1982: THE GREATEST YEAR – ‘BLADE RUNNER’

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This summer marks the 30th anniversary of what is considered the greatest blockbuster season of all-time: summer, 1982. That year, the cinemas were loaded with genre-defining classics that are still shaping the worlds of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and action to this day. In this retrospective series, 1982: The Greatest Year, Jeff and other members of the Geek League of America will take a fond, and sometimes funny, look back at this monumental time in nerd culture history.  

Summer 1982.  I’ve just finished my sophomore year of high school. I’m 16 years old. I still have hair. I am a film buff.

My parents are older, and I’m the youngest of six boys. I’ve been on the artist/cartoonist path all my life, and my parents, god bless ‘em, didn’t understand a thing about me, but to their credit, they let me find my own way.  As the years would pass, it would turn out we didn’t have all that much in common; they were conservative and Republican, and I…well, let’s just say I’m a few flowers and a bong away from being a hippie in a lot of ways.

But we share one thing — we love films. My parents were born in the early 1920’s and grew up in the depression and World War II.  We’re pretty new to cable TV in 1982, but one of the things it brings us is movies. Old, black and white, or technicolor — glorious movies. My favorite then, and probably still today, is The Adventures of Robin Hood (1939). There’ve been a lot of Robin Hood movies, but to me, Errol Flynn IS Robin Hood.  I’m also one of the only 16 year olds I know who has seen Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and so many Hitchcock films.  Names like Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Humphrey Bogart and the Jimmy’s, both Steward and Cagney are common in my house. Not to mention Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, John Barrymore, and Sydney Greenstreet, along with dozens of character actors that would draw quizzical looks from almost anyone you’d mention them to today.

Obviously, in 1982, I’m being shaped in my desire to make and watch movies by two primary influences; Spielberg and Lucas. I don’t even need to list the films that have come out by 1982 that are still with me today.  Star Wars was the film that made me realize that artists who drew cool spaceships could work in the real world in movies, and Raiders made me want to make films myself. It was a perfect throwback to Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and Captain Blood.  These were MY modern day adventure films, and it was truly a great time to be 16.

But, I also loved the movies that made you think. I love film noir detective movies. I love foreign films and Hitchcock. And I love thoughtful Science Fiction. There wasn’t a ton of the latter.  2001 of course set the standard. But there were others — Silent Running, The Andromeda Strain, Fantastic Voyage, and even more action-oriented fare like Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes, and Rollerball, had much larger themes woven through them that made you think and question. (I maintain that the original Rollerball is one of the most intelligent sci-fi films ever made.)

So there I was — 16, raised on the classics, currently influenced by the new Renaissance of adventure films with a deep love of movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep.  Could there have been a better time for Blade Runner to come out?

Star Wars had obviously raised the bar for science fiction films.  Empire would raise it higher. We weren’t going to settle for cheesy effects and rubber suited aliens. It would have to look and sound pretty cool from this point on. Now, I know this might be sacrilege to say, but as cool as Star Wars looked, Blade Runner blew it away. They both created new worlds, but Blade Runner was THIS world.  The Earth gone awry, pollution out of control, cities so big they rose high into the sky in an effort to almost bury the poor underneath them. Advertising was everywhere, as was darkness and filth. Syd Mead, the futurist designer, said he took L.A. and just made it exponentially bigger and taller. I’d never seen anything like it.  Five minutes in, I realized this was Sam Spade set in the future.  (I would come to dislike the “noir” narration that they added in post-production due to fears that the audience wouldn’t be able to follow. The Director’s Cut which would come out years later is FAR superior, but at the time, it was a direct link to those 1940s detective films I loved.)

I was hooked from the start. The constant haze. The shots of the police cars flying over the city, with  towers shooting off what we can only assume is excess oil and pollution in huge fireballs…the design of the buildings, costumes, streets, everything. The mournful music by Vangelis that somehow recalls a mix of a lone saxophone on a dark street corner with synthesizer accompaniment. I was immersed in that world through its cinematography and art direction. The smoky scene where Deckard interrogates Rachel, with the venetian blinds casting perfect tableaus of light and dark.  I don’t think I moved from the moment the film started until it ended.

And we had Harrison Ford — already a god in the nerd firmament due to Han Solo and Indiana Jones, but this time playing an much less likeable antihero.  A run down man, burnt out from his years on the police force. Living on the ground level, eating ramen noodles from a stand. Like a bitter, used up Han Solo maybe, a wonderful throw back to the detectives of Dashiell Hammett.

More importantly, we had the transcendent Rutger Hauer in easily his best role. I love Rutger in so many films, but in Blade Runner he left his mark on acting eternity. Roy Batty was evil, ruthless, and brilliant — and at the same time a victim, innocent, and a child. I’d never seen anything like it. From the moment you see him, you’re terrified of him, and the incredibly tense scene at the end between Batty and Deckard goes from frightening to emotionally raw and moving all because of Rutger Hauer.

Star Wars thrilled me. Raiders made me want to travel the world in a cool hat and buy a whip. But Blade Runner made me question the reality of human existence. It made me think about the future of our cities. It made me think about justice, love, memories, and the fabric of reality. And with the Director’s Cut, it just got deeper. Is Deckard a replicant? When he and Rachel run to the elevator and the doors close, what happens next? Does she have a factory end date? Does Deckard? Will we ever know?

And the movie stands the test of time. I saw a re-release in the theaters a couple of years ago, and it doesn’t feel dated to me. Sure, the special effects have gotten tighter nowadays, but that’s half the point of Blade Runner.  It’s seen through a haze — you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. It’s a bleak future that says maybe the human spirit will be lost, but will it be reborn in artificial humans of our own making, who end up being more human than their creators?

Ridley Scott brought all of this to my young 16 year old mind, and it’s a debt I will never be able to repay. To me, it was MY first adult movie. It moved me from the exciting adventure movies of a boy to the thoughtful ambiguous films of adulthood. It made me expect and want more from my genre movies, and showed us that sci-fi could be meaningful, accessible, and moving, and cemented the idea in me that the setting doesn’t matter; it’s the story, the themes, the characters.

You know…a good script.  What a concept

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About Author

Tom Racine

Tom Racine is a graphic artist, cartoonist, illustrator and corporate video producer who happens to sound pretty good on a microphone, hence his comics-related podcast, Tall Tale Radio. (www.talltaleradio.com) He is proud to be one of the original comic/sci-fi/fantasy geeks who came of age in the 1980s, and he's a huge film buff of all types. He's a night person in love with the dawn, and is therefore tired a lot. (Having two daughters under the age of 7 doesn't help, but it sure is fun.) He's always up for a chat about film or the comics, so feel free to follow him on twitter at "talltaleradio."