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"Blade Runner:" Great, but a little dull

Does groundbreaking cinema go hand in hand with movie greatness? That's a question answered by Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" (1982). Like "Metropolis" before it, here's a rare film with sequences that generate a sense of awe. Even though we now live in an age when the creation of extraordinary cities of the future has become routine thanks to digital effects, it's hard to imagine the Canyons of Coruscant (in the "Star Wars" prequels); the futuristic Washington in "Minority Report" or even the forthcoming versions of present day cities (in the new adaptation of "Total Recall") without the influence of "Runner" and none of these examples keep the audience's eyes fixed to the screen like Scott's Los Angeles of 2019. Here's a director whose doesn't just use special-effects to tell a story, he creates visual works of art in every frame of his films.

May contain spoilers

Festivals & Awards

Comic-Con 2012: Rev your engines

San Diego Comic-Con International is a celebration of cartoons, costumes and fictional and real characters. Recent years have brought increasing commercialization. Many of the panels are little more than tantalizing propaganda for upcoming TV programs and movies and the panels bare their wares as brazenly as the whores who used to walk the Gaslamp District before it became a hip place to be. But SDCC is also a venue for introducing and releasing movies that have a link to geek culture and SDCC hosts a Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.


Hecklers as critics, critics as hecklers and comics as critics

Psychologists say that depression is rage turned inward. Stand-up comedy, on the other hand, is rage turned back outward again. (I believe George Carlin had a routine about the use of violent metaphors directed at the audience in comedy: "Knock 'em dead!" "I killed!") In the documentary "Heckler" (now on Showtime and DVD) comedian Jamie Kennedy, as himself, plays both roles with ferocious intensity. The movie is his revenge fantasy against anyone who has ever heckled him on stage, or written a negative review... or, perhaps, slighted him in on the playground or at a party or over the phone or online.

"Heckler" (I accidentally called it "Harangue" just now) is an 80-minute howl of fury and anguish in which Kennedy and a host of other well-known and not-well-known showbiz people tell oft-told tales of triumphant comebacks and humiliating disasters, freely venting their spleens at those who have spoken unkindly of them. At first the bile is aimed at hecklers in club audiences (with some particularly nasty invective for loudmouthed drunken women), then it shifts to "critics" -- broadly defined as anybody who says something negative about a figure whose work appears before a paying public. Some of the critics are actually interested in analysis; some are just insult comics who are using the Internet as their open mic. It gets pretty ugly, but it's fascinating -- because the comics, the critics and the hecklers are so much alike that it's no wonder each finds the others so infuriating.


The new-er-est "Blade Runner"

View image This shot has always been there.

Steven Boone over at The House Next Door has seen the latest -- er, "Final" -- cut of what may now, 25 years after its debut, be "Ridley Scott's" "Blade Runner," in the new version premiering at the New York Film Festival. Above all, Boone was wowed by the digital presentation: "The Final Cut" is remastered from original 35mm elements and transferred to High Definition digital video at 4K (4096 horizontal pixel) resolution. Projected in HD at 24 frames a second for this year's New York Film Festival, this "Blade Runner" has no visible grain, dirt or scratches, stuttering frames, reel-change "cigarette burns" or soft-focus moments when the film gets loose in the projector gate. Funny how I thought I'd miss all those things, their "organic" qualities, but this restoration gives us a pristine image without sacrificing warmth. The picture even fooled our editor, who at first thought he was looking at a 35mm projection. This "Blade Runner" removes every barrier to getting lost in Scott's fire-and-rain Los Angeles short of presenting it as interactive theater.I saw the original version first-run in 70 mm at Seattle's Cinerama Theater in 1982, and grain was evident, probably for a couple reasons: 1) many of the visual effects involved multiple, non-digital exposures; and 2) the film wasn't actually shot in 70 mm, but was blown up from 35 mm.

