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“Blade Runner” has its own look, and a place in film history (1982) (newyorker.com)
75 points by mgl 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 65 comments



Extensive discussion of the film just two days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31887748


> “Blade Runner” doesn’t engage you directly; it forces passivity on you. It sets you down in this lopsided maze of a city, with its post-human feeling, and keeps you persuaded that something bad is about to happen.

Which, as it happened, turned out to be a perfect prediction of contemporary life.


Remarkable (remarkably humorous) how Newark is the model for a dystopian city to the reviewer (of The New Yorker - everything fits).

(«Newark and old Singapore» - because Singapore has since fixed itself.)


Is this article posted today because of framed.wtf?


No, it's the 40th anniversary of the film's release.


Nice spoilers lmao


Am I the only one who doesn't get the hype about Blade Runner?

I guess, it was an okay movie, but hardly the cult classic everyone keeps talking about, and with a weird cop-out ending that doesnt really offer any resolution (yes I know there are alternative endings, they seem as bad).


It suffers from the same misfortune as the LOTR novels, Aliens, Friday the 13th, Godzilla, or countless other works that were among the first major works in their genres.

They were groundbreaking, foundational works that influenced everything came after them. The later works were often amplified takes on what came before; explicit attempts to out-do their ancestors.

(Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. You don't always improve things just by adding more...)

So, folks go back to the originals and wonder: "what's the fuss about? what was so groundbreaking about the hard-sci-fi-ish space marines and H.R. Giger visuals in Aliens? or the boring, soulless, pondrous killer in Friday the 13th? " The originals seem tame or quaint by comparison to what came after.

Know this: there is a whole world of enjoyment out there waiting for you should you ever decide to appreciate works of art in their appropriate historical contexts. Blade Runner has its faults and its charms and is by no means a perfect movie, but it is arguably the most visually influential movie in history or damn close to it.

Things are never entirely born from nowhere, but Blade Runner's now-cliched "neon cyberpunk dystopian future" look had never been really done before, certainly not on the big screen, and I'm honestly not sure if it's been done better since.

As far as discussing Blade Runner on its own merits, outside of any context... I understand why some think it's boring. It's slow and meditative. Deckard is a cipher. But this is by design. It works for me, mostly.

Of course, if you just want to skip all of that context business and focus on the latest/flashiest works in a particular genre... that's cool too. Literally nothing wrong with that. It's art. You can interact with it however you want. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.


While I mostly agree, The Lord of the Rings still stands head and shoulders above anything else in the fantasy genre. I recently reread them and I'd forgotten how much better they are than anything else in fantasy.


I'm tempted to agree, but that's a huge statement given the absolute torrent of fantasy novels that have been written in its wake!

I need to re-read them. It's been too long.


>> the boring, soulless, pondrous killer in Friday the 13th? "

You mean Halloween, in which John Carpenter invented the genre that everyone imitated. If you haven't seen it...


Thank you! I forgot which one came first. Hopefully, my point still comes across.


i personally found LOTR to be "groundbreaking" for it's time. But if LOTR came out after say something like GOT. Well GOT is better in that sense.

The key difference between modern cinema and previous cinema is pacing; and this is a key ingredient stories need to be good, that people often dismiss.

GOT by itself, is a relatively Mundane story. But pacing was masterful. Killing off the main character at the end of the first season was revolutionary.

LOTR also has a relatively generic plot. LOTR is mostly famous for the world building. That was a first and it was revolutionary as well.

I would say however, that when analyzing basic human nature and looking at what we truly like and don't like... pacing is actually far more important then world building.

Blade Runner is great, I liked blade runner for the world building and character development as well. But don't be so snobbish as to ignore pacing. The pacing in blade runner is categorically horrible.


You seem to have a very specific view of pacing: faster is better. To me that feels very limiting.

But, as with all things art, I think there's no way to enjoy or feel about it. I feel a lot differently but that doesn't mean I'm right.


You seem to have a very specific view that pacing = faster.

Pacing is not faster.

