Last night my wife was battling a nasty head cold (and sadly still is, as I write this post). We’d just had dinner (at-home prepared kung pao chicken & rice) and I was feeling a bit antsy for entertainment. My wife and I have a ridiculous-sized collection of movies on DVD and blu ray to choose from, but last night I had a real craving to see something on the big screen, and not our 43” Toshiba HDTV.
On a lark, I decided to check out my iPhone’s Fandango app to see what was playing at our local Starlight cinema, which sometimes shows classic movies on certain weekends every month. Last night’s classic movie happened to be the 2007 Final Cut of Sir Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece “Blade Runner”…. aka, one of my favorite movies of all time. A part of me felt guilty, leaving my sick wife at home as I ran off to see a movie (a movie I already own on DVD and Blu Ray), but she gave me her full urging/blessing. Not to mention it was only $7 for a ticket.
So, with less than 45 minutes till the start of the movie, I was off…
At the box office, I picked my seat. I’m a serious fan of assigned seating; it very much minimizes the risk of getting stuck with a crappy seat.
With a few minutes till showtime, other people were filing in. It was a modest little auditorium, and a healthy-sized crowd (maybe 25-30 people). Almost immediately I noticed that two gentlemen behind me were going on at length about the “Blade Runner” universe, their teaching careers, and many other things. Normally I couldn’t care less about other peoples’ conversations, but the movie-geek in me was wondering if these two (sitting directly behind me) were going to be the ‘movie commentary’ guys; the ones who provide an involuntary audio commentary track during the entire run of the film.
I was concerned…
Then directly in front of me, a middle-aged guy sat down with two teenaged girls (his kids, I assume). One of the teens took out her phone and began social media–ing about everything. She took a selfie, a picture of her ticket stub, you name it. Oh no, I thought; she is going to be the dreaded ‘cellphone twit’; that person (or persons) for whom the entire movie is just a giant wall advertisement to provide background visuals for their far more interesting tasks of texting friends, taking pics and updating their FaceBook status.
My concerns were growing…
Then, right as “Blade Runner” began (the screen still largely black, with credits and the first stirrings of Vangelis’ score) a group of apparent ‘dude-bros’ filed in; two of them were using their smart phones as flashlights to find their seats (seriously guys; get to the f–king movie on time or don’t bother…).
The audience let out a collective groan as the dude-bros finally found their seats. Luckily for us (and for them, I suspect) it was right before any actual images appeared on the screen. Whew.
Okay, so the credits and opening text crawl about the Nexus-6 replicants were a bit ruined. A bad start, yes, but not the end of the world…
Then an unexpected-but-very-much-appreciated thing happened.
For the next two hours, the entire audience was pin-drop, mouse-fart quiet.
Cell phone girl had secured her phone before the start of the movie, and the would-be audio commentary guys were completely and utterly silent.
Even the dude-bros immediately shushed & settled themselves once the first images of the nightmarish L.A skyline of Scott’s imaginary 2019 filled the screen.
All of my neurotic, movie-nerd worries were for naught.
I’ve seen Blade Runner (in multiple versions) more times than I can count. Like Star Wars, I’ve even committed many of the sound effects to memory. It may not make sense to pay to see a movie one already owns on multiple home video formats, but to see a 4K presentation of The Final Cut (my favorite edition of Blade Runner by far) on a big screen was truly special.
I must also say, having a deeply respectful audience in attendance only made it that much more perfect. If any of you in that audience happen to be reading this blog? I’m apologizing for my snarky, internalized prejudgments. You were a terrific audience, and I want to thank you for showing the film such deserved respect.
I won’t bother delving too deeply into the plot or story of Blade Runner, because if you’re reading this blog you probably know the film as well as I do (if not better). The story, based on Philip K. Dick’s 1969 novel, “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” is actually very simple: Several humanoid replicants are on the loose in a nightmarish, future-noir Los Angeles. Harrison Ford’s Deckard is an ex-cop is pulled out of retirement to ‘air them out’ (kill them), but complications arise when he falls in love with a replicant (and may, in fact, be a replicant himself). The End.
Much like another favorite movie of mine, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, story alone isn’t necessarily the biggest draw of this movie; it’s the visuals, the mood, and the richly immersive environment.
It amazes me how well Blade Runner holds up on the big screen 36 years after its initial release (much like revival screenings I’d attended for ALIEN and The Exorcist). I was similarly impressed with how the movie kept its audience enthralled. That is one of the joys of experiencing a familiar movie on a big screen again; seeing a classic film work its magic over a new audience.
Some of Blade Runner’s clearly 1980s-era trappings (Rachel’s shoulder pads, the punk-rock look of the extras, etc) might be embarrassingly dated in other films, but in context they only add to the movie’s time-locked, alternate vision of 2019; a vision reinforced by the equally amazing “Blade Runner 2019,” directed by “The Arrival”’s Denis Villeneuve.
The sound quality was an unexpected surprise as well. The film’s Japanese-language advertisements, roars of spinner engines, sounds of falling raindrops and Roy Batty’s wolf howls filled the modest auditorium from one side to the other. Over the years, I’d gotten quite used to my home video system’s simple arrangement of a single sound-bar and subwoofer. This was pretty freaking sweet…
I was also struck by the rich visual textures of Ridley Scott’s film; the rotted wet wood from which Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) pulls a metal ingot, Rachel’s (Sean Young’s) mascara in extreme closeup, the white greasepaint that rubs off from Pris’ (Daryl Hannah’s) skin, or even the oily, dirty grit on Deckard’s (Harrison Ford’s) fingers as he dangles from a rain-drenched, high-rise rooftop.
Sir Ridley Scott’s use of wet and oily textures is especially evident in the magnificent “tears in rain” speech of the dying Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer’s career-defining role & moment). Scott’s ALIEN used similar texturing, with the spaceship Nostromo’s self-made condensation making artificial ‘raindrops’ that fall onto Harry Dean Stanton’s cap, or Ripley’s sweat-drenched face as the Nostromo’s cooling systems begin to fail prior to its obliteration.
I’d seen these textures in Blade Runner many times before (and in Blu Ray 1080p resolution), but I hadn’t quite felt them as richly as I did last night. Sadly, I don’t see as much of that tactility & texture in Scott’s later films (even in “The Martian”, which I love very much), so I enjoyed the chance to relive that period in Scott’s filmmaking on a big screen once again.
The screen itself was nowhere near IMAX-sized (or even faux-MAX sized), but it didn’t matter; it was still a helluva lot bigger than my 43” Toshiba HDTV at home.
The deeply appreciative audience also reinforced my belief that movies are best experienced on the big screen. In the words of the late Roger Ebert, movies are “a democracy in the dark.”
I still get a certain thrill (even in my old age) when I see a movie in cinema. The anticipation in the darkness, followed by the immersion of sights and sounds that ultimately allow the audience to partake in a shared dream.
“Blade Runner” is equal parts nightmare in many ways, but the depth and purity with which it is conveyed remains a tribute to the skills of the many talented people who willed it into being. Kudos to director Ridley Scott, writers Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples, a ridiculously talented cast/crew, and the incredibly lush, textured cinematography of the late Jordan Cronenweth. The fact that Blade Runner was never recognized with multiple Oscar wins is a cinematic crime, and only serves to illustrate the too-often arbitrary and ultimately meaningless nature of such big-ticket awards. Art shouldn’t be a race to the finish line.
To that long-dispersed cast/crew of “Blade Runner,” and to a respectful and quiet audience, I just wanted to say thanks for allowing me to participate in that shared electric dream…