reclaiming blade runner from the past


Introduction: Interrogating the Past

If Blade Runner (1982/1992/2007) is a film that has been reclaimed from the past then such a modified position does in fact also leave the filmic past behind, reconstructing the film’s new identity as both a cult film and science fiction landmark within a contemporary context. The critical discourse on Blade Runner may have extinguished the painful memories of the films past history but by doing so the film has been removed from its original contextual determinants. Re-imagining a film in the present can be problematic especially for a film like Blade Runner, which is an open text, continually being reassembled by its director Ridley Scott[1]. The difficulty with re-assembling a film in the present means you are also re-writing the narrative of film history and inadvertently obscuring the origins of a text. The academic discourse that has been generated by Blade Runner is both esoteric and comprehensive yet it is not complete. Barbara Klinger[2] may be right in saying, ‘exhaustiveness, while impossible to achieve, is necessary as an ideal goal for historical research’ (Klinger, 1997: 108). Although writers like Paul M Sammon[3] in his book on Blade Runner demonstrates a totality in terms of narrating the film’s complicated history, this is just one of many ‘extrafilmic fields’ used ‘to interrogate cinema’s relation to its historical context’ (Klinger, 1997: 109). Much has been written of the film’s status as a genre film and this has been complemented by numerous ideological interpretations by writers such as Robin Wood, Philip Strick and Scott Bukatman. Although Klinger (1997: 109) argues that ‘studying a film’s connection to a single external field is obviously not enough to portray exhaustively the elements involved in a film’s social circulation’, my singular study of the ‘extrafilmic field’ of reviews will expectantly contribute to the idealistically unattainable goal of constructing an all-inclusive understanding of the film’s past.

Blade Runner’s failure at the box office[4] is evident in much of the literature that surrounds the film today. The same cannot be said for the lack of critical discourse on the way the film was reviewed by critics in 1982. This is a relatively unexplored area and I want to pursue Klinger’s (1997: 118) argument that ‘the study of review journalism reveals a great deal about the terms governing a film’s cultural circulation.’ I am not claiming that no consideration has been given to film reviews but what seems to be absent from the discourse on Blade Runner is a cross-cultural comparison which could prove to be vital in challenging the way the film has been characterised in mainstream discourse. In this case, the cult following of Blade Runner has accelerated the obfuscating of the past since its contemporary status as a science fiction masterpiece[5] articulates a filmic closure that should never be conferred to any film.

Though my focus will be on interrogating specific film reviews from 1982, it is impossible to address reviews exclusively in isolation since they exist and function in relation to wider contextual elements that are subsequently bound by dominant ideologies of the time. The work of writers Robin Wood, Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner are chiefly pertinent here in situating the negative critical reaction to the film within wider triumphalist Reaganite sentiments of America’s resurgence in the 1980s. I have also studied film reviews of Blade Runner in relation to other science fiction films released around the same time. Such a comparative approach in terms of genre not only validates a familiar antipathy to science fiction as a film genre but also isolates innate ideological and authorial biases.

I am weary of using the categories of negative, mixed and positive since they bring with them a simplistic and perhaps reductive way of classifying film reviews. The purpose of this study is to negate such awkward processes of categorisation and reveal the way such processes structure populist opinion. In the context of film review journalism, the three broad categories of negative, mixed and positive can be defined as follows. Negative typically means a film with few, if any, redeeming facets. A mixed review usually means three stars on a five star rating system and suggests that the film has some notable qualities. Finally, a positive review is one that seems to fully embrace a film and endorse its finer qualities. Since reviews tend to reflect the filmic, political and moral preferences of a given writer, the simplified way that reviews are collated and talked about disguises such prejudices. Unveiling such prejudices or biases can only be accomplished in relation to the wider context.