GOT is not fast at all. In fact it takes several seasons for GOT to reach a payoff and everyone watched it in ANTICIPATION for that payoff. Literally they sat through the equivalent of 30 blade runners back to back to get to what was imo not that great of a payoff. But what made them do it was the masterful pacing.

>But, as with all things art, I think there's no way to enjoy or feel about it. I feel a lot differently but that doesn't mean I'm right.

No I disagree. There is such a thing as a general perspective held by a statistically significant portion of the population. And that general perspective is often what what should be counted as correct.

For example if someone thinks something as horrible as rape is morally right does it make it right? Or should we go with what the general population thinks.

You can be the guy who holds a different opinion. But I would say something is wrong with you if you can't even begin to empathize with why a general audience thinks the way they do. Don't be snobbish. Your art quote actually has a bit of an odor hinting at this.


You're saying that there's an objectively right way to appreciate things, and I'm snobbish? I mean, okay. lol.


No I'm saying there's a majority opinion. And something is up if you can't empathize with the majority opinion.

I mean you can say everyone has their own opinion and they're all right from their perspective but this statement in itself is pointless. It's more meaningful to discuss why the majority opinion is better or why the minority opinion is better.

The thing about snobbery is that you referred to it as "art." Whenever I hear this I think "snob"


I'm actually still laughing about this comment a few days later. Have you considered lending your talents to makers of movies and other entertainment, since you've got a strong understanding of objectively correct pacing?


I don't feel that way at all and wrote nothing of the sort. So instead of paying attention to what I actually wrote, you... imagined something I might have meant.

Okay.

For the record, I use the word art in the broadest and most inclusive possible sense. I would use "art" to describe literally any creative work, including television commercials and crayon artwork from three year-olds.

As for the majority opinion? Yeah, I mean, I get it. I don't think it proves anything, but that's less "screw public opinion" and more "I don't think there's any kind of objectively true judgement about art, whether we're talking about the opinions of so-called 'experts' or the general public."

(It may be worth noting that this entire discussion is within the context of me defending a movie that was mostly critically panned upon initial release...)


From the recent movies, I think "The Matrix" was more influential than "Blade Runner". You can split the history in movies before Matrix and the movies after.


That's a great pick. If we were going to pick a handful of candidates, Matrix definitely would have to be a part of that very short list.

Part of me wants to stump for Blade Runner over The Matrix, if only because Blade Runner had less... prior art, so to speak. It was more of an entirely new aesthetic whereas The Matrix was more evolutionary. The leap was huge, don't get me wrong, but it felt more evolutionary.

Blade Runner's look is something you continue to see today in various sci-fi and games, copied nearly verbatim. It was simultaneously the birth of a new aesthetic and maybe its apex as well. Like, where do you even go with that look? It felt fully realized, right there in 1982.

The Matrix... it wasn't really the look that influenced future works, it was more of the camera work and wild shots. Bullet time, the 360deg freeze circular panning thing, and so on. I guess you do see "bullet time" everywhere now.

There's also something to be said about the relative financial success of the movies. Blade Runner was that influential despite being a box office and critical dud at the time. It's relatively easy (and even expected) for smash hits to wield massive influence. But duds? We have to admit: that's just incredible.

Anyway - awesome pick. Rather than picking one over the other, I would say: they both belong on the Mt. Rushmore of "most visually influential movies."


> new aesthetic and maybe its apex

I watched it again yesterday. I'd forgotten how amazingly real and fully realized that world was. I don't think that movie will ever age. Love your points, agreed on all of them.


Thank you so much. That was a really nice comment to read.


eh it's aging. It'll get to the point where it's unwatchable one day. The whole grid zoom thing is the most prominent thing that aged in my opinion. It all happened on a CRT screen which is a definite sign of the times and therefore a sign of aging.


> a CRT screen which is a definite sign of the times and therefore a sign of aging

Nah, there's any number of in-universe explanations. CRTs in our world were still being sold new as of a decade or so ago. Why shouldn't Deckard have an old one still kicking around in 2019?

