Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is Blade Runner a Great Movie?: A Conversation

A while back, Dan Lammert, Luke Rasmussen, and Jen Miller were all talking about how they had very different opinions about the movie Blade Runner.  And we realized that perhaps this discussion might be one that would be interesting to the readers of Fantasy Matters--so here we go!

Luke Rasmussen:

When starting to get acquainted with Jen, both Dan and I came across a harsh realization--we share a significant discrepancy on our opinions of Blade Runner.  Haven't heard of Blade Runner before?  I'll save my normally snarky tone and give you the gist: it is a defining movie of the cyberpunk genre, which came out back in 1982 and is based on Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"  The movie stars Harrison Ford as the "blade runner" Deckard who is tasked with hunting down some illegal replicants (androids).  For those who have heard of it, I have a feeling most of you feel strongly about its place in sci-fi history.  This discussion really comes up then about how "great" we find the movie to be.  What we hope to do is explore why each of us feel the way we do about the movie, and try and discuss the merits and shortcomings that we see.

So where do I fit on the spectrum?  In my mind there is no doubt this is a definitive movie for fans of the cyberpunk genre (which I identify with), and I do consider it to be one of the greatest films of all time.  However, I also do find it to have some faults, and there are some things I wish could be addressed or would have been done differently (Note: that being said, I would consider it sacrilege to have the movie remade).  But let's start with the positive.  First, there are few cyberpunk movies in general, and the dark dystopian future set in the film and the aesthetics of the clothing, cities, vehicles and guns are spot on.  The movie is visually brilliant, the acting superb, and so technically there is no fault that I would find with it.  My main complaint then, which is a common occurrence sometimes of story adaptations, is that there is so much back story and inner dialog I wish that could have brought in.  That's right, even at about two hours long I don't think the movie is long enough.  I appreciate that there are quiet reflective pieces of the film, but I think a lot could have been added to fill that in with more story.  Yeah, maybe I'm too practical in what I want from a film (I don't always "get it" with deep meanings).

So that's it in a nutshell, and I turn it over for the others to state their case - is Blade Runner a good movie?  Is it a great movie?  I doubt we'll agree, but it will be a great discussion!

Dan Lammert:

Is Blade Runner a good movie?  In a nutshell, No.  Of course not.  But I say that with a bit of apprehension knowing that I missed the boat on this film.  By that I mean that it came out the same year I was born, so I didn't get the chance to take it for what it was.  Actually, I never really got the opportunity to watch it until a few years ago and only then because Netflix had it as an online streaming movie.  Yes, of course, I could have rented it years previous, but I never really heard that much about it to motivate me to rent it beforehand.  While I will say that I'm a fan of cyberpunk, I can't say that with devotion or enthusiasm as Luke can.  I enjoy the concepts of cyberpunk and everything that it entails, but I believe I am more moved by the idea of "steampunk."  But this isn't about cyberpunk vs. steampunk, so back on topic.

Reading over Luke's summary of the movie, it would only seem that the movie is perfect, but I don't believe the acting is perfect.  I actually believe it to be awful.  I love Harrison Ford and would easily watch most of his movies over and over, but not this one.  Every bit of dialogue in the movie seems pushed, but not in a good way.  By that, I mean that the solo dialogue of Roy seems out of place.  I can understand that the replicants are made to be like humans, but without actual emotions because of their role in their short "life." So the dialogue expressed by the lead replicant seemed out of place.  I wish I could have heard more dialogue between characters to really flesh out their aspirations or reservations in the society they were placed in.  

I will say that the story is alright.  Basically Deckard comes out of retirement to take down the four replicants who have escaped.  The plot seems great, but then the movie will just drag for a hour with nothing to show, and then out of nowhere, two replicants are dead.  That's it, a hour of listening to everyone talk to themselves about how terrible their lives are, and then an ounce of action.  Almost to tease you on, like waiting through the entire hour of empty dialog and flashy lights with big video billboards was worth it.   It's just that the overall pace of the movie cheapens what I think the movie could have been.  Especially in the end where you come upon the remaining twenty minutes where it's one long drawn out "Why can't we all be friends" ending.  I don't want a Michael Bay film, but I want actual pacing, so if it takes a remake of this movie, please, I beg of you, just release it.  (I believe I heard that they are going to remake the film with Ridley Scott in tow)

I realize with that last paragraph, I will probably have some people screaming at their monitors, but before you totally write me off, let me point out what I liked about the film.

1.) The idea behind the plot (great concept)
2.) Characters - I think the characters in the movie are really interesting, but they're not fleshed out by the movie or its dialogue
3.) Setting - Like Luke, I believe the setting was done rather well with a futuristic view of the world.

That's where my enjoyment of it ended, but I will acknowledge the fact that if I would have watched this movie almost thirty years ago, when it was made, I would have probably enjoyed it more.  Also, I would like to point out that I agree with Luke with the fact that reading the book would probably greatly increase my enjoyment for the film as it would fill in the back story of the characters, flesh out the setting more, and bring what I really want from this film: character. 

Jen Miller:

I have said before, and I will continue to say, that I think that Blade Runner is the greatest science fiction movie of all time.  I don't, however, think that means it is the most watchable.  I will agree with both Dan and Luke that there are places where the plot seems to drag, or where the dark atmosphere becomes too much, or where the dialogue seems forced.  But I would suggest that these are the places where the movie is actually at its best, because these are the places that give you time to notice details and to think about the significance of what's going on.