Of the sixteen reviews included in the entry for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, eight were negative, five were mixed and only three were positive in their critical analysis of the film. Yet it is important to emphasise that the three positive reviews expressed certain reservations. Based on the sixteen reviews alone, the critical response in the US was overwhelmingly negative and in some cases openly hostile. First I want to investigate the three levels of critical opinion inferred from the sixteen reviews then discuss the relationship between the film’s deeper political subtext and the biases expressed in the reviews.

Negative Responses: Vitriolic Sentiments

Many of the negative reviews were incriminatory of the film’s failure to anchor the impressive visual design against a comprehensible narrative. Tom Milne’s review from Monthly Film Bulletin stated: ‘The sets are indeed impressive, but they are no compensation for a narrative so lame that it seems in need of a wheelchair.’ Such vitriolic sentiments were shared by Archer Winsten writing for The New York Post, ‘The picture is really nothing more than that basic battle between Good and Evil…the kids may be able to swallow this stuff without gagging.’ Even David Denby, a credible voice of film criticism, articulated a hostility usually reserved for contemporary high concept blockbusters, calling Blade Runner ‘a terribly dull movie.’ The hostility did not stop there, with Gary Crowdus criticising the film for its apparent lack of genre innovation, ‘Blade Runner is little more than a tired genre item dressed up in a futuristic setting.’ Such negative criticism concerning the film’s use of genre conventions seems surprising today as it was Blade Runner that initiated the emergence of future noir[6], a sub genre of science fiction cinema. Since Blade Runner’s first release, the academic discourse on science fiction cinema has broadened considerably and so have the sub genres. One principal dynamic, which helped shift critical opinion on the film, is the rise of cyberpunk as a sub culture in 1983. Released in 1982, and predating populist cyberpunk literature (William Gibson’s Neuromancer was published in 1984), Blade Runner is generally regarded as the origins not only of cyberpunk cinema but postmodern science fiction cinema[7].

Some of the negative reviews seemed much more determined to amplify the film’s apparently sensationalist representation of violence. Charlene Krista, writing for Films in Review, offered a reactionary voice, ‘Scott utilizes the no holds-barred “blood and guts” technique.’ Krista’s criticism exaggerates the level of violent content in the film and makes it appear as though it was gratuitous. Krista goes on further to say, ‘Although Deckard’s extermination of the first three replicants is gruesome by any standard, Scott elevates these grotesque blood baths to a level of macabre art.’ Krista’s review is deeply flawed since the language in which she writes about Blade Runner is better suited to describing a gory horror film. Krista was not alone in her disapproval of the violence yet her misinterpretation of Blade Runner unconsciously points to an innate misunderstanding of how to adequately read a science fiction film within its appropriate genre framework. While academic discourse on science fiction cinema has increased over the years, it is still being decoded as a genre.

Re-reading Science Fiction Cinema

Annette Kuhn’s formative work is of some relevance here since she posits reading the science fiction genre demands a far greater emphasis on iconographic interpretation: ‘Science fiction is usefully looked at in terms not merely of narrative themes and viewpoints, but also – and perhaps more significantly – of the cinematic image; at the levels of iconography and mise-en-scene’ (Kuhn, 1990: 6). Based on Kuhn’s criteria, Blade Runner’s central mode of address is largely iconographic yet the very achievement of the film, the visuals, isolated by many of the reviews is simply insubstantial since we have the consensual declaration that any film relying to heavily on visual effects will be met with unenthusiastic criticism. Incongruously the technophobia[8] evident in many of the best dystopia science fiction films of this era including Blade Runner also find a tangible resonance in the unhelpful criticisms concerning the role of visual effects in such films. The Thing and Tron, two other science fiction films released in the summer of 1982, were criticized for focusing too much on technical wizardry and not enough on story. Interestingly, both films have also been reclaimed from the past and resituated within the lexicon of influential science fiction cinema.

