So, Blade Runner was recently back in the news. A production company named Alcon Entertainment bought the rights to make a new Blade Runner movie, and there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth and many outraged Twitters and Facebookings at the thought of a Blade Runner remake. I even joined in for a little bit, noting that the date of the announcement (March 2nd) coincided with the day Phillip K. Dick died back in 1982… before considering that the year he died was the same year the original movie based on his novel released, so that’s potentially two tangoes on the ol’ grave. I admit to still never having gotten around to a reading of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But for that matter, I don’t think many had in 1982, and the Internet (as we know it) wasn’t around yet for the easy instant application of nerdrage.
Also, as soon as I looked up an actual article with quotes from the production company, pretty much the very first thing said is that they’re not planning to do a remake. Perhaps a prequel, sequel, or some entirely unrelated story set within the main world, but they’re not touching the sanctity of Ridley Scott’s “classic”.
Did you notice that I put that in quotes? Well, let’s get right down to it, shall we?
Blade Runner is not a great movie.
Hold on, put the pitchforks and torches down. Would it help if I said I don’t consider Watchmen a great movie, either?
Okay, that’s safer. Lots of people despise that movie, including some of my fellows upon this very site. They wanted Zack Snyder dead, dead, dead… at least until he decided to give us hot chicks fighting ninjas and giant robots, which apparently is grounds for instant Nerd Amnesty. To be fair, it very well may be.
Back to the land of controversy, and I’ll really put my foot in it. Chinatown. Chinatown is not a great movie.
So while the flames are rising around this stake I’m tied to, let me try to explain. I don’t consider any of these three films to be worthless pieces of trash. In fact, each one of them had moments that moved me, and Blade Runner was downright visionary and genre birthing in its images of a future dystopia. But each is also messy in their own way, enough so that I feel like watching them is at least as much of a chore as it is a joy. To this day I’ve never managed to sort out my conflicted feelings, and I probably never will, no matter how much my inner J.J. Gittes grabs me and slaps me around. “I love them!” *slap* “I hate them!” *slap* “I love them and I hate them!”
Look, each of them to me is a flawed diamond in its own right. I could even bring up the fact that a jeweler tells true diamonds from manufactured fakes because the fakes have no flaws, but that’s not quite right to how I view films like this. As an example, rather than go into Watchmen in this blog, I’ll just link my previously (publically) unpublished rant: here ya go.
Does the concept make any more sense now? Going back to that Watchmen entry reminded me that No Country for Old Men and 2001: A Space Odyssey also fall into the “love and hate” category. I’d venture to guess we all have some movies in our experience that fall into into that strange grey area where we cherish some parts and hate others, or venerate the cinematography while trying not to discuss the gaping plot holes, or dismiss any number of other flaws because of the evidence of a pioneering spirit or a “first of its kind” exemption (Birth of a Nation, anyone?).
Chinatown is a movie that’s deep sixed for me by its climax, where the “sad ending” feels as forced and tacked-on to me as any saccharine happy ending Hollywood has come up with, an ending which requires the savvy Jake Gittes to have a pointless bout of PIS (Plot Induced Stupidity) in bringing his only piece of damning evidence not to the police, but to the criminals. This would be forgiveable except that the whole crux of the movie is “Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown” — that bad things happen and we just can’t do anything about them. But Gittes could have done something about it, and should have. For me, the last line might as well be, “Forget it Jake. You’re a moron.”
Blade Runner? Love certain scenes. Love the vision of Future Los Angeles that launched a thousand dystopias. Roy Batty’s final speech is a thing of poetic beauty (and the final lines actually a result of improvisation by Rutger Hauer). But I find the movie as a whole to be a barely watchable mess where I’m sorely tempted to just skip ahead to the good parts.
In the end, I suppose that’s what it comes right down to. In the wonderful, subjective world of Clintland, any movie where I find myself checking my watch is a movie I refuse to induct into my personal library of classics. With movies like Watchmen and Blade Runner, the watch-check feeling is interspersed throughout, while with Chinatown and No Country, it’s loaded onto the tail end. It has nothing to do with the movie having a long runtime, since for example I’ve found myself fully enthralled with nearly two hours of Shane, far past the 90-minute danger zone. It’s not genre… I have my issues with Blade Runner, but I will vigorously defend the 1977 version of Star Wars against all comers even as it’s become fashionable for fellow geeks to abandon it. 30 years later, I’m still not checking my watch.
That’s the ultimate test of a classic for me. Anything less, and I won’t hate it or deem it irrelevant, but about the best rating I can give it from my heart is “Messy, but good.”