Or, if you think they would have been phased out earlier given that Blade Runner world tech developed differently than ours, then: Deckard is just attached to old things. (Remember he's also got a real acoustic piano in his high-rise apartment.)

Or, the entire photo enhancing contraption is produced by some legacy police equipment supplier that's still writing their software in Java 1.3 and using CRTs because...internal corporate reasons.

Or (least plausibly but most just-suspend-your-disbelief) that's not really a CRT, it's a far more advanced brand-new tech that just so happens to also have a curved screen and fuzzy pixels because <insert technobabble>.


Yeah. I'm with you. You're gonna "invalidate" pretty much literally any sci-fi movie of the past if your criteria for "has it held up?" includes "do they somehow have modern-day tech?"

I just think of a Blade Runner-ish world as an alternate path our society might've taken. Had a few things been different here and there, we might not have had LCD screens. Or we might've had something vastly better.


Makes sense. You got me.


Maybe a way to put it is like like blade runner innovates horizontally, becoming and start its own thing while matrix innovated vertixally, evolving the existing genre?


Matrix also came out much later. The kids who watched the Matrix when it came out, most of them don't even know what blade runner was because it came out before a lot them were born.

Also matrix doesn't fully hold up with time. It is a bit unintentionally campy. I was captivated by it when it came out, but when you watch it again in modern times or show it to someone who's too young to have been influenced by it, you'll actually kind of notice the campiness. If you don't, the young person will point it out.


One of Matrix's challenges maybe is that the protagonists were clearly meant to seem cool and relatable - or, at least, Neo is relatable in the beginning, trapped in his cubicle, slaving away while using only a fraction of his mind before finding out that he is so much more. We all sort of wanted to be him.

But "cool" doesn't always age well; Neo's kind of a very specific late-90s kind of cool. One decade's "cool" isn't always "cool" 30 years later.

In Blade Runner, Deckard isn't really cool or relatable. I mean, he looks sort of badass in his trenchcoat, but he's an exhausted middle-aged guy with a claustrophobic apartment in a dangerous and thankless line of work. In a way that's maybe more "timeless."


the trope is called "Seinfeld is unfunny" : https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SeinfeldIsUnfunn...


Very well put, and I agree. I'd like to add to your list: Die Hard has always felt to me like the genesis of the modern action movie.


> I guess, it was an okay movie, but hardly the cult classic everyone keeps talking about,

But it is exactly the cult movie that everybody keeps talking about. Maybe it wasn't a blockbuster because of the reasons you give, but it had an iconic look that has influenced every SciFi movie since, and it takes its time to tell an interesting, complex story, where you can't really be sure who the good and bad guys really are.

It's popular exactly because it's different. It was and still is immensely influential. But it's absolutely true that it's not standard middle-of-the-road blockbuster material.


Agreed. But also no denying the fact Blade Runner had horrible pacing.

Pacing is hard to get right in a movie. It is a separate pillar of measurement for a movie. A movie can rate 10 out of 10 for setting and character development and 3 for pacing. Blade runner is such a movie.

In general Ridley Scott isn't very good at making well paced movies. Pacing for him comes as a bit of a lucky draw. Gladiator is one of his movies that had incredible pacing, but in my opinion that was mostly luck as most of his movies don't have good pacing.


No, I agree. It's a slow movie, the acting and writing are kind of bad, and it failed to drive home the themes explored in the book its based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The book asked what it meant to be human, and pointed out some of the ironies of humans claiming empathy is what makes humans human, while simultaneously being completely callous towards other humans (by abandoning the masses on a dying Earth) and androids (who are conscious but enslaved and doomed to a short lifespan), and intentionally manipulating their feelings with essentially drugs. It was an entertaining read, which I picked up after watching the movie and feeling similarly confused. The movie kind of missed all that.

The redeeming factor of the film for me was its visual style, which was innovative for its time, and defined the cyberpunk aesthetic that we are familiar with today. The dark dystopian ecumenopolis, neon lights, giant ads, flying cars, etc.

Also worth pointing out that there were several different versions of the film, and some of them have a worse ending than others.