The perception that mise-en-scene and iconography should be in equal synthesis with a rational, engaging narrative is a hegemonic interpretation of the functions and pleasures of mainstream cinema. Such hegemonic attitudes concerning the ideological and aesthetic content of mainstream Hollywood films are detectable in many of the negative reviews, echoing my earlier claim that science fiction needs to be interpreted in a way markedly different to other film genres. Richard Corliss opens his review by posing the following questions: ‘Is atmosphere smothering the storylines of smart new science-fantasy movies? Is texture overwhelming the text?.’ This line of questioning regarding science fiction cinema’s over reliance on mise-en-scene and iconography (in this case texture) to construct an imaginary future is flawed since it fails to comprehend that ‘texture’ is essential to the very fabric of the genre. Since many science fiction films tend to foreground and fetishize aesthetics this would in some respects challenge the practice of a holistic approach to film form that characterizes Hollywood cinema. Remarkably, some regard Blade Runner as the first and maybe only Hollywood mainstream science fiction art film[9]. So in reality were critics not simply dismissing Blade Runner because it was an uneven science fiction film or because it was science fiction with art film preoccupations? Which ever way you look at it, the negative critical response to Blade Runner propagates a cultural elitism ‘which regards popular media and genres as beneath serious critical attention’ (Kuhn, 1990: 1). Unfortunately even today science fiction cinema faces such cultural obstacles.

Mixed Responses: Reservations

The initial reservations outlined by the mixed responses to the film inadvertently point to some of the changes that would eventually be made to Blade Runner in its director’s cut release in 1992. Paul Elitzik, writing for Cineaste, expresses misgivings concerning the ending to the film, ‘Whether or not this future world has a place for happy endings, the “north” is too suddenly invented and the intrusion of wishful fantasy is jarring in its sentimentality.’ Such an observation raises a key debate concerning the film’s happy ending and the concept of narrative closure. Elitzik wasn’t alone in expressing his doubts about an ending bolted on by a major studio nervously marketing a big budget science fiction film. In his Film Quarterly review, Michael Dempsey was also critical of the way the ending seemed to undermine the character of Rachael, ‘when his narration suddenly reveals that she is not programmed to die in four years like the other replicants, finishes off whatever poignancy still remains in her situation.’ In light of the new improved ending that appeared in the film in 1992 as part of the director’s cut, Elitzik and Dempsey’s comments seem somewhat crucial in generating an early discourse about one of the major flaws with the 1982 theatrical release. Richard Corliss was another critic who gave Blade Runner a mixed response, disapproving of Harrison Ford as Deckard, ‘Ford, the cockily engaging Star Warrior of Raiders of the Lost Ark, allows his heroic stature to shrivel inside it.’ Harrison Ford’s role prior to Blade Runner had been as the phenomenally successful Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Ford cultivated a star image typified by a clean-cut heroism and with Reagan in the Whitehouse; a return to heroism was in the ascendancy. Corliss was not alone in his refusal to accept Harrison Ford as a violent, unsympathetic anti-hero since audiences did not want one of their heroes deconstructed on such cynical terms[10]. The role of stardom in the critical reception of Blade Runner implies the prejudices of critics were predicated along wider public sentiments and personal readings of Harrison Ford as a star.

Positive Responses: Voices in the Crowd

Although negative and mixed reviews dominated, the three positive reviews make for fascinating treatise. Whereas Michael Dempsey’s extended critique appeared in the winter of 1982 and Kellner, Leibowitz and Ryan’s piece was published in 1984 as one of the first attempts to restore the film’s reputation, the only film review at the time (according to the Film Review Annual) that fully embraced the film in the US, without any notable reservations, was by Joseph Gelmis writing for Newsday. Gelmis clearly understood science fiction cinema more than his contemporaries and probably knew how to read and contextualise Blade Runner within the genre. Gelmis had famously trashed 2001: A Space Odyssey when it first opened in 1968 but gradually in two further critiques changed his position, finally becoming a fervent supporter of the film in 1969. In his assessment of Blade Runner, Gelmis said the film ‘is a vividly disquieting nightmare vision, a somber cautionary tale like ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Comparing Scott’s film to Kubrick’s controversial dystopian masterwork was high praise indeed. The congratulatory tone struck by Gelmis was a lonely one in the mainstream but it was significant in stating that Blade Runner needed to be taken seriously.