According to an extensive, multi-sourced Wikipedia article on the film, the 1990 version advertised as a "Director's Cut" and shown at the Nuart in LA and the Castro in San Francisco was actually a 70 mm workprint. (In the days before digital, effects were often done in 70 mm, even for 35 mm releases, for better optical quality.) Scott approved the 1992 Director's Cut, but wasn't entirely satisfied with it. Wikipedia offers comparisons of the various versions, citing the primary changes as: * The removal of Deckard's explanatory voice-over * The re-insertion of a dream sequence of a unicorn running through a forest * The removal of the studio-imposed "happy ending," including some associated visuals which had originally run under the film's end-credits.It was apparent from the beginning that the voiceover was a big problem -- and Harrison Ford (who didn't get on with Scott, much less the studio execs who were calling him in to read narration) has said he did it badly and begrudgingly, hoping they wouldn't even be able to use it. (It's that cringe-worthy at times.) Scott, however, says he wasn't taken off the picture, and that he completed the original release version after it tested badly with audiences.

But the movie was a theatrical flop anyway, producing rentals of only $14.8 million at roughly the same time "E.T." was on its way to zooming past $300 million. According to a definitive piece by Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times Magazine (September 13, 1992), the film may have died then and there. But the new home video market extended its commercial termination date: "Blade Runner's" availability on video kept it alive in the eyes of the always loyal science-fiction crowd, and gradually, over time, the film's visual qualities and the uncanniness with which it had seemed to see the future began to outweigh its narrative flaws. Scott says he saw the interest rise, "And I thought, 'My God, we must have misfired somewhere; a lot of people like this movie.' " And not just in this country. In Japan, where the film had always been successful, "I was treated like a king," art director [Snyder reports. "The fans would be too in awe to even look at you." The film's look began to show up in art direction and design: Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and the stage design for the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels tour were influenced by "Blade Runner." And when laser discs appeared on the market, "Blade Runner" was one of the films that everyone just had to get. It became Voyager's top-selling disc immediately upon its release in 1989, never losing the No. 1 spot. (Are spoiler alerts now becoming unfashionable because we should just assume everybody's seen the movie or knows the ending? I don't care. This is one.)

In Sunday's New York Times ("A Cult Classic Restored, Again"), Scott says of Ford's character, Deckard: “Yes, he’s a replicant. He was always a replicant.”

Movie Answer Man

The good, the bad, & the robotic

Q. I noticed that several times you referred to the good Transformers as "Transformers" and not as Autobots. In the movie, Optimus Prime tells Sam that he can call his group the Autobots for short. Both the Decepticons and the Autobots are Transformers and of the same race, but over time, as Optimus describes it, a struggle for power ensued and peace was shattered. I just wanted to clear this up for you.

Movie Answer Man

Movie Answer Man (03/01/1993)

Q. I have a love for laserdiscs because they are letterboxed (most of the time), but rarely is a tape that way. The only way for me to see them is to have a friend of mine use his laserdisc player and copy the movie for me so I can watch it in its widescreen splendor. Do I have a potential problem with the FBI? (David Ingersoll, Philadelphia)

Movie Answer Man

Movie Answer Man (01/01/1993)

Q. The other night I watched "48 Hours," and one of the subjects they covered was Sean Young. Apparently people who work with her consider her to be trouble. After watching the interview, I tend to agree with those who work with her. My question is this: Why is it that most talented artists appear to be "head cases?" --James R. Tappe

Roger Ebert

'Thelma & Louise' lets women rebel

Women all over the country are going to see "Thelma and Louise" with a rare enthusiasm, despite Hollywood's conventional wisdom that men make most of the moviegoing decisions. To understand how they're connecting with the movie, look at an afternoon screening in a theater like the 900 N. Michigan complex. The largely female crowd isn't made up of teenagers, but more mature generations - married women, professionals, older women, visitors to the city. They love this movie. They cheer it, they get teary-eyed, and they bring their friends to see it.

May contain spoilers