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Great Movies Roundtable: Blade Runner

#97 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list is “Blade Runner.”

WK: “Blade Runner” had a famously troubled production.  Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott wouldn’t talk to each other for decades after the production; Scott fought with his crew in a childish war waged on T-shirts, and the studio forced Ford to add a cheesy voiceover track and Scott to edit the film down to an almost incomprehensible theatrical release.  So it’s not surprising it wasn’t greeted with joy by critics when it was released; what originally hit the screen was a garbled mess.  And since then, no fewer than seven different cuts have been released, so it can be confusing to figure out exactly which “Blade Runner” we’re talking about.   In my mind, the Final Cut, released in 2007, the only version over which Scott had complete control, is the definitive version, and the one we’ll be talking about.

CRH: I personally think Blade Runner is a masterpiece of science fiction. It’s dark and stirring to the eyes and imagination. I remember buying a copy of the nineties Director’s Cut at a Ross. I was spared ever watching the version with the crappy voice over. After the first viewing I really didn’t know what to think but it’s drawn me in again and again. It opens up with the gas flares burning in the dreary near future. We are treated to a neo scifi noir. The film’s theme primarily regards what it means to be human.

Is this a great movie?  

WK: Absolutely. Ridley Scott made “Alien” in 1979, and “Blade Runner” in 1982. Both movies were made during the sci fi craze that “Star Wars” ignited, when just about anything taking place in the future and/or in space could get bankrolled (and a lot of really terrible movies did.)  But it’s hard to overestimate the ways that Scott’s film changed the sci fi genre. Most directors tried to copycat the swashbuckling fantasy of “Star Wars,” thinking that’s what made it a success, and failed, because it wasn’t; the swashbuckling fantasy elements of “Star Wars” are the borrowed parts — what set it apart was that the Star Wars universe felt lived in; it felt real, because things were junky and cheap and broken. Just about every notable sci fi flick before “Star Wars” looks either immaculately clean (like “2001: A Space Odyssey”) or cheesy and plastic (like “Planet of the Apes.”)

Scott seems to be the only director who recognized what really made “Star Wars” stand out, and lifted it for two films that are very different from George Lucas’ space opera.  “Alien” is space horror, and “Blade Runner” is robot noir.  Both are set in a future considerably grimmer than “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away,” and both are masterpieces that changed forever what we expect a sci fi flick to look like, and to do.  It’s a shame only one of them is on AFI’s list.

CRH: I agree with you that it is a great movie for its sci-fi elements. It takes and runs with the idea of a rundown lived in future. I think that is what has contributed to its sheer influence on storytellers to this day. The doomed lived in future is a remarkably appealing canvas to set a story. I think the best part of the story is the ending where Roy Batty played with impish intensity basically spends the whole movie murdering his way trying to find more life but ultimately dies as a man. Relating his fears to his attempted murderer. The end of the film is really quite an achievement.

This is film is slow.  Is it too slow?  

WK: I think if you know what you’re getting into going in, it isn’t.  “Blade Runner” is one of my favorite movies to just soak in, on the biggest screen, in the darkest room possible. It is completley transporting in a way few sci-fi films are.  And my gosh, the cinematography.  So many beautiful, beautiful shots.  Watching it again, I just wanted to pause and stare at the screen about every ten seconds.

CRH: I have no problem with slow movies as long as the pace is deliberate and well-crafted. Lawrence of Arabia is a great movie that honestly could be about an hour shorter. But the extra length and time give us shots and character development. Blade Runner is no different. The movie spends a lot of time just showing future Los Angeles in insane detail. The shots are amazing. Rhe cinematography work just makes the movie!

What are your favorite scenes?

WK: It’s hard to pick a favorite scene; what I love most about this film is the mise-en-scene, which is present everywhere.  I love the interview at the beginning, because it so perfectly sets the tone.  I love Zhora’s slow motion death scene. I love just about every J.F. Sebastian scene.  And of course – “tears in the rain.”

CRH: Loved both of those scenes. both are integral to the theme of the movie. Zora is mercilessly gunned down, and batty becomes a man in his death. But I really loved the scene of Roy challenging and killing his creator Tyrell. It’s Shakespeare and I love the shot of Roy in the elevator riding down after the murder his look of bewilderment is fantastic.

What works/What doesn’t work? 

WK: I have very few complaints or issues with this movie – I think it’s a masterpiece.  One complaint I have is with Ford’s performance, especially towards the end.  The entire final action sequence, he looks like Han Solo fresh out of the carbon freezer.  I understand he’s outmatched, but a little more modulation in the performance would have been preferable.

Also, I don’t like the sex scene. I don’t like rough sex scenes in general. I think they give way too many young men permission to push women around, and not take “no” for an answer.

 CRH: The story and the neo noir and science fiction is great. I agree that the rough sex scene is baffling at best and awful at worst. I always believed that movies are a piece of art. Blade Runner is kind of the archetypical arthouse film. Though I believe it has actually has wider appeal than most of those films primarily due to its science fiction and neo-noir.

Buying or Selling?  

Hmm… much as I love this movie, I don’t really see it moving up the list in future versions.  Its troubled production history coupled with the multiple versions, plus its slow pace and more or less niche audience means that “Blade Runner” isn’t going to be accessible to a lot of people.  It’s been considered a cult classic for years; its presence on this list means it doesn’t really qualify as “cult” anymore, but I think it’ll hang around the bottom for the foreseeable future.

CRH: I  think it will endure. Cult films tend to Prevail in the long run. If anything the film will Prevail due to its prophetic element.

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Posted in All Reviews, By Courtland Hopkins, by Will Krischke, The Classic Movie Series.

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