Perhaps the review that presented the fullest ideological appreciation was by the journal Jump Cut. Writers Douglas Kellner, Flo Leibowitz & Michael Ryan consider the film as an ideological text and position the differing social and political aspects within a wider cultural studies framework. By maintaining an ideological critique of Blade Runner within a wider context makes their work stand out as somewhat pioneering in the field of studies that now surrounds such an influential film text. In ‘Camera Politica’, Michael Ryan & Douglas Kellner expanded upon their original 1984 analysis of Blade Runner, referring to the fantasy genre during the early 1980s as offering ‘some of the most radical critiques of American society’ (Ryan & Kellner, 1990: 244). Politically, it is not surprising why so many critics simply reacted against the film’s radicalism. The replicants as slaves of the capitalist system are the marginalised, invisible underclass in Reagan’s new America and their centrality to the narrative means that the film ‘calls attention to the oppressive core of capitalism and advocates revolt against exploitation’ (Ryan & Kellner, 1990: 252). Criticisms of corporate capitalist power and its exploitation of the proletariat had been a key ideological component of Scott’s first science fiction film Alien (1979). While many reviewers failed to make a thematic connection between the two films in 1982, capitalist exploitation has resurfaced yet again in Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction film Prometheus[11] (2012).

Changing Genre Attitudes

Most news publications adopt an editorial agenda, which was evident in the biases at work in the reviews to Blade Runner. Before I have a closer look at some of the differing biases, it is important to underline science fiction had been transformed by the rise of the Hollywood blockbuster in the late 1970s. Robin Wood argues that the impact of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg in the late 1970s imposed new expectations about the science fiction genre. The success of films such as Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind[12] (1977) reconfigured the genre so escapist audience pleasures became dominant whereas radical modes of address or counter hegemonic representations were suppressed. Such genre bias within audiences led to the failure of certain films as Wood outlines: ‘Today it is becoming difficult for films that are not like Star Wars to get made, and when they do get made, the public and often the critics reject them: witness the box office failure of Heaven’s Gate, Blade Runner and King of Comedy’ (Wood, 2003: 147). It is hard to dismiss the cultural impact of Star Wars since it was a science fiction film that reshaped the expectations of film audiences and critics alike. Although the politics of Star Wars were not as transparent since they were disguised by the surface aesthetics of old Hollywood and cultural mythology, Blade Runner took an oppositional approach to the genre, ‘making it one of the most politically engaged of all SF films, a genre typically noted for its lack of political content’ (Booker, 2006: 178). Maybe Blade Runner was a film that could never have succeeded in Reagan’s new America of greed, exploitation and individualism.

Biases: Ideological, Institutional, Authorial, Cultural

A key bias when it comes to discussing popular genres such as horror and especially science fiction films is cultural snobbery. Although science fiction films are still equated with low culture, academic discourse has fought hard over the years to impose a serious ideological approach. The review from New Leader by Robert Asahina is explicit from the outset about his derision for science fiction literature, ‘Let’s face it: as a (sub-) literary genre science fiction is trash. Enjoyable sometimes, but junk nonetheless.’ Asahina goes further still equating Blade Runner and other science fiction films released in the same year with fast food, thus representing the genre as disposable, fun and ultimately meaningless: ‘Perhaps the least appetizing of the bunch is Blade Runner.’ Had the film not attracted a cult following or a director’s cut emerged then it is probable that Blade Runner would never have been taken seriously. The film’s categorisation as science fiction would have been enough to dismiss its relative worth as nothing more than low cultural trash.

