on March 5, 2014
Answer: This movie, appearing on every list of not only the greatest science-fiction films of all time, but the best movies ever made. "Blade Runner" is a movie that you have to not only see, but own, because it's one of the few monumental American classics, along with "Casablanca", "It's a Wonderful Life", "The Third Man", "Vertigo" and "The Godfather", that gets better by age. Like most of these movies, "Blade Runner" was a critical and commercial bomb, ludicrously dismissed as style over substance, for lacking a coherent story and for its one-dimensional human characters. Seen today, in a time of economic recession, class division and the state's utter disregard to come in human terms, "Blade Runner" feels more modern and relevant than ever.
Why is "Blade Runner" one of the greatest movies of all time? I could write a lengthy review describing the movie's greatness, but I'll do the movie greater service by listing the reasons:
1.) It's a simple story, brilliantly told, tightly paced and superbly directed. A retired police officer is forced by the police state to hunt down (or "retire") a group of bio-engineered cyborgs called Replicants. Under Ridley Scott's tight direction, the movie is a gripping experience as we see the main character struggle to fulfill his obligations and survive. The opening sequence where Leon is interrogated as rather or not he's a Replicant and the scenes where Deckard is pursuing Pris in a room cluttered with mannequins are as suspenseful as the best of Hitchcock.
2.) The acting is utterly terrific. Harrison Ford probably gave the greatest performance of his career as the replicant hunter Deckard. Ford hated the movie and called it a miserable experience, yet in some ways, this helped add greater depth to his character, as we see Deckard's anguish, frustration and anger simmering throughout the movie. Sean Young is outstanding as the Replicant assistant Rachael and her scenes with Deckard, where he tries to teach her about love in his apartment, have an emotional intensity barely found in other sci-fi movies. Darryl Hannah made a huge impression as the lonely and tragic Pris and Edward James Olmos provides comic relief as the officer Gaff, who raises an ambiguous question at the end that still resonates to this day. But the highest acting honor, of course, belongs to Rutger Hauer, as Roy Batty, the movie's main antagonist. Subtle yet dangerous, a menace to society yet one with tragic grandeur, Hauer's Batty may rank as one of the greatest and most memorable villains in movie history.
3.) "Blade Runner" successfully continues the tradition that has defined science-fiction movies in decades, in that it presents the central theme that the most humane characters are in the fact the most inhuman. Despite their supposed lack of humanity, Roy Batty and Pris are arguably the most sympathetic characters in movie, primarily because they are outcasts who refuse to blend in to an oppressive society (see below). In fact, the general complaint about "Blade Runner" when it was released was that the replicants were more interesting than the hero, when that was precisely the point. There's a disturbing sequence where Deckard is hunting down a female replicant and instead of having the audience root for him, the movie defies conventions and has us hoping that the replicant escapes (there's even a hint in the movie's finale that Deckard himself may be a replicant). At the end, when Batty chooses his fate, you feel a great sense of sadness for this inhuman yet paradoxically humane character.
4.) No other movie, not even "2001" or "Metropolis", captures the feeling of being displaced, oppressed and and dehumanized in an oppressive society. One of the biggest reasons for the movie's initial failure was that it presented such a dark vision of a world where privacy is lacking, noise is abundant and commercialism runs rampant throughout the city. The sets, outfits, the insufferable rain and the cluttering masses on the street create a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling that prevents people from having the free will to be themselves. Deckard is a perfect example of that, as he is powerless towards a quasi-fascist police state that determines his fate or he will be part of the "little people". The movie is, for all its futuristic technology, is an expressive drama.
5.) "Blade Runner" has one of the best musical scores ever made. Composed by "Chariots of Fire" conductor Vangelis, the music is a groundbreaking merge of futuristic synthesizers, organic compositions and even an element of jazz, as seen in the beloved "Love Theme", with its beautiful saxophone solo. You can listen to this music without seeing the film and imagine the whole movie in your head.
6.) "Blade Runner" seems more relevant and prophetic today than it was released in 1982. Critics and moviegoers were taken back by seeing such dark, dreary vision, a vision where the rich care so little about the poor that they form a hostile, miserable ghetto. Yet walk down the inner slums of any city, from Los Angeles in early 1990s and Moscow to Tokyo and that vision is there before our eyes. Technology, which was supposedly man's gift to preserve humanity, has slowly overtaken our human traits, making us cold, mechanical and increasingly dependent on machinery.
7.) The movie, despite its darkness, ends with a suggestion of hope. When Batty spares Deckard's life and delivers that immortal monologue which has earned its place in cinema, this scene suggests a promising hope in the future: that machines and human, instead of striving to dominate the other, can live side-by-side in harmony. This is not a hippie message, but a heartfelt plea for everyone in diverse groups to coexist and accept one another.
"Blade Runner" is one of the American cinema's most towering achievements and an institution for every science-fiction entity that has come afterwards, from "The Matrix" and "Dark City" to "Ghost in the Shell" and "Cowboy Bebop", from the fantastical adventures by Hayao Miyazaki, to the grim, political fables by Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron. Even "The Fifth Element", in some ways, plays like a sunny, cartoony alternative to this grim classic. It is essential that you watch "Blade Runner", even if you don't like it (which is highly doubtful). If you even think of starting a Blu-Ray/DVD collection without it, then you are simply just one of the "little people".
Strongest recommendation to steal at all costs.
P.S. Like many great movies, "Blade Runner" has come out in a variety of editions, each of them a worthy purchase. There was a five-disc ultimate collector's edition that came out on both DVD and Blu-Ray. That is currently out of print. In its place, there was 30th anniversary edition released in two box sets: a multi-format version (with that memorable Asian face on the front cover) and a three-disc set released with only Blu-Rays (that's the one with the unicorn on the front cover). Either version you watch is fine, but if you just want the Blu-Rays in an affordable set, go with the three-disc set. Besides nearly a dozen hours of supplements, the picture and audio qualities are excellent. Since "Blade Runner" is an intensely visual experience, it is highly recommended that you watch it on a big screen and with big speakers. As the saying goes, the bigger, the better...in everything.