In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This weekly column will explore my thoughts on select films from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Blade Runner (1982), #97 on the list.
Sci-fi, like horror, is vastly underrepresented on the AFI top 100. Even Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi horror classic Alien somehow managed to be excluded, despite being more revolutionary, influential, and embedded in popular culture than many other films on the list. Considering that glaring omission, it’s somewhat surprising they didn’t also turn a blind eye to Scott’s neon-infused sci-fi noir Blade Runner. Perhaps it’s unfair to evaluate the now-definitive version, The Final Cut, since it was released several months after the updated version of the list was announced in 2007, but considering it serves as the actual director’s cut (and updates the breathtaking images while seamlessly integrating them into the film long-time fans have known and loved), there’s no sense in looking back.
Blade Runner tackles so much, it’s tough to believe its runtime is under 2 hours. In that time, audiences are treated to a compelling noir narrative bathed in gorgeous images imagining a futuristic Los Angeles, all while being exposed to ambiguous and thought-provoking ideas dealing with artificial intelligence, the human mind and memory, and the meaning of life. Watching it now, it’s understandable how some audiences at the time who were expecting a more action-packed adventure found the pacing too slow, but it’s aged beautifully in that respect, focusing more on instilling a distinct atmosphere through remarkable set design and special effects. The tone is icy, which is appropriate for a film about emotionally detached androids, but it also underlines the film’s primary flaw: the romance plot. Even apart from the controversial forced-kiss scene (which doesn’t work, period), the chemistry between Ford and Young is lacking, which hurts the film’s second half which is narratively and thematically driven in part by that emotional connection. Luckily, the romance is overshadowed by the long list of elements the film excels at, so it feels more like a shoehorned-in subplot than a missing key ingredient.
Does It Belong on the List?
As far as sci-fi classics go, you’d be hard pressed to find one more influential, so it definitely earns its spot.