

The Auditorium Theatre is at 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive. For more information on Auditorium Philms, please visit https://auditoriumtheatre.org/events/.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.