If the low culture argument holds weight then how do we account for the favourable critical reception of E.T.?, a science fiction film released before Blade Runner. A potential ideological bias may be at work. In terms of ideology, Blade Runner offers what is a critique of capitalist culture whereas E.T. repeats familiar Spielbergian authorial traits concerning suburbia, family and crucially, the validation of the American dream. In his enthusiastic review of E.T., writer Denby excludes discussions regarding the film’s sentimentality and sexism, ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is one of the most beautiful fantasy-adventure movies ever made.’ So why does Denby condemn Blade Runner yet embrace E.T. when in truth both have their flaws? An authorial bias could also be part of the reason why Denby favours E.T. over Blade Runner since Spielberg’s career up to that point had marked him out as a credible film auteur with a reasonable body of work. This was not the case for Ridley Scott who had only made two films before the release of Blade Runner: The Duellists (1977) and Alien. It may be fair to say that Ridley Scott lacked the authorial credibility of a filmmaker like Spielberg and so a film like Blade Runner was more prone to attacks in its 1982 critical reception. Not only did the negative critical response make it much more difficult for Blade Runner to find an audience but it also suggested to audiences that within the category of mainstream science fiction cinema, E.T. was a much better film. Interestingly, Phyllis Deutsch writing for Jump Cut in 1983 openly challenged the positive mainstream critical consensus of E.T. by arguing ‘the film’s sexism is explicit in the sexual stereotyping of its characters.’ Unfortunately such ideological analysis was unnoticeable in the glowing critical response to E.T.[13]

The review by Christian Science Monitor emphasises the inherent problems posed by publications, which have an overtly ideological agenda. Christian Science Monitor is a religiously inclined publication, consistently exhibiting a puritanical attitude to the depiction of violence in Hollywood films. David Sterritt’s review opens with the following, ‘Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott, who seems determined to outdo the violence of his hit Alien.’ Later he says, ‘only a few scenes are marred by sadistic outbursts‘ and concludes with ‘it doesn’t add up to much excuse for the vicious violence.’ Sterritt’s opinion of the film is shaped by a conservative reaction to representations of violence in the film. In this wider editorial and institutional context, the negative response does not seem wholly unexpected. For further proof of the way Christian Science Monitor reviewed Blade Runner, Sterrit’s review of E.T. makes for an instructive comparison: ‘Add to this the movie’s lack of violence and witty visual puns, and you have a summer entertainment that should please nearly everyone.’ Yet again, the issue of violence seems to be a key determinant in Sterritt’s overall judgement of a film especially science fiction. Although I have picked out Christian Science Monitor as an example, a closer analysis of the other publications would probably reveal similar editorial biases.

Complicating the Past

I want to thank Roy Stafford for bringing my attention to the work of Philip Strick especially his writings on science fiction cinema.

It has been well documented that the critical responses to Blade Runner in 1982 veered between mixed and negative but what is unclear is how the film was received in other parts of the world especially Europe. A wider study of the international critical response to the film in 1982 would permit a cross-cultural comparative approach that might be useful in fully explaining the differences in which the US and Europe regard science fiction as a film genre. Additionally, such a comparison might also re-address the consensus regarding the film’s negative critical response especially in the US since reviews Europe in particular might reveal an appreciation of the film’s finer points that would be at odds with the films mainstream discourse. One notable point of critical comparison exists in the writings of Philip Strick.

In the summer of 1982, The Monthly Film Bulletin, a British film periodical, published a five page article by noted film writer Philip Strick titled ‘The Age of the Replicant.’ What separates this article from the US critical response is that Strick goes to great lengths to contextualise Blade Runner by exploring the replicants within what he argues was ‘the steady growth of a robot oriented culture’ (Strick, 1982: 168). Strick goes on further to outline the work of Philip K Dick as an important science fiction writer, whose reputation was much more revered in Europe than in the US at the time. Such a claim is echoed by writer Philip K Dick in an interview used in the opening to the documentary On the edge of Blade Runner (2000, C4), ‘The American people are basically anti-intellectual. They’re not interested in novels of ideas and science fiction is essentially a field of ideas.’ In his article Strick does not seem particularly interested in placing a value judgement on the film, which sets him apart from much of the polarised critical responses of the time, and he may have been alone in 1982 in situating the film within the sphere of academic science fiction discourse.