I believe the movie focuses on what was about a page and a half in the book, and expands that into an entire movie. They're related, but you're right that they're not telling the same story.

Even so, Philip K Dick was apparently very enthusiastic about what Ridley Scott did with his story.


> Philip K Dick was apparently very enthusiastic

You are looking for this:

> I came to the conclusion that this indeed is not science fiction; it is not fantasy; it is exactly what Harrison said: futurism. The impact of Blade Runner is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people - and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. Since I have been writing and selling science fiction works for thirty years, this is a matter of some importance to me. In all candor I must say that our field has gradually and steadily been deteriorating for the last few years. Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches B.R. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day “reality” pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, B.R. is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be. // Let me sum it up this way. Science fiction has slowly and ineluctably settled into a monotonous death: it has become inbred, derivative, stale. Suddenly you people have come in, some of the greatest talents currently in existence, and now we have a new life, a new start. As for my own role in the B.R. project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner


I haven't read the book, but I met a lot of people who tell me that after they read the book, they now hate the movie because the book was so much better.

Now after I read your comment, I realize they're just being snobbish.


Yeah, I love the book, but it's not "so much better". They're both great, but they're very different, despite some similarities. The movie tells a completely different story within the same events. Perhaps a less coherent story, but still a worthwhile one. But the movie is absolutely more about style.


> hardly the cult classic

A "classic", to the definition of Italo Calvino, is that thing which tells you something new every time you explore it. You are probably looking for something different from what that work is. Because others have found further meanings in it in the course of decades.

(And already reading this article I find myself entangled in one of its riddles.)

Edit again: and in fact, the reviewer shows to be clueless, states in clear contradiction that the movie forces passivity, places a number of questions in the review and stop short of attempting finding answers. No, the questions are there: if you are intrigued about finding the answers, that is your "privilege".

Edit:

By the way: what is «weird» to you in the «cop-out ending»? Because it is very linear if you "get" one of the main "prestiges" (after Nolan, "the thing in front of your eyes which in a way you may almost refuse to see") in the story. Edit2: and given said context, and what is drawn by the rest of the movie, the ending /is/ resolutive.


I’m this case it’s not about the story which was only marginally interesting. It’s the cinematography, the color timing, the sets, the costumes.

Blade Runner was a masterpiece in those areas (when combined) and defined it’s genre/aesthetic.


The story is so much more than "marginally interesting."

When do creations made by human gain true sentience? When do they gain rights? What happens when these replicants are so advanced that their status as replicant is difficult to impossible to detect?

What makes us human in the first place? How do we know our memories are genuine? Without our experiences and memories, are we just organic robots?

Blade Runner gets a few of common pieces of criticisms:

1. Pacing. It feels slow. This might blow your mind: The movie is only 2 hours. The sequel is about 45 minutes longer. I think this criticism is, frankly, invalid. Plenty of art/indie films get positive points for being contemplative, but this is a detractor from Blade Runner for some reason. Pineapple Express has the exact same run time, Sex and the City 2 is longer.

2. Story and dialog. The movie is hard to understand the first time you watch it if you aren't hearing every word of dialog and processing it. I think this is the most valid criticism, but, again, it's supposed to be a good thing for a movie to challenge you to think, to take in context clues, rather than spoon-feeding you how you should feel like it's a summer blockbuster Marvel movie.

3. The ending. It's not much of one, there isn't a big payoff anywhere. This type of ending is somehow totally fine for art/indie films but "not okay" here. Personally, I think we're supposed to feel like being a Blade Runner is a bit pointless. The ending is unsatisfying on purpose, just like the endings in Disco Elysium.


>1. Pacing. It feels slow. This might blow your mind: The movie is only 2 hours. The sequel is about 45 minutes longer. I think this criticism is, frankly, invalid. Plenty of art/indie films get positive points for being contemplative, but this is a detractor from Blade Runner for some reason. Pineapple Express has the exact same run time, Sex and the City 2 is longer.

