In the run-up to the release of “Blade Runner 2049,” my housemates and I decided it was time for us to watch the original “Blade Runner” from all those years ago. Heralded today as both a classic and one of the defining science fiction films of the 20th century, no one in my house had ever seen the movie. Of a panel that included a film major, an avid film/TV buff and just your average film watcher, upon finishing the movie, only one of us professed to having liked it. That was me. My film buff friend thought it was boring and way too long, and moreover he professed that he thought he would’ve enjoyed it more if he hadn’t heard all these great things about it, creating high expectations going in. My friend who just watches movies causally didn’t care for it at all. Both of them felt the film’s label as a “classic” had made them dislike it even more, because they were expected to like it automatically.
My film buff friend continued to insist that it was his expectation for the movie that had primarily ruined his experience of it. He believed that in the wake of movies like “The Matrix” and TV shows such as “Black Mirror” and “Westworld,” the themes being pushed by “Blade Runner” seemed relatively quaint. This is similar to me to when I showed a hallmate “Star Wars” for the first time and she insisted that the movie was derivative and very familiar to “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings” and many other fantasy films. When we live in a media culture inspired and influenced by certain seminal works, sometimes it’s hard to watch the thing that started certain trends without feeling like you’re watching a more basic version of something you’ve already seen.
It also seems to me that certain movies, like “Blade Runner,” require the audience to sit with them for a bit before making a final judgment. Nowadays it's expected that everyone has their gut reactions to any given moment or event ready to go instantly, but media that asks deep questions of you sometimes demands that you give it time. My film buff friend who hated “Blade Runner” in the immediate moment following our viewing has now insisted that we need to watch “The Final Cut” of the movie before we go see “Blade Runner 2049” this week. He said he's begun to appreciate more what the movie was trying to do now that he’s given it some time and that he’s curious if director Ridley Scott (“Alien: Covenant”) fixed any of the perceived mistakes of the original film with one of his director's cuts.
Does the moniker of a “classic” give a film expectations it can never live up to? If you’ve built up in your mind the idea of “Blade Runner” as a Harrison Ford action adventure, does that mean you are doomed to hate the actual “Blade Runner” for the rest of your life? Maybe the answer is that it’s important to remember that movies like “Blade Runner” became cult classics over time. No movie is a classic on the day it’s released. It took decades for “Blade Runner” to obtain its status as a monumentally influential piece of science fiction, so it’s unfair to expect people seeing it for the first time to necessarily accept it totally at first sight. Given time, it seems my film buff friend will eventually come around. As for my other friend, he barely made it through the movie the first time. You can’t please everyone.