Take the chess game that Tyrell plays, first with Sebastian and then with Roy.  This might seem like filler at first--just a way for Roy to get into the Tyrell corporation after hours.  But a closer look at the game (and the Wikipedia page for the movie) shows that it resembles the Immortal Game of 1851--a game that involves sacrifice of the queen to ultimately checkmate the opponent.  Not only does this game resemble the plot of the movie (Roy ultimately ends up sacrificing Pris to get to Tyrell), but its name connects to the central motivation for the replicants--immortality, or, at the very least, a longer life.

Dan, the dialogue that you mentioned from Roy is another good example of how these awkward-seeming moments are the movie at its greatest.  Sure, it's possible to see this beautiful speech about "attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion" as dialogue that's out of place, but it's also possible that it's making a larger point--in this case, that the character throughout the film who is most capable of emotion and poetry is the one who is being hunted down for being not human.

I could go on and on with examples of this--the repeated imagery of eyes throughout the movie is another one that fascinates me--but I'll stop with these examples for now.  I'd also say that Blade Runner is a great movie because of the way that it's influenced how we think of science fiction, and in particular, dystopian movies.  I think it's easy to forget how ground-breaking these visuals were back in 1982 because they are everywhere today.  If you look at some of the deleted scenes from Avatar, for example--scenes set back on Earth--as well as the old-Earth scenes from the new FOX show Terra Nova, the influence of Blade Runner is everywhere.

And so that's why for me, even though it's not always the movie I want to watch on a Saturday night, I think Blade Runner is the greatest science fiction movie ever.  Not only is it unbelievably influential, but it gives me something new to think about every time I watch it.

We'll be back soon with more of our thoughts about this, but in the meantime, what do you think?  Let us know in the comments!


  1. I find "Blade Runner" really good, and one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. But still I believe its impact on a 1982 audience was enormously higher than it can be to a 2011 viewer. Its visuals pretty much defined what the 80s were going to be (or what we wanted to look like, back in those days). Vangelis' soundtrack was everywhere, and it resonated deep inside us. Maybe the movie's look-and-feel hasn't aged well and won't appeal as much now.

    In terms of cinematic narrative, though, I have no doubt it's the highest point in Ridley Scott's filmography. Again, this is a film about the 80s. So, it's about the emptiness of life, the lack of purpose, the end of future. The slow, empty scenes (again, filled only by Vangelis) tell us about it (and make us think about it). In that sense it's comparable to other movies which tried to express the same feelings, like Wender's "Der Stande der Dinge" (also 1982) or Beineix's "La lune dans le caniveau" (1983) - though Scott's is more conventional and story-focused.


  2. I hadn't thought of it before, but Almanaque brings up a good point - the emptiness. Earth in Blade Runner is hollow. All of the "good" people have left for the stars, and the people left behind have no future.

    Dan's comment that the replicants don't have emotions isn't true, as near as I can tell. They don't have the same emotions, and didn't come by them the way that regular human beings did. But they have emotions. Strong emotions. They just don't show them in the same way. Leon's line, "Let me tell you about my mother," followed by a gunshot, is very telling. He's angry as hell that he doesn't have a mother. The replicants are angry, fearful, and saddened by the fact that they not only don't have a future, but don't have much of a past. And they mourn the small amount of memories that they do have, knowing that they'll soon be lost. And at the end, Roy shows that they also have compassion, of sorts.

    Also, this movie is supposed to be Noir. The language is as stilted in a stylistic way, and if you watch the version with the narration, it makes this point even more clear. Think of The Big Sleep, or other works by Chandler. The "forced" dialogue is on purpose.

    I'm a geezer, so I'm biased. But I love this movie with all of its faults. I don't think it's the best movie of all time, but I love it.

  3. For me, Blade Runner is a quintessential example of a thing where I appreciate its brilliance, but the actual experience of it leaves me cold.

    I didn't see it until grad school, and while I could see all the cleverness, I found the emotional core of it cold - I didn't care at all about any of the characters. So I think it's a great movie, and one that I will never watch for pleasure.

  4. I, too, really like the comments about emptiness, and how the movie is supposed to feel empty. I'd never thought of it that way, and it's fascinating.

    Kat, I'm interested in what you said about recognizing brilliance but not caring about the characters, and that making the difference about whether you watch it for pleasure or not. I'm wondering (not just for you, more in general): does caring about the characters always determine whether or not we are able to watch something for pleasure? I feel like there are some books that I've read where I've been in awe of the technical brilliance of the book and had a pleasurable reading experience that way, even though I didn't really care much about the characters (Cloud Atlas isn't a perfect example of this, but it comes close; Nabokov's Pale Fire is another).

  5. For me, caring about the characters is a huge thing. I don't need to like them - I have read and watched with pleasure things in which I do not like anyone - but I need to care what happens to at least one of them in order for the experience to be anything other than homework.

  6. Kat, I think I have to care about something - not necessarily a character. When I watched "Lost", I wanted to know with whom Kate would end up, but I was far more interested in discovering what was that island. Also, when I read Asimov's "Foundation", I was more worried about the fate of Foundation itself than with any of its scientists'.

    Well, maybe that's because somehow both the Island and Foundation were characters themselves. But that would stretch the definition of "character" to "anything about which you can care".