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97: Blade Runner

Tedco26031_classic_walking_robotBlade Runner, 1982

From Jon:

I feel like the enduring question of my writings on this list, as pointed out by a friend, is going to be, what makes art great?  Is it something that pushes the medium forward or something that is timeless and universal in its appreciation?  I’m not sure there is a better movie to present in that argument than Blade Runner.  It’s a highly stylized science fiction movie that at times is horribly dated, yet is the front runner of the genre and creator of many sci-fi tropes.  Without Blade Runner it’s hard to imagine James Cameron having a career.  This was the first time we saw evil corporations, robots hiding as people, and a claustrophobic bleak future, all things that are on the present day “sci-fi movie must” checklist.  The problem is, the genre itself causes there to be a time limit on its relevance.  In 1982, 2019 seemed like a distant future, but now it’s 4 years away and we know there is no more Pan Am or Polaroid pictures and that cell phones dominate our culture.  While Harrsion Ford’s character, Deckard, does use a very relevant method of zooming in on a picture with voice recognition, he does it on a monitor as thick and clunky as an original Mac computer and a keyboard that looks no different then what they would have used in 1975.  So, is Blade Runner an AFI 100 worthy movie or an outdated pioneer.

I’ve been asked a few times what I mean when I use the term “holds up,” as in, Ben-Hur just doesn’t hold up too today’s movies.  To me, if a movie holds up it can be watched and enjoyed today as if it just came out in the theaters last Friday.  A movie from the 50’s that still holds up today would have a story that over shines any plot points that would be ridiculous in the 2000’s.  An action movie that still holds up today wouldn’t have silly special effects that take you out of the movie.  The acting in a movie that holds up will be timeless and not representative of a certain era of film.  If a movie holds up you don’t cringe or laugh when you hear a certain line delivered or outfit worn.  To be a truly great movie, a movie worthy of this list, I think you have to push the medium forward while being able to hold up to whatever age you are being watched in.  To just contain one or the other leaves something to be desired.

This is the second time I’ve seen Blade Runner.  The last time was back in the early 90’s or late 80’s.  I don’t remember which version I saw, if it was the original theatrical version with the happy ending or, what would have been the newly released Director’s cut, with the more ambiguous ending.  I don’t remember because, in all honesty, most of the plot didn’t stick with me.  What did stick and what I did remember was the movie’s feel, the darkness, the rain, the grime, the claustrophobia.  What made this movie noteworthy wasn’t the story it told but the images it created.  I didn’t get much more from it with a second viewing.  At its heart, Blade Runner is a film noir set in the future.  It’s filled with all the clichés that we have grown to expect from movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Kiss Me Deadly and A Touch of Evil, all the while establishing a whole other set of elements that would become cliché with the movies that followed like The Terminator, Aliens, Brazil, Gattaca, and 12 Monkeys.  There is no question that Blade Runner is a landmark film in the science fiction genre even though the plot and the characters leave much to be desired.

Even as a landmark science fiction movie, the question still remains, does it belong on this list?  Is Blade Runner a timeless piece of art?  Did it push forward the medium of film?  As far as science fiction goes, the prognostication of the future feels a little off here.  There really isn’t anything creative or that pushed the idea of technology to the limits, and that hurts how it plays today.  The fact that the computers used in 2019 look exactly like the computers used in 1982 makes the movie feel dated and uninspired.  Yet, many of the ideas the movie presents are as timeless as anything presented in film.  The computers may be uninspired but the idea of robots hiding as humans is still a major component of movies today.  Flying cars might come off as silly now but the fear of evil corporations couldn’t be more relevant.  Then there are the special effects, which are amazing.  Yes, even in 1982 the idea of a flying car seemed cliché, but this movie did a great job making it look real, as real as if it was shot today in CG (even if the camera spent WAY too much time showing it).  Nothing makes a science fiction movie feel more dated than special effects and that just isn’t a problem here.

Blade Runner is painfully slow and plodding, the characters are kind of undeveloped and the plot can be confusing, but there is so much here that makes this movie timeless and noteworthy.  This isn’t a top 5 movie, or even a top 50 movie, but I find it very hard to argue that it isn’t a top 100.  I’m not sure that there is a more influential modern science fiction film.

I give Blade Runner 3 out of 5 bowls of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked.  It combines two great flavors and led to all kinds of crazy creations but is still far from my favorite.

From Jenny: 

Attempting to review Blade Runner puts me in a tough spot.  I’ve already declared that I’m not a fan of musicals or animation, but sitting through this sci-fi “masterpiece” made me long for the seemingly endless minutes that made up Toy Story. It made me wish I had paid closer attention to Ben-Hur.  It made me look fondly back at James Cagney and long for painfully happy orchestra and a clear plot.  

