I just recently bought the four disc DVD set of Blade Runner The Final Cut with the Original Theatrical release, etc. and bought the 25th Anniversary Soundtrack trilogy, which I’m listening to as I write this, so I’m in a cyber-punky, Blade Runner-ish mood, ready to expound on the single greatest film of all time.
Blade Runner came out in that magical summer of 1982, the first year I started paying attention to summer movies and their box office, and while I was obsessed with all things Star Trek II, something about the Blade Runner poster and trailers had me intrigued, it looked like a heck of a show. But the problem was, it was rated R, so I felt a little betrayed by Harrison Ford. His name was above the title, he was a star now–to my 12-year old nerd mind, that meant it was going to his head. Flush with success after Raiders, he was flaunting it in a film with sex and violence. I’d even read somewhere that he was considering NOT being in the third Star Wars film.
But everything about the trailer seemed great: the flying cars, the retro-future, the sound design, the Ink Spots singing “If I Didn’t Care. ” Sean Young with the 40’s shoulder pads and hair-do. The advertising alone had an exciting allure of greatness. Even if Harrison Ford had sold out, this looked like the film to do it with.
Then, strangely, the film flopped. After Star Trek II cranked my interest in movies up to ‘nerd level,’ I was now starting to read and listen to reviews. All the critics said Blade Runner was cold and cynical. The few people in my small town who’d seen it said it was really bad. And so part of me thought, “Good, Harrison Ford’s been slapped down a notch, he’ll be back for Revenge of The Jedi.”
So the summer ended and school started and I wasn’t thinking about the film. Except, since I lived in a small town with a movie theater that only played movies for one weekend and got their films on the 2nd run, it came to my town in early October. The movie theater had just changed hands from Mormon owners, so it was rare that R-rated movies even played in the town. Here was my chance to see it. I begged my mother, but she was iffy due to the rating. But, in a move that will have me forever respecting my mother and her morals, she went to see it first to see how bad it was. And since my mother is an avid movie lover with a good deal of sophistication, she came back from the show all raves, giving me the go-ahead to see it and saying it was a very Pro-Life movie. At the time, I couldn’t care less about that aspect, I just wanted at them special effects.
So my brother and I were there on the following Saturday night. And the moment the opening titles slammed onto the screen with the eery Vangelis score (more on that later) and the slow, rumbling sound effects, fading in to the opening shot, I was stunned, transported to another dimension. I still get chills just thinking about it. Douglas Trumbull and David Dwyer’s work still blows my min. They all created a heavy, stifling, depressing world, and I was fascinated. And could swear the film lasted four minutes. I still think of the scene of Roy meeting JF Sebastian as the very beginning of the movie, though it’s actually the middle.
Very few films have done that in my life. In fact, I can name them all: Rocky III, Blade Runner, Star Trek III and Back To The Future II. These are the four films that when I first saw them, I wished they would never end because I was so invested in every aspect of the film, the whole experience. Only Blade Runner held up to repeated viewings and stands as a classic. (Though some day I’ll riff on what an under-appreciated gem, Back To the Future II was.)
Movies were better than ever, I thought. Back then, I never guessed that films would stop being so great, that we as human Americans would never evolve past the 70’s and 80’s. With ET winning best picture that year, I couldn’t have guessed tha sci-fi as we know it today has all been influenced by Blade Runner. But what made it so fresh yet such a flop back in ’82? Well, we were used to the creepy sterile 70’s futures of Brave New World, Logan’s Run, and Rollerball. Even Black Hole and Star Trek The Motion Picture had the clean sterile look. (However creepy Black Hole was) But Ridley Scott took the future and made it dark, terrifying yet still awesome. I’ll never forget the almost romantic longing I felt on that first viewing as Deckerd prepares to administer the Voight Kamff test on Rachel and you can see a flying car deep in the background against the fading red sun of scorched Future L.A. That sort of attention to detail really set my imagination alight. The Enjoy Coke sign, the Blimps, the singing Japanese woman, all of it was thrillingly unique in 1982. I guess now for the younger generation, they can’t understand after Akira, Fifth Element, Attack of The Clones, etc. It’s like when I watched The French Connection as a young college student and thought, “Ah, just a cop movie,” and while I could appreciate it, I didn’t love it. It didn’t blow my mind.
But beyond the set design, and art direction there was a real poetry to Blade Runner. Part of it is due to Vangelis’ haunting score, but much of the credit is due to an arresting and quotable script. After seeing the movie, I rushed out to buy Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” At that stage in my life, I was used to reading movie novelizations like The Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of The Lost Ark, I was completely shocked and confused that the book was nothing like the movie. I would soon be educated in the childish ways of Hollywood and how they change perfectly good stories for the sake of convenience, but Blade Runner was different–the filmmakers basically took an idea and changed it for the better. Like it almost seems like they didn’t need to buy the rights from Phillip K. Dick. I mean not even the characters had the same names, by and large. I read the book a couple more times as I got older, thinking that I would understand it better, and while it was interesting and was definitely the source of the unsettling post-apocolyptic mood that was in the movie, I think the movie is better. – Namely in that it fleshed out Roy Batty. (Baty in the book) and it got rid of the empathy boxes and the characters Buster Friendly and Wilbur Mercer. I guess because I saw the movie first I found these details tedious and seemingly like a Star Trek episode or something from the 60’s or 70’s. They seemed very typically sci-fi-ish to me and not as interesting as the struggle to define oneself as a human.
When I saw the movie, I remember being so involved in the struggle at the end with Roy saving Deckerd it seemed right, like in real life. People in life don’t just kill people because that’s how the story ends. There’s such a strong human element in the movie, I can’t believe how critics shunned the movie for being too cold and cynical.
Meanwhile, the music is so powerful that one can’t imagine the film working at all without it. It’s like Star Wars or Superman. You wonder would the films have the same impact without their music, and in my humble opinion, the answer would be ‘of course not.’ Blade Runner’s music is no different. Vangelis, whose music in my opinon usually doesn’t work so well in films, (see The Bounty, Alexander and yes, even Chariots of Fire.) was on fire with BR. It’s a shame Mr. Vangelis is so obsessed with thwarting the fans who just want to hear the entire album played out in film order that there is no complete soundtrack in existence. The recently released BR Trilogy CD has an album and a half of cues that were not heard in the film and are pretty pedestrian New Age stuff.
Finally, I’ll weigh in the Blade Runner Director’s Cut controversy. Is Deckard a Replicant? If so, it proves that Ridley Scott has no idea of how important and beautiful his film once was. Given the meat-headed and forgettable “serious” movies Mr. Scott has made since Legend, (Black Rain, anyone? White Squall? Kingdom of Heaven?) it’s clear that this must be the case. The fact that Mr. Scott thinks he’s impressing everyone with his conviction that Deckard isn’t human, just shows he’s drunk with power. Like that other genius who went mad, George Lucas.