Thursday, January 10, 2019

1982 Films: Blade Runner and The Thing

I had not seen Blade Runner 2049 when it first came out. Thanksgiving weekend in Canada is not as busy as the U.S. but it is busy enough. Between work and dinner, a journey out to the movie just didn't seem to be in the offing. Plus the length of the film left me somewhat intimidated. It is only recently that I've seen it.

The box office for opening weekend for the new Blade Runner was...bad. Made for an estimated $150 million and starring original actor Harrison Ford with Canadians Ryan Gosling co-starring and Denis Villeneuve directing, it was expected to be a blockbuster. It was number 1 on opening weekend but with sluggish numbers. The adult nature made the movie not so kid friendly plus women had little to appeal to them in terms of characters. Ridley Scott admitted the movie at nearly nearly three hours might have been too long. Reviews were excellent but many said it was not an action movie.

I liked the original and still like to learn new things about it or immerse myself in the style of it, the music, the intricacies of the story and Harrison Ford as well as Rutger Hauer. The original Blade Runner movie was one of several sci-fi movies that year that did not do well at the box office in the year it came out.

The reason that 1982 was a bad year for a lot of sci-fi was because of E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. The movie was released on June 11 that summer and for weeks after crushed the competition. Anything sci-fi that came out later than summer was crushed by the juggernaut that Spielberg created.

Luckily, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan came out June 4 on the weekend before or it might have suffered the same fate as other competing movies. The summer of 1982 really was all about E.T. Movies like Blade Runner and The Thing and others finished far in the wake of that fan favourite.

Were it not for a second life in burgeoning video rental business, it is hard to say what would have happened to movies that had slipped below the radar. Premium movie channels were still a year away in 1983. TV channels such as CKND offered tons of movies from 1974 on but they tended to be older fare and more recent movies didn't show up for some time. Late night TV elsewhere sometimes had movies but it was more likely to be filled by oodles of syndicated TV series.

I saw movies every weekend in 1982. I was still in high school and had a few part-time jobs including delivering the Free Press which was an evening paper at that time. I always had money for movies and partook at the theatre far more than I do now. The hype leading up to a movie had far less of a lead time as it does today. Often a movie trailer would only appear a few weeks before a release in theatres and maybe a week before on television commercials. Movies would come out on Fridays and reviews in the Saturday newspapers. I'd see movies on the Friday and mostly went in blind save for I had previewed the story in an entertainment magazine or in the case of sci-fi in the magazine Starlog.

Starlog started around the time my passion for sci-fi began in the mid 1970s. I'll wrote more on it in another post. Suffice to say though I was very aware of directors John Carpenter and and Ridley Scott from the movies I'd seen of theirs. In truth, I was more aware of Carpenter because of Halloween in 1978, The Fog in 1980 and especially Escape from New York in 1981. I first read about The Thing coming in Starlog and there were trailers which I saw which made me want to see it before Blade Runner.

I loved Ridley Scott's The Thing but heard next to nothing about it aside from the fact that Harrison Ford was going to be it. It was a toss up what movie to see that weekend first but with a bigger body of work and more familiarity with Carpenter, I went to see The Thing with a high school buddy.

Oh my gosh, what a terrifying movie! I was very familiar with Kurt Russell from his Disney to Elvis days and after Escape from New York, it likely tipped the balance in favour of The Thing. And what a movie! Loved the setting, the cast, the music, the writing and suspense and yes, the horror. The special effects were truly scary and this was when things had to be done without a computer. In many ways it felt more real and terrifying.

I saw Blade Runner a week later and it was like nothing like I'd ever seen. It wasn't the cold antiseptic future many earth bound sci-fis portrayed. This was a messy, dark, wet, corrupt and frightening. It was a full realized world and Harrison Ford is tired and dogged detective and narrator. And the ending. It left even director and actor years later debating what in fact it meant. Amazing film.

Even with what was two of the more influential sci-fi movies of all time on the same weekend in the same summer, they both flopped to the E.T. juggernaut. By late 1982/early 1983, the amount of Canadians homes to have a VCR exploded and the mom and pop video stores were everywhere. This is where movies like The Thing and Blade Runner found a new life, success and critical claim.

I have seen both films numerous times over the years but I can say this: I have only seen E.T. twice. I saw it in theatres that same summer and later as a video rental and never again. It was a very good film but there really was not much more I could get out of it.

It is easy to see why a movie that appeals to families would dominate an entire summer. It is very fortunate that the video market allowed for overlooked films to get a second chance.

Blade Runner 2049 was a very good film but unlike Ridley Scott's original, it didn't break any new ground in the look and feel that turned out to be so influential. And it was long which meant getting to the part where our protagonist meets Harrison Ford takes a while. I liked the movie but it is easy to see why one again such a film would do poorly at the box office.

As a last note, a film was done as a prequel to The Thing. It was also very good but travelled down the same worn path of the original like an overlay. It was also a critical and box office failure.

It should be noted that both Carpenter and Scott were not trusted by the studios. After The Thing Carpenter lost a studio gig for Firestarter as well as his confidence. Scott took nearly three years to get Legend produced and like Blade Runner had it edited to a version that was far from his vision. This just goes to show both directors took a while to be recognized for work that are now regarded as classics.

Media is fractious nowadays. Even big tentpole movies can be overlooked. It is no wonder that even small works get plowed under. Netflix has helped with re-discovering old TV series and movies. In 2019 the field competing with Netflix grows as Disney and Warner brothers join the competition. However, let's hope that some movies get a second life via a re-thinking or word of mouth or by sheer chance like The Thing and Blade Runner did.

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