ArtSunday: the Blade Runner Effect

Last night we watched the Final Cut of Blade Runner again, and if you don’t have this package I can’t recommend it highly enough. 25 years on, Ridley Scott was able to finally re-craft the film as he wanted it originally, and the result is a stunning achievement. Scott has been one of our greatest directors for a very long time, but this may be his finest moment to date.

This viewing (probably my 35th or 40th – I lost count a long time ago) got me to thinking, all over again, about how little the film was acknowledged at the time of its release. While it was nominated for two technical Oscars (Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Effects, Visual Effects), it’s hard to look back and argue that it got anything like the critical acclaim it deserved (a point underscored by how well respected the film is today). In addition, it didn’t do very well at the box office (it drew a little over $6M that opening weekend, and the theater I saw it in was 90% empty).

Now, though, history has reassessed Blade Runner. Roger Ebert added it to his list of greatest films after seeing the Final Cut, and our friends at Wikipedia catalog the rest:

  • In 2007, the American Film Institute listed it as the 97th greatest film of all time, making it new to the list, having been left off the 1997 version. In 2008, Blade Runner was voted the sixth best science fiction film ever made as part of the AFI’s 10 Top 10.[72]
  • Blade Runner is currently ranked the third best film of all time by The Screen Directory.[73]
  • One of Time’s 100 All-Time best movies.[74]
  • British movie magazine Empire voted it the “Best Science Fiction Film Ever” in 2007.
  • In 2002, Blade Runner was voted the 8th greatest film of all time in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Films poll.

All of which brings me back around to a favorite topic of mine: art whose greatness was not realized in its time. “In its time” is a malleable phrase, of course. With film it might mean anything from “opening weekend” to 25 years or beyond, and with other, older forms of art we could be talking about decades. For purposes of today’s ArtSunday, I’ll let you, the reader, make you own calls about this.

From where I stand, Blade Runner is the greatest example in film of a work that critics and audiences whiffed on at the time of release. It was largely ignored or panned, over time evolved into “cult status,” and was eventually validated both critically and commercially well after the fact. No other film I can think of surpasses Blade Runner in this respect.

Other genres have their own examples of greatness discovered late (or even too late), of course. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, now regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Victorian Era, was never published in his lifetime, for instance.

Today, then, we invite our readers to offer their favorite examples of “the Blade Runner Effect” – that is, the condition of “late greatness” by art that was not duly acclaimed in its time.

That done, I’m certain a store near you is selling the 25th anniversary box of Ridley Scott’s classic. Go grab it, and while you’re out, stop by one of your finer bookstores and pick up a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the superb Philip K. Dick novel on which it was based.

Oh, yeah – Philip K. Dick. Speaking of artists who never really got their full due….

23 thoughts on “ArtSunday: the Blade Runner Effect

  1. In 1981 I worked as a production editor in the Academic Media Department of Who’s Who. Amongst the many benefits of working for Who’s Who was the ability to nominate candidates for inclusion in Who’s Who. A long-time Philip K. Dick fan, I submitted his name to my friend Paul, who managed the Who’s Who books. He’d never heard of Philip K. Dick, but after some investigation, agreed with me that he should be included.

    In the fall of 1981, Philip K. Dick’s name appeared in Who’s Who in America. The following spring of 1982, Philip K. Dick died. I rarely tell the tale, but I am proud that in even such a small way, I was able to further the recognition of an enormous talent while he was still alive.

    Another benefit of working for Who’s Who is that I got to rummage through the Who’s Who archive. One section was devoted to famous people who’d been asked to submit biographical info to Who’s Who and had declined the invitation or sent in frivolous responses. Along with the cover letter, a preprinted questionnaire was included for the recipient to fill out. The questionnaire included an order form for the book, offered in plain, deluxe, or custom binding.

    One recipient’s response had me rolling on the floor. His reply, scrawled across the page went as follows: “Ferk You! I don’t want no part of your cornball scene!” The writer of this terse missive? Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And yes, he did write “Ferk You!”

  2. I have to see this movie. As a quasi sci-fi geek I’m blown away that I have never watched this movie. I’m actually more amazed that I don’t really know a thing about the story line. This is one of those movies I always catch halfway through and I have to turn it off becasue I need to see the whole thing. I read a review of this DVD elsewhere and it will be interesting to watch both versions. With all the hype around this DVD release I need to watch this asap.

    That being said my vote for most under appreciated movie that will be loved in about 10 years is Grandma’s Boy. Your Shits Weak! Your Shizzzzzzzz Weak!

  3. Here’s my votes:

    Most unappreciated band: Hootie and the Blowfish
    Most unappreciated movie: Tie between Attack of the Killer Tomatos and The Blob
    Most unappreciated painter: Miro
    Most unappreciated actor: Keanu Reeves

  4. If you’re looking to provoke me, you’re going to need to be a little less transparent.

    Darrell: Yeah, 10 points from Slytherin for not seeing this movie. I’m disappointed in you. Very, very disappointed…..