Strick’s scholarly approach to the film and the science fiction genre in 1982 confirms that the work of Philip K Dick in Europe was viewed intellectually. If Strick’s article values science fiction cinema as ideologically important then it also elucidates the prejudices of critical snobbery that existed (and continue to exist) especially in the US mainstream media towards many science fiction films. Perhaps then it is not surprising that in 1982 Blade Runner was not an exception when it came to the mainstream critical response to science fiction films in general. The Thing, another science fiction film backed by a major studio and released in the same week as Blade Runner, also met with a hostile critical reaction for its gory violence, indifferent characters and pessimistic tone. Remarkably, The Thing is another science fiction film that has been reclaimed from the past[14]. In many ways, the article by Strick has been overlooked in the context of the critical reception of Blade Runner in 1982 but its repositioning in the discourse of the film certainly complicates our understanding of the film’s past.

Conclusion: An Impossible Enterprise

It was the intervention of film preservationist Michael Arick who discovered a 70mm print of Blade Runner (a work print version of the film originally screened in Denver in 1982) that eventually led to the release of a director’s cut in 1992. This new and improved version of the film was met with favourable response, validating the enthusiastic fan discourse. In 2007 Ridley Scott made yet more aesthetic changes to a version titled The Final Cut. The protracted history of the film and the dismissal of the theatrical version have meant Blade Runner is continually in flux, responding to changes in terms of ideological frameworks such as the emergence of postmodernity. In the words of J Hoberman, ‘Like Orson Welles Touch of Evil, Blade Runner is even a film without a fixed version.‘ This makes the film a very complicated text to study for film scholars and even more problematic for the field of reception studies.

The critical reception greeted by the film in 1982 was largely hostile but the mixed responses in particular accentuated three consensual misgivings about the film, which would later be altered for the 1992 director’s cut. The first aspect concerned the voice over narration[15], which was criticized by Michael Dempsey as ‘often grotesquely awful in its strainings after Chandler-like rough diamonds of knight-in-the-sewer wisdom.’ The work print version screened before a preview audience did not feature a voice over narration. The second aspect concerning Deckard’s memories and his status as a replicant, which would eventually in 1992 see the inclusion of a crucial unicorn dream sequence, was in fact highlighted when Dempsey discusses the false memories implanted in Rachael, ‘For his own apartment is full of photographs that are “false memories”…Scott does not really develop this memory/photograph theme to its fullest.’ The 1992 inclusion of the unicorn dream does indeed develop this theme of memories and brings in to doubt the human identity of Deckard. Lastly, and perhaps most rightly concerned the ending. The happy ending, another change imposed by the studio, was yet again criticised by reviewers in 1982, as it did not fit in with film’s overall bleakness. The 1992 director’s cut rectified this imposition, ending indefinitely with the elevator doors closing on Deckard and Rachael.

Given the way the film continues to change every so often, as evidenced by the 2007 Final Cut that saw more amendments, a ‘total history’ of Blade Runnermay well be an impossible enterprise’ (Klinger, 1997: 127). Nonetheless, the reason Blade Runner is an interminable text in the field of reception studies is due in large part to a past that has been complicated and challenged by the present. The film review journalism from 1982 and beyond tells us that ‘not having a voice in interpreting history can mean the silencing of contestation’ (Klinger, 1997: 128). To do so would mean acquiescence to the status quo so it is important that the ‘cultural circulation’ of Blade Runner continues to be contested since new ways of interpreting the past can uncover new truths.