Blade Runner was the worst movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.  Now, I could go on and on about this listing all the things I could not stand about it, or things I disagreed with as far as filmmaking is concerned (hey I’m entitled to an opinion, as unversed in the subject as I may be), or what about it made me so annoyed.  But I thought, well, maybe you missed something here.  Maybe you should try to understand things from a film-noir perspective, from a groundbreaking science fiction perspective, and from a 1982 pop culture perspective.  The following is me trying to write intelligently and respectfully about this movie:

The screenplay was adapted from a 1968 novel entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The more I read about the original work, the better it sounds to me. Seriously, as in, even if I didn’t love it, I could see why this book could be considered highly regarded unlike the flim. Picture a dystopian world of the future, (Ridley Scott’s version is 2019) advertisements are everywhere, (lots of close up shots of Geisha women eating snacks and giggling), Pan Am and Atari have apparently taken over much of the market share, (there’s a Choose Your Own Adventure gone awry right there) and large mega-corporations rule.  Android creatures called “replicants” exist, created to do menial labor and dangerous stuff “off world” and they aren’t supposed to be hanging around Earth, but apparently sometimes they get in. When that happens, special police operatives calle Blade Runners “retire” them, which means assassinate them.  I understand this premise, although we did have to pause the movie near the beginning for me to clarify what was going on, with Jon. I guess my problem from the get go, was that I was looking for a plot I could really get into, and that apparently doesn’t happen with this kind of movie. I also tried to care about the characters.

Harrison Ford is Rick Deckard, who has been called out of retirement (I think) to hunt down 5 remaining replicants.  He seems none too pleased to do with this assignment, and between his humdrum existence of which we are given little information about, and his drinking whiskey pretty constantly throughout the movie, I figured he had some cross he bore, some child who died in the past, some love he lost to a tragedy.  I made that up because I was trying to make him human, I was trying to give him some story. When Deckard learns that Rachael, played by the wide-shouldered large-haired Sean Young is a replicant who thinks she is human, I wanted to think he was somewhat conflicted. I mean, who wouldn’t be? She’s certainly striking, she did save his life, and it was the closest I got to thinking on any deeper sort of level considering the whole “what is human?” question. So, he sleeps with her, of course, (probably to thank her for saving his life) and I feel like I sort of zoned out after that… I would have stayed alert for a sex scene, but they only implied it. I felt a little more interest in Daryl Hannah’s character Pris, (who I thought was David Bowie), her weird boyfriend figure, and the tiny slice into their life as they try to gain poor human Sebastian’s trust, to get to the Tyrell Corporation guy, to see if they can live longer than the allotted four years.  I could have gone with that story longer.  I feel that was one of the biggest problems with the whole movie for me– I never had enough information to really become invested in any of what was going on.

I found myself thinking, what use could I have for this movie, considering I’m the only person besides two others I found on Rotten Tomatoes who didn’t find this movie fanfreakingtastic. So I got to thinking, I’ve been to a lot of parties.  A lot of really bad parties, and a few good parties.  Maybe this is one of those movies that would have been a decent “background movie” at some rager in my past. It’s so f-ing hopelessly slow, it would have done better as an eerie light-casting mechanism to which young people could make out, or do other frowned-upon activities.  Since it never stops raining in L.A., 2019, and most of the movie is very difficult to see, you don’t run the risk of exposing anything you don’t want seen. It’s also apparently cool to like this movie, so if I have a shady party anytime soon, this may be playing on repeat in my basement.

Then there’s the futuristic aspect of this movie.  I read how this movie was “groundbreaking” in visual impact. I acknowledge the fact that Blade Runner was named to be a part of the National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” but I can’t seem to get over the fact that it felt like the worst depiction of “the future” I’ve ever seen rendered. Everything in the film looked like it was made of Legos.  And not Legos from the same kit– Legos from the bottom of the bin of many years of Legos that don’t fit well together.  I’ve seen movies that depicted the future in numerous ways, for many years, and what, we do the best we can with what we know at the time.  I get that.  A 1950’s vision of the future could be looked back upon as laughable, but you have to give the creators some credit for doing the best they can with the information they had at the time. For some reason I can’t seem to give Blade Runner any mercy here.  Every scene was held together in mystery and intrigue only by the “noir” in “film noir.”  I suspect if the movie was any brighter, it would have been even more clumsy and dumb looking.

The only thing they sort of got right was the forward thinking aspect of Sean Young’s shoulder pads.  Wow. She was like a linebacker, a dangerous entity, with those shoulders alone.  It actually reminded me of Carol Burnett’s parody “Went with the Wind” in which she wears the curtains, curtain rod in place.  But there was really nothing funny about Sean Young, and I started to very much dislike her.  But those shoulder pads.  Talk about eerie foreshadowing. Think Delta Burke, 1988.  Outta control.

I don’t know.  I appreciate that this movie was revolutionary in the sense that it had special effects not used before, it used innovative designs, and that countless movies, TV shows and video games were greatly influenced by it and stylized after it, and it’s gained more than a cult following over the years.

Yet I can’t help but agree with one of the reviewers I read, who mentioned the phrase “hopelessly overrated.” That sums it up for me.  Maybe I was looking for something that didn’t exist in this movie, but when I read about what it was trying to do via the dramatic and narrative levels, it just didn’t (to borrow a phrase from Jon) hold up.  Like I shouted about 50 minutes into the movie, “I just don’t care about any of this! None of this! I don’t see why I should care!  They haven’t given me any reason to keep watching!” Maybe that was a little dramatic. But whatever. I get some effort points for trying to appreciate something this slow and dreadful.   No, I won’t be seeing the sequel.

I give this movie one bowl of sugar-free low-fat ice cream.  It’s only pretending to be ice cream. I won’t be tricked.

Up Next: Do The Right Thing

Jenny: Any movie that follows Blade Runner is going to be the right thing.

Jon: Spike Lee before he had an image to maintain.

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