  5. Agreed. (About your assessment and Brian’s need to be less transparent 😉 )

    Blade Runner stands as one of the best, if not the best, science fiction films of all time. Another film that came out around the same time and was thoroughly unappreciated was John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. I have heard that, shortly after its release, it even made a list something like “25 most hated films of all time”.

    I think you had films like Star Wars, Empire, and ET come out and suddenly you were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t. Films that made heavy use of special effects were automatically regarded as disposable entertainment. The best story, acting, or direction in the world wouldn’t have garnered an Academy nomination at that time if the film was FX heavy.

    At the same time, films that made heavy use of special effects also had to give the viewer the same satisfying roller coaster ride or risk being panned as dull. Film goers just weren’t ready (and some still aren’t) to treat special effects as being just part of the backdrop, like wardrobe and makeup.

  6. Hmm. How about the “I can’t believe there are people who’ve never seen this” effect?

    For example, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in the Jeeves and Wooster television adaptations? The thought of anyone screwing around with the single funniest author in the history of the universe gave me the screaming creeps, but I sucked it up and watched one. Then another. And another… you get the picture. Incredible.

    I’d still hate to see Blandings Castle brought to the screen, though – it could never be as idyllic as I imagine, and who on earth could do justice to Lord Emsworth?

  7. Oh, and I completely agree with Brian about Keanu Reeves – he’s never been in a project that gave him full scope for his uniquely unstudied talent. Maybe someday…

  8. Just a list of some underappreciated movies:

    In the Company of Men
    Natural Born Killers
    The Royal Tennenbaums
    The Red Violin
    Clockwatchers

  9. Oh, oh, oh. Got one. Miller’s Crossing. One of the most perfect love stories ever – and it’s visually stunning.

  10. Two points:

    1. Certainly BLADE RUNNER deserves its growing reputation. But I can add two films that perhaps (arguably) surpass BR in that category of “underappreciated” in their time but whose reputations have grown immeasuably over time – one is called CITIZEN KANE and the other is called IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

    That’s pretty heady company and it’s no slight to BR that I’d rank it slightly behind those. As its stature grows (and tastes evolve), it may surpass these films.

    2. Hopkins has always been problematic because he’s at least as much a “modern” poet as a “Victorian.” But as Hopkins himself observed, “Glory be to God for Dappled Things.”

    Finally, a couple of nominations for that “unappreciated in its time but now seen as great work getting greater” :

    1. Choose your Nick Drake album – any of the three are worthy “5 Leaves Left,” “Bryter Layter,” “Pink Moon.”

    2. Films – I’ll offer two: DUCK SOUP ( a film that failed in its time and now seems the most prescient satire of government ever made) and BARRY LYNDON, Kubrick’s brilliant indictment of imperialism, both 18th century and modern….

  11. Really? I thought that the Princess Bride did pretty well when it first came out. It’s certainly improved with time, though, which was Sam’s original point.

    One of the best, if not the best movie to watch when you’re sick and crashed out on the couch, especially if you’ve seen it a bazillion times before.

  12. Last week, I watched the directors cut that came out a few years ago for the bazillionth time. I’ve seen it so many times I pretty much ignore some of the bad overdubbing (like the entire conversation with “the Egyptian”). That scene where Zhora is crashing through all the glass shop windows as Decker shoots is just incredible. All you hear is breaking glass, the gun, and the soundtrack.

    Speaking of which, even the background noise in the movie is great. Like the japanese advertisement sounding from loudspeakers on the blimp. For some reason that’s stuck with me since the first time I saw the movie. That and the “Walk! Walk! Walk! Don’t Walk! Don’t Walk. Don’t Walk…”

    I’ve read DADoES a couple of times. I think we talked before about how the two are really different stories…well, actually, how RS just took one thread out of the story and didn’t even TRY to cover the same ground covered by PKD. There’s just too much going on, even for such a short book.

  13. Mike: The relationship between the movie and book is fascinating, and there’s a great feature in the boxed set that deals with it. You really, really need this set.

  14. Sam, love the post. Blade Runner is, flaws and all, the finest motion picture I have ever seen in my 40 years on Earth, and I have seen it more times than you, btw (gryn). I’m glad Ebert finally came around too.

  15. How about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? 48% rotten via critics according to Rotten Tomatoes, did just $13.7 million worldwide at the box office ($5 million less than its production budget). Yet it is one of the best book-to-film adaptations ever done, in my opinion, one of Johnny Depp’s best performances — and one that has informed every character he has played since (Depp claimed Keith Richards as the chief influence for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Jack Sparrow, but… I see about 40% Hunter S. Thompson in there as well).

  16. Josh is right, F&L was a marvel. Gilliam is, IMHO, the greatest living director and, again IMHO, Depp the best actor after De Niro.

    Ever see ‘Dead Man’ with Depp? Directed by the one and only Jim Jarmusch. Great stuff. Iggy Pop, Gary Farmer, other notables have roles in it. Trippy, wonderful art.

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