Blade Runner is one of those staple films in the story of science-fiction cinema. Many genres build momentum from repetitive successes, be it the blooming gagster genre brought on by Coppola and Scorsese in the 70s, the decades-long domination of John Ford out West, or Walter Hill and the new action movement of the late 70s and early 80s. Genres have periods strung together by commonality; science fiction has moments, however, seminal films where the genre stops down to recognize a sea change among their ranks.

The Day the Earth Stood Still. 2001. Planet of The Apes. Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Alien. The Matrix. These were heavy spikes driven into the ever expanding pathway of science fiction filmmaking, and the influence of their brilliance writes the scrolls of the genre. While franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars have fueled the genre for decades, science fiction has more singular films that stand alone and reshape aesthetics.

One of those films is Blade Runner, for better or worse.

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Ridley Scott managed to create two game-changing sci-fi films with Alien and Blade Runner, back to back. His 1982 noir, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, changed the course of cinematic dystopias for the foreseeable future. It is a moody piece, soaked in style and deliberate in its pacing. It’s also one of the more divisive sci-fi “classics” we have, beautiful and mesmerizing, but for its dissenters, a dull, lifeless endeavor that is all style and no substance.

The style over substance criticism of Blade Runner could arguably be applied to Ridley Scott’s entire body of work. He has never been an actor’s director, so to speak, a filmmaker whose penchant for visual brilliance has so often outweighed any of the characters in his stories. Blade Runner might be the most egregious example of Scott’s shortcomings as a storyteller, but do the incredible aesthetics make up for the void of personality?

Blade Runner

If the look of the film is to be praised, not all of it belongs to Scott. Syd Mead, an industrial designer and futurist, created the structure of this dystopian, rain-soaked urban hellscape. The expressionistic matte art, the neon glow, and the noir visuals are what make Scott’s film so undeniably influential in the pantheon of science-fiction cinema. It is a tragic beauty of a world pushing in on itself, disparate and grim, and the echoes of The Blade Runner Aesthetic can be felt even today… and I’m not just talking about Blade Runner 2049.

The adoration for the visual power of the film is often met with an equal amount of frustration or disinterest in the performances and the characters. It has rarely been a strength of Ridley Scott, to fully develop his characters; and, much like he does in Alien: Covenant, Scott succeeds in fleshing out androids and their emotions. OF course, Sean Young’s Rachael is a Replicant, as is (SPOILER) Harrison Ford’s Deckard. But their story is more about a romance and very human emotions. The central romance doesn’t work, not really at all, and it stalls the picture.

The scenes involving Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty, Daryl Hannah’s Pris, and the curious craftsman J.F. Sebastian (the great, underrated William Sanderson) absolutely sing. There is honest tension and angst as Roy tries to find a way to outrun the Replicant expiration date. He is the villain, traditionally, but Hauer and Scott sell his desperation to the point of sympathy, much like Scott did with Michael Fassbender’s dueling androids in Covenant.

And so Blade Runner has traveled along this razor’s edge between masterpiece and mediocrity. It depends on who you talk to and how long it’s been since they have seen it. The film works in different ways as you age, which is one of the more underrated indicators of the power of a film. If it evolves, and perhaps even improves, with age, there is no better proof to the importance of the film.