Friday, December 9, 2011

Is Blade Runner a Great Movie?: A Conversation, Part II

Last week, Dan Lammert, Luke Rasmussen, and Jen Miller started a conversation about whether or not Blade Runner was a great movie.  We got some wonderful responses, and thought we'd continue our discussion this week.  We'd love to hear more of what you have to say as well!

Dan Lammert: 

I will agree that back in 1982, these visuals were probably some of the best. And that the basic concept and idea of the movie was more than likely unheard of for its time. So in that respect I will say that the movie does a lot more good than bad upon further examination.   After watching the first few episodes from Terra Nova, I will add that you're definitely correct with it taking cues from Blade Runner.  And looking back at the entirety of the concept and what it was trying to portray, with what they had for that time, it does it well.  I would have to just again add that I watched it too late in the process.

The point that you bring up about Roy being more human as a replicant is something that I glossed over the first time watching this.  I will easily admit that, but I will make the excuse that the movie did not seem to engage my attention.  Whether it was because of the pacing or the dialogue or lack thereof.  From the start, the movie just didn't seem to "get going."  Again, I'm not expecting great action sequences to provide the flash and awe, however, although I was interested in the atmosphere of the movie, I feel that other places weren't up to par with what was trying to be portrayed and that hindered my experience.  Again, that can be attributed to the time of the movie's released as compared to when I first saw it and my expectations for a movie.

I feel like a broken record when I talk about watching it late after release, but it's probably why I have reservations about stating that it's the greatest science fiction movie ever created.  It obviously draws upon many different aspects and cultural tidbits of the time which flashed past me without much thought.  A few of which you pointed out.  It obviously has a lot more to it than I first saw a few years ago, but it's hard for me to be convinced that a movie is the greatest of all time for a specific genre, but it's not the most watchable.  This throws somewhat of a red flag up in my mind as to why you consider it to be not the most watchable.  I will agree that overall, Blade Runner has a lot going for it, but I believe that there are components that detract from the overall experience of the movie, thereby making it not easily watchable, and not the greatest science fiction movie ever made.  What that movie may be, that would hold the title of greatest sci-fi movieever, I don't have an answer to right now? I would like your thoughts on that though.

Jen Miller:

Dan, you question about my distinction between "best" and "most watchable" is a good one, and to be honest, one that I haven't fully worked out yet.  But for me, a movie that is going to get the "best" label is one that engages me intellectually as well as visually--and it's for that very reason that it's not going to be a movie that I always want to watch.  Sometimes, I want to watch movies just to relax, unwind, or not think.  It would probably make more sense to call these movies "most easily watchable," since it's the ease of getting into the world of the film that I'm judging, rather than its visual appeal, plot, or characters.  But those movies aren't going to be the ones that I consider "best."  Part of me wonders if I would even go so far as to say that "best" and "most watchable" are opposites--but I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far yet!

Another part of this distinction, I think, has to do with how much the movie lets you escape reality--movies that are simply escapist fall into my category of "most easily watchable," because they don't really require me to think about how the movie connects with the real world.  But movies that use fantasy or science fiction to comment on real-world issues require me to engage intellectually--and for that reason, fit better in my category of "best" movies.  For me, movies like Blade Runner or Pan's Labyrinth are movies that require me to think about how they connect to the real world; a movie like Star Wars is easier to watch as just a fun escape.  (I realize that last sentence is probably going to get me in a lot of trouble.  I would like to make it clear that Star Wars is one of my favorite movies, regardless of the distinctions I'm making here.  And now I've just introduced a third category into the mix...geez)  And while a movie like Avatar does have things to say about the real world, the treatment of these themes in the movie is simple enough that it's easy to look past.  I'd definitely be interested in hearing what others have to say about this distinction, and whether or not I'm drawing lines that shouldn't be there.

