Friday, January 25, 2008

...and the Blade Runner bashing continues

Just when I thought the Blade Runner bashing was over, along comes another smug review of its new "Final Cut" release, courtesy of the Slate Web site. Critic Stephen Metcalf accuses the film of not only possessing a light script, weak characters, and pretension--a trio of old, tired saws--but also takes some mean-spirited shots at the fans who have come to its defense. Writes Metcalf:

The mystery of Blade Runner is not that early audiences were so put off by it, but that a quasi-sacred halo has come to surround it, a force field so powerful as to apparently render nuanced critical judgment impossible.

Well, as a card-carrying member of the "cult," let me take a moment to repudiate Metcalf's review.

Metcalf's review is well-written and in some cases, quite correct. Blade Runner has certainly benefitted over the years from "ancillary distribution" on VHS and DVD, which gave ample opportunity to rehabilitate its image. I also had to chuckle at his accurate mocking of the (too) many workprints of BR floating around on video, and the pedantic discussions that spring up around the Web over why one version sucks/rules/is superior to another/is antithetical to Ridley Scott's "vision." I too find these discussions tiresome.

But Metcalf too lightly brushes over the damage inflicted by the 1982 Theatrical Cut, which dumbed down Scott's intended film, added a laughable voice-over, and removed the darkness of the ending and the Deckard-as-replicant subtext. Writes Metcalf:

Over the years, the idea of a Blade Runner wholly unfucked up by the suits has become a kind of holy mythopoeia that accompanies the film everywhere, as cherished as the idea of a childhood wholly unfucked up by parents...

Well, the hard and cold truth is that the "suits" did fuck up Blade Runner in 1982. But just because its been catalogued and rehashed ad nauseum does not make it any less true.

Metcalf later adds that the critics that panned Blade Runner in 1982 were right all along:

But for all of its supposed transmutations along the way to this, "The Final Cut," it is still vulnerable to the same criticisms originally applied to it. The movie is a transfixing multisensory turn-on from beginning to end. But because its story is underplotted and its characters almost totally opaque, the weight of the film falls to its sumptuous visual palette—its abiding strength—and to its quasi-Nietzschean theology—its abiding weakness.

In other words, Blade Runner is all visuals and no soul, a victim of "underplotting" and poorly-drawn characters. I guess a car chase could have livened things up, or perhaps Ridley Scott could have given Deckard a wife and set up a nice, juicy, love triangle when Rachel enters the picture. Because that would have made the film so much better. As for the Nietzsche influence, I see this as a strength, not a weakness.

Metcalf also says, A movie that is about what it's like to be mortal should not include the line "What is it like to be mortal?" but Blade Runner comes perilously close.

I don't even know how to respond to this last criticism, only to say that Metcalf must not have been watching too closely. The very reason Blade Runner is accused of being "underplotted" and "slow" is because its precisely not a film about action. Even as it asks, "what makes us human," it spends most of its two hours trying to answer the question, and in my opinion succeeds on a more profound level than most films seeking to do the same. I don't know why he labels such examination "turgid," only that I detect a whiff of elitism in the review.

Finally, Metcalf makes the tragic mistake of revealing that his wife "laughed" at Roy Batty's death scene. A word to critics who resort to anecdotal evidence ("hey, lots of people I know laughed at Blade Runner. Therefore, it sucks!") to make their point: No one cares. It's a shallow tactic and ultimately proves nothing. I expected better from Slate.


Fred said...

There's another collection out now with five discs. The fifth disc has the workprint version.

That's not a "feel good" ending on the theatrical version. It's merely a extended version of the uncertainly around their future. After all, when Rachel asks Deckard whether he would hunt her down if she flees, he says that he wouldn't, but that somebody would.

If he's a replicant, then the authorities certainly wouldn't allow two replicants to escape, especially since at least one of them has no termination date built in.

By the way, among my other errors in judgment, I'm also one who thinks taking the voice-overs off was a mistake. It fits the atmosphere of the film.

Craig S. Shoemake said...

I have a theory: Metcalf is a replicant and doesn't know it. He's also NOT a movie critic--and doesn't know it.