Booker, M. Keith (2006), Alternate Americas: Science Fiction Film and American Culture, Praeger Publishers

Bukatman, Scott (1997) Blade Runner, BFI

Klinger, Barbara (1997) ‘Film History terminable and interminable: recovering the past in reception studies’, Screen 38: 2

Kuhn, Annette (ed.) (1990), Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, Verso

Sammon, Paul (1996), Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, Orion Media

Redmond, Sean (ed.) (2004), Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader, Wallflower Press

Ryan, Michael & Kellner, Douglas (1988), Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film, Indiana University Press

Ozer, Jerome (ed.) (1983) Film Review Annual – 1982, Englewood

Ozer, Jerome (ed.) (1993) Film Review Annual – 1992, Englewood

Strick, Philip (1982) ‘The Age of the Replicant’, Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 51, No. 3

Strick, Philip (1992) ‘Blade Runner Telling the Difference: Does the director’s cut show that Deckard is a replicant?’ Sight and Sound, Vol. 2, Issue 8

Telotte, J. P. (2001), Science Fiction Film, Cambridge University Press

Wood, Robin (2003, revised), Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan…And Beyond, Columbia University Press

List of reviews accessed

All reviews are for Blade Runner unless stated otherwise.

Chicago Sun-Times, 2/6/82, Roger Ebert

Christian Science Monitor, 7/15/82, p. 18, David Sterritt

Christian Science Monitor, 6/17/82, p. 18, David Sterritt (E.T.)

Cineaste, Vol. XIII, No. 2, 1982, p. 60, Gary Crowdus

Cineaste, Vol. XIII, No. 3, 1983, p. 46, Paul Elitzik

Film Quarterly, Winter 1982-83, p. 33, Michael Dempsey

Films In Review, 8-9/82, p. 429, Charlene Krista

Jump Cut, No. 29, 2/84, p. 6, Douglas Kellner, Flo Leibowitz & Michael Ryan

Jump Cut, No. 28, 4/83, p. 12, Phyllis Deutsch (E.T.)

Los Angeles Times, 6/25/82, Calendar/p. 1, Sheila Benson

Monthly Film Bulletin, 9/82, p. 194, Tom Milne

New Leader, 7/12-26/82, p. 19, Robert Asahina

New Republic, 7/19 & 26/82, p. 30, Stanley Kauffmann

New Statesman, 9/10/82, p. 27, John Coleman

New Statesman & Society, 11/27/92, p. 33, Jonathan Romney (Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut)

New York, 6/28/82, p. 54, David Denby

New York, 6/14/82, p. 73, David Denby (E.T.)

New Yorker, 7/12/82, p. 82, Pauline Kael

New York Post, 6/25/82, p. 45, Archer Winsten

New York Times, 6/25/82, p. C10, Janet Maslin

Newsday, 6/25/82, Part II/p. 4, Joseph Gelmis

Newsweek, 6/28/82, p. 72, Jack Kroll

Time, 7/12/82, p. 68, Richard Corliss

Village Voice, 7/6/82, p. 147, Andrew Sarris

Village Voice, 9/15/92, p. 61, J. Hoberman (Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut)


Forbidden Planet, 1956, Fred M. Wilcox

Touch of Evil, 1958, Orson Welles

Alphaville, 1965, Jean-Luc Godard

A Clockwork Orange, 1971, Stanley Kubrick

THX-1138, 1971, George Lucas

Solyaris (Solaris), 1972, Andrei Tarkovsky

The Duellists, 1977, Ridley Scott

Star Wars, 1977, George Lucas

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977, Steven Spielberg

Alien, 1979, Ridley Scott

Heaven’s Gate, 1980, Michael Cimino

Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981, Steven Spielberg

Blade Runner, 1982, Ridley Scott

The Thing, 1982, John Carpenter

Tron, 1982, Steven Lisberger

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, 1982, Steven Spielberg

The King of Comedy, 1983, Martin Scorsese

Starman, 1984, John Carpenter

The Terminator, 1984, James Cameron

Mosquito Coast, 1986, Peter Weir

Frantic, 1988, Roman Polanski

Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut, 1992, Ridley Scott

Ghost in the Shell, 1995, Mamoru Oshii

Dark City, 1998, Alex Proyas

On the Edge of Blade Runner, 2002, Mark Kermode

Minority Report, 2002, Steven Spielberg

Kingdom of Heaven, 2005, Ridley Scott

Blade Runner: The Final Cut, 2007, Ridley Scott

American Gangster, 2007, Ridley Scott

Robin Hood, 2010, Ridley Scott

Prometheus, 2012, Ridley Scott

Looper, 2012, Rian Johnson


[1] Since Blade Runner Ridley Scott has struggled to release many of his later films in a final version. If the director’s cut of Blade Runner improved upon the original studio version then surely this must be the same for Scott’s other films released in a new version? Although Kingdom of Heaven certainly proves this argument, the same cannot be said for American Gangster or Robin Hood.