I'm also interested in what several people posted in the comments about caring (or not caring) about the characters in Blade Runner, and how that affects their ability to be invested in the movie.  I don't really care about the characters in Blade Runner all that much either--but I think the way in which we learn about them is masterfully portrayed, and that's what keeps me watching.  It's almost like the whole movie is a giant chess game--I'm interested to see the strategies, how everything comes together, how the pieces interact with each other, but I'm not really drawn to any one individual character.  The more I think about this movie, the more important chess becomes, it seems.

What do you guys think?  Am I making trouble where there is none?

Luke Rasmussen:

Coming back into this, I’m intrigued by the concept of the distinction of “best” and “most watchable” as it seems to be central to this discussion.  Given what’s been stated so far, I would agree that Blade Runner is one of the “greatest” movies but not the “best”, tying more into “greatest” as a distinction given by a critic who can remain somewhat subjective, while “best” relating more to a consumer’s personal opinion.  In that regard, I would consider “best” and “most watchable” to be more related, similar to having an attachment to the characters in the film as that may have bearing on how often one would want to re-watch it.  Perhaps this distinction is brought out further by some of the comments we’ve received – my impression is that we’ve seen people agree to the “greatness” of the movie on a technical and even philosophical level, but not to it being the “best.”

I am with Jen that this is a movie I would reach for when I have the time to sit down and mull it over, but not a movie to unwind to (that is often reserved for campy 80s horror movies, which I’m sure will sway peoples’ opinion of me!).  I like that Blade Runner makes me think, and the discussion and comments here have given me a lot more to think about the next time I watch it.  I can say for certain that I would find it a crime if Hollywood were to try and remake this film – while there are aspects we may want to see changed, I think the subtleties and nuances that were captured in Scott’s original vision would be lost in today’s attempt to throw a huge visual effects budget at it. 

What do you make of these categories of "best," "greatest," "most watchable," and "favorite"?  Where does Blade Runner fit for you?  Let us know in the comments!


  1. Blade Runner was one of my favorites for a long time, and even though I haven't watched it in ages, its previous status as a favorite puts it now in the realm of "classic" for me. I think that's a more useful label than "best" or "greatest". Dune(1984) is another good example of a sci-fi movie derived from a novel that isn't the "best" movie, but that still fits the description of a "classic".

    Likewise, "most watchable" is a very relative term. If I'm a contemplative mood, Blade Runner's slow pace will sit well with me. But I'm often in the mood for something else. So the "watchability" factor is highly fluid.

    I think our tastes evolve over time, too. Which is why I'm fond of Blade Runner, yet haven't seen it in years.

    It bears mentioning that yesterday on campus (I work at a university), I overheard a student talking about watching Blade Runner for an anthropology class. I pitched in with a quick helpful hint. But the main point is that if Blade Runner is good enough to be included in a college curriculum, it's probably a pretty good movie.

  2. I certainly make a distinction between "favorite" and "greatest," in the sense that I'm rather unqualified to judge the latter. :p Although actually I have a hard time picking favorites, too, but still, I see that there is a difference.

    For me the corresponding category should be something like "most readable" (I read /far/ more than I watch, at least as far as SF--never watched Blade Runner, did read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and remember none of it). But now that I type that phrasing, it feels off somehow. A book could presumably be "readable" (it's amusing and it doesn't force me to Deal with the Big Questions of Life) without being "readable" (I can follow the plot, I can follow the characters, the words aren't too big). Or, indeed, vice versa. I assume this is a medium-specific difference? (Given my difficulties with recognizing faces my cutoff for a movie being watchable in the second sense is probably pretty low...)

    I would say that the reason "best" (whatever it may be) and "most watch(read)able" are not /complete/ opposites is because of some...minimum quality threshold, or something. I would think that in both the "best" work and the "most enjoyable" one, the screenwriter/director/author would come up with some really novel (no pun intended) plot twists that would hold my attention and distinguish or elevate it from something that's very formulaic and repetitive. Then there would be a distinction between what they /do/ with these plot twists, probably, but they'd still fail to be total opposites.