Pacing has nothing to do with movie runtime. A movie can be 3 hours with incredible pacing. Additionally a movie CAN be both contemplative and have great pacing. In the group of movies that have pretty bad pacing, Blade runner is one of the front runners.

That being said, many people have the ability to ignore pacing many people can't. Personally for me I can ignore pacing, but I very much notice it's absence and a movie is actually worse off without good pacing. Blade runner to me is therefore a good movie despite horrible pacing.

>2. Story and dialog. The movie is hard to understand the first time you watch it if you aren't hearing every word of dialog and processing it. I think this is the most valid criticism, but, again, it's supposed to be a good thing for a movie to challenge you to think, to take in context clues, rather than spoon-feeding you how you should feel like it's a summer blockbuster Marvel movie.

This is debatable. There's a sort of catharsis involved with solving a puzzle and deriving solutions from information not given explicitly. But if a movie delivers information too obscure not everyone can fully solve the puzzle and for those that don't the movie is raw shit. Seriously. If someone can't figure it out, then the movie is effectively horrible to THOSE people.

A movie is not suppose to be a puzzle. It's just suppose to feel like one. A movie should provide the right amount of foreshadowing, hints, expose, and explanation such that the audience FEELS like they are solving a puzzle. Movies that are actual puzzles are sort of snobbish as they are deliberately targeting puzzle solvers, not a general audience.

Blade runner to me is unintentionally a puzzle. It wasn't Ridley's scotts intention to make the thematic elements of the movie so hard to parse.

>3. The ending. It's not much of one, there isn't a big payoff anywhere. This type of ending is somehow totally fine for art/indie films but "not okay" here. Personally, I think we're supposed to feel like being a Blade Runner is a bit pointless. The ending is unsatisfying on purpose, just like the endings in Disco Elysium.

I thought disco elysium was more satisfying. It had better pacing which made the ending have a better payoff. Inception is also a movie with a ambiguose ending but PEOPLE loved it.

The problem with Blade runner is not really the ambiguous ending. It's because the pacing that built to the pay off was really bad and the thematic elements are hard for a general audience to parse so throwing an ending that's ambiguous on top of all of that just makes everything seem much worse.


That's what a movie is. Most people judge a movie strictly on the story but you can get a story from a book. What does the film medium add? A movie is also editing, sound design, cinematography, acting, sets, costumes, etc.


This is how I feel when people say they don't like instrumental music because there is no lyrics, and they can't figure out what the song was about.


Same. I've always liked the phrase, "it's not what you say, it's how you say it."

The human voice is an instrument and I don't care about the lyrics to most songs. They usually aren't saying anything interesting. To me it's more about how they say it.


And the music!!! Vangelis' (RIP) soundtrack is incredible.


The story pacing was horrible. However thematic elements in the story were revolutionary sci-fi at the time. The whole AI/replicant/consciousness thematic elements really spawned from this movie.

Terminator 2 is an example of a movie that sort of built on these concepts but had incredible pacing.


Blade Runner is one of those movies that are remembered more for introducing interesting questions and world-building than presenting a truly engaging and highly efficient narrative.

Like Star Wars and Robocop, it is not flawless and hardly a masterpiece. But, like the above, it also has a significant place in the history of film.


Star wars is a masterpiece. You just need to look at the aftermath of what it did to the cultural landscape. By far more influential then blade runner.

Star wars is definitely lower brow entertainment then blade runner but there's no denying the fact that it is far more influential.


I think you're conflating very dissimilar things. Blade Runner and Star Wars are both incredibly influential, but artistic quality and influence are two very different things. The word "masterpiece" is related to artistic quality, not influence. Keeping Up With the Kardashians is highly influential but few people would call it a masterpiece.


It’s not easy for me to think of a scifi movie that I like more than Blade Runner, or Alien/Aliens. The cinematic craft they show is, IMHO, simply stunning.

I enjoy the pace of Blade Runner. Many movies today are just too busy and pointlessly hysterical.


> I enjoy the pace of Blade Runner. Many movies today are just too busy and pointlessly hysterical.