[2] Barbara Klinger (1997) suggests two ways of approaching reception studies: synchronic and diachronic. A synchronic approach is concerned with ‘practices associated with film production, distribution and exhibition that shape the film the audience finally sees’ whereas diachronic looks at the ways in which a film has changed over time with a focus on academic discourse, reviews, fandom and a film’s appearance on other platforms such as television and home video. However, Klinger argues whereas a synchronic approach is more clearly defined, diachronic needs developing.

[3] Paul M Sammon’s book ‘Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner’ (1996) offers the most comprehensive account of the film’s origins, production, evolution and cult status.

[4] On its initial 1982 release, Blade Runner grossed a total of $27,018,472. The film’s budget was $28 million. However, over the years it has been released theatrically a number of times including the director’s cut in 1992 and the final cut in 2007. No figure exists of Blade Runner’s overall gross on the home video platform. This is likely to be significant since it has been popular on VHS, DVD and now Blu-ray.

[5] In Sight and Sound’s 2012 greatest films of all time poll Blade Runner appears at number 69.

[6] Future noir (also known as science fiction noir and tech noir) is a sub-genre, combining film noir with science fiction. Notable examples include Alphaville (1965), The Terminator (1984), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Dark City (1998), Minority Report (2002) and most recently Looper (2012).

[7] For one of the best readings on Blade Runner as postmodern science fiction, see Giuliana Bruno’s ‘Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner’ (pg. 183 – 194) in Annette Kuhn’s ‘Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema’.

[8] Kellner and Ryan describe technophobia films as ‘fantasy films concerning fears of machines or technology’ and in the case of science fiction films in the 1970s and 1980s, they ‘negatively affirm such social values as freedom, individualism, and the family’ (1988: 245).

[9] Blade Runner’s status as a science fiction art film is relatively under discussed. It’s slow pace, reliance on atmosphere, and cerebral nature makes it more akin to science fiction films like Solaris (1972), THX-1138 (1971) and Forbidden Planet (1956).

[10] Blade Runner was one of many films Ford would star in the 1980s which saw him trying to break free from his star image of the heroic leading man. Both Mosquito Coast (1986) and Frantic (1988) saw him cast against type. Although both films were well received, they failed at the box office.

[11] In Prometheus, Scott maintains the threat posed by corporations to humans especially the workers. In Alien, the mining corporation Weyland uses an android to protect the Alien creature at the expense of the crew on the cargo vessel.

[12] Close Encounters of the Third Kind was influential in initiating a cycle of science fiction films that represented extra-terrestrials as unthreatening and peaceful. Other films include E.T. and Starman (1984).

[13] Ryan and Kellner offer a reading of E.T. (pg. 261 – 265) as an ideological text in ‘Camera Politica’, discussing the film’s ‘fantasy of regression’ (Kellner & Ryan, 1988: 262).

[14] To illustrate the hostile critical response to The Thing, here is an extract from a review by Vincent Canby: ‘Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80’s – a virtually storyless feature composed of lots of laboratory concocted special effects, with the actors used merely as props to be hacked, slashed, disemboweled and decapitated, finally to be eaten and then regurgitated as – guess what? – more laboratory-concocted special effects’ (25/6/82, The New York Times).

[15] Harrison Ford was opposed to the idea of a voice over for the film. However, his underwhelming narration was still used by Warner Bros. for the 1982 release.


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