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Monday, March 21, 2011

AFI/BFI #211: Blade Runner (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, Philip K. Dick
Composer: Vangelis
AFI Rank:  - (1998) 97 (2007)
BFI Rank: -


You don't get many critically acclaimed science fiction movies. The "serious" critics and awards committees have always tended to look down on them or be fearful of treating them as serious cinema, maybe concerned that they will not stand the test of time and in hindsight their praise and accompanying overlooking of other more serious films will be questioned. In fact the opposite is what tends to happen and viewers are left scratching their heads as to why their beloved scifi movies lost out to some now forgotten drama. Blade Runner, like similar movies, got oscar nominations for visual effects and art direction but won neither. Tootsie got a Best Picture nomination that same year for heavens sake. Thank god it went to Gandhi which is at least harder to argue with.

Like so many other films of this genre Blade Runner has faired much better with the critics in the subsequent years:

  • 4th best film of all time by Moviemail (2000)
  • 2nd best film ever made by BBC viewers (2000)
  • 16th best film of all time and by Empire magazine (2001)
  • 8th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Films poll (2002)
  • 2nd best science fiction film by the Online Film Critics Society (2002)
  • 1st best science fiction film of all time by Wired Magazine (2002)
  • 7th best film of the last 25 years by Sight & Sound Magazine (2002)
  • 2nd most visually influential film of all time by the Visual Effects Society (2007)

Now to be fair what everyone was rating and critiquing at the time was the appalling US theatrical version of the film. I have seen Blade Runner many, many times. I had recently watched the Final Cut and Work-print on Blu ray, the former being absolutely stunning and the only way to see this movie now. Knowing all of this I decided for this viewing to force myself to watch the one version I had never actually seen, the aforementioned US Theatrical release from 1982. I know it has its lovers but I am really not sure why. The voiceover alone is enough to destroy this for me. My movie hot button is anything that treats the viewer as either an idiot, or as if you have not been paying attention. Flashbacks to earlier in a film are usually the worst offender but here we have a voiceover that does not simply add to the story, exposing otherwise unheard thoughts, but instead explains everything that is happening in case you are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. The producers should have never been allowed to work again and we are lucky to have a version today that has their post workprint touches removed.

Nicknamed Blood Runner by the crew, the production itself was difficult with on set differences and friction. It is interesting that the british Scott found it difficult working with the US crew, complaining that with a UK crew he would ask for something and just get it. James Cameron would go on to direct the sequel to Scott's Alien four years later in England and have similar problems with his UK crew, complaining that they didn't work hard enough and took too many tea breaks. Even in 1982 England and America were still two countries separated by a common language. 

The film has not suffered with age at all. Some of the tweaks for the Final Cut have certainly helped but even without them this is one of the most convincing worlds ever visited on celluloid. Scott famously paid almost insane attention to the details and it shows. You never question the sets, they never feel like sets. The original concept was a merged San Angeles which was dropped but would later be the setting for Demolition Man (coincidentally or not David L. Snyder was Art Director on both). Production Designer Lawrence G. Paul would latter work on Back To The Future and Escape From L.A. Linda DeScenna's set decoration earned her an Oscar alongside Paul and Snyder and she would later work on some of my favorite movies of all time including The Goonies, Back To The Future II and The Rocketeer. Special Effects technicians Greg Curtis and Logan Frazee would later work on the Star Trek Next Generation pictures, and the legendary Douglas Trumbull took home an Oscar along with Richard Yuricich (2001, Silent Running, Star Trek) and David Dryer (Never Say Never Again). This is all old school special effects done incredibly well. Watching many of the current CGI heavy movies I wonder if we are in or just coming out of that same period decades ago that left us with some pretty ropey stop motion based pictures. Will these current movies age just as badly? Careful use of special effects, whatever the technology, has always been the key to longevity in a picture. That is why classics such as King Kong are still just as watchable today. Some would argue that the soundtrack has not fared so well. Usually orchestral scores tend to age far better than synth laden ones but in this case I tend to disagree. Vangelis' score is superb and also carefully done so that, just like the effects, it has become more iconic than archaic. 

The other star of the show is the cast with many of them having key input into the final picture. Harrison Ford had just come off of Empire and Raiders. What an incredible time for cinema and for Ford. Rutger Hauer is astonishingly good and contributed to key scenes especially the finale. Add to that a set of perfectly cast actors in every key role: Brion James, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh, Edward James Olmos (the street speak was his idea), Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong and William Sanderson. Like many I always thought that Mr Holden in that opening scene was played by the usually unbearable James Remar but apparently not. It was actually Morgan Paull. Explains why the scene is so good.

You cannot talk about Blade Runner without a tip of the hat to the prolific Philip K. Dick. Many of the greatest science fiction films ever made have been based on his books and short stories. Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and The Adjustment Bureau. He was the modern day H.G. Wells and his legacy will be the basis for many more films for years to come. I would recommend taking a look at this list of just 10 great Philip K. Dick stories that have yet to be brought to film. As with any big project the screenplay adaption passed through many hands, the last of which was David Webb Peoples who would later pen the superb Twelve Monkeys, also an adaption but based on the 1962 short movie
La Jetee.

If you have never seen Blade Runner then you must. If you have only seen the theatrical release then you still have not really seen Blade Runner. Either way, this is without question Crucial Cinema.


1 comment:

  1. It has been way too long since I re-watched this film. Thankfully I have the director's cut - which must be pretty close to the Final Cut. Must find time for this again soon