Agree, Blade Runner has perfect pacing for me. It is not action movie, but i do not expect nor want it to be one. Compared to other classic sci-fi movies like 2001: Space Odyssey, or Tarkovsky's Solaris or Stalker, these are slow-pacing movies.


I like blade runner, but I'm one of the people who finds the pacing horrible and I think most people in the general audience agree with me. Blade runner definitely is not blockbuster for this reason.

I sometimes meet people like you and the parent who actually like the pacing of BR and I totally get it. It's like reading a deep novel.

Though I wonder, are you guys able to empathize with why pacing is actually important to the general audience? Was something like Game of Thrones (probably one of the most masterfully paced pieces of cinema) just too "busy?"


I agree, had a difficult time watching it and the remake. Although I think it's similar to Cyberpunk 2077 for me. That game is not the greatest but the environment & world is what piques my interest.


> Am I the only one who doesn't get the hype about Blade Runner?

Statistically speaking, you certainly are.


No he's not. Most people don't find blade runner entertaining. HN is not in any way representative of the general audience.

Actually statistically speaking he's part of the majority.


For me, it is the whole cinematic universe conjured that is fantastic. The music, the grit, the characters, the dark baroque feeling it conveys.

And that is, by the way, the hardest thing to accomplish on film. It is not in the cast, not in the size of the budget,... In the same sense how one can feel a B-movie 10 second in. (by B-movie I mean an author-less movie)

edit: spelling


I disagree. While challenging and a definite technical marvel these issues are relatively deterministic based around the amount of resources a movie has to throw at effects, cinematography and art direction.

I feel pacing is the hardest thing to accomplish, and a lot of times it's the luck of the draw.

Ridley scott in general, his movies have below average pacing. He got lucky one time with Gladiator.

Blade runner is great, I love it. But I can't deny, among all of cinema and among ridley scotts filmography, Blade runner has pretty horrible pacing.


I agree, the pacing is hard. I assume you are talking about the narrative pacing. A well implemented push and pull of narrative is not always needed for a movie to work. I was talking about the whole atmosphere of the movie; even the slow spots, the lacunae, the horrible staggering of the story;-- it works. And that cannot be achieved by "relatively deterministic" production strategy.

I accept that it can be "the luck of the draw". But that is exactly what it means for a work to have an author. With all of its fallibilities. (I dont presupose a single author either, maybe an _author structure_)


I concur.

There are aspects of Blade Runner I certainly appreciate, and I think the world's a better place with films like it.

Yet the hype around it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It also lacks many things that typically makes a movie an enduring classic. There's not a lot of memorable dialogue or things that are meme-worthy. Not saying that those things are what make a great movie, but many great movies, even very old ones, rear their head in popular culture much more than I think Blade Runner has. I certainly hear about Blade Runner a lot, but it's rare that why people enjoy it is articulated beyond appreciation for style.

Also, I think the direction should have made it more clear that Decker is not exactly a protagonist. Because it doesn't (from what I remember), it's a bit confusing when he sexually assaults that one synth. I just wasn't a fan of how that part of the plat is handled.


There was most definitely memorable dialog:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tears_in_rain_monologue

I also think it's quite clear that Decker is not morally upstanding from very early in the film. His job is quite literally to be an executioner.


> There's not a lot of memorable [dia]logue

Well, apart from the "I have seen things / tears in the rain" bit, the "It's too bad she won't live" monument, the inter-special interactions, the patricide/deicide, the silences in the perspective of the androidic mind, which makes dialogues almost monologues or no-logues...


An important part of movies is pacing. Many fans (not all and not the majority, but a lot) are so snobbish, they can't see the fact that Blade Runner has really bad pacing.

Blade runner is great, I like the movie, but it lacks pacing and many members of the general audience place a high bar on pacing.

From my perspective, while I like the movie, I can still understand why someone like you wouldn't like it. And it makes sense. What you say is true, the ending offers no resolution and the pacing through the whole movie was just really bad.

But the good parts of blade runner that people talk about. Those things are also true.


Yeah, it's very probable!

Sorry, I couldn't restrain myself :-)




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