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Siskel & Ebert Weren’t Too Enamored of Blade Runner

It’s no secret that I wasn’t crazy about Blade Runner, but it is surprising (to me, at least) that Siskel and Ebert did not see it for the classic that everyone claims it to be.

Here’s their take on the original 1982 version of the film:

And here is their review 10 years later, of the 1992 Director’s Cut:

Ebert stays lukewarm across the years (And rightly so. I’m just sayin’…), but interestingly, Siskel appears to do a complete turnaround. Is this because the film had since been lauded as a classic, I wonder? Or maybe he just didn’t realize Ridley Scott’s a jackass. Either way, I still say the film is overrated. [Ducks for cover…] Ebert called it when he said it was great visuals but little else. My advice: Read the book instead.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

16 Comments on Siskel & Ebert Weren’t Too Enamored of Blade Runner

  1. What the hell kinda comment was that about Douglas Trumbull designing the noodles? Very odd.

  2. Dean Stevenson // January 15, 2009 at 6:16 am //

    At least we all agree that Ridley Scott is a jackass.

  3. I don’t know Ridley Scott in person, and wouldn’t know if he’s a jackass or not. In every interview I’ve seen, he comes off as thoughtful, creative, erudite, possessed of singular vision. All I know about Mr. Scott are his movies, and they have been, for better or worse, visionary. I’ve never met the man, but we have the quality of his vision on-screen, and he has had a monumental impact on cinema.

    I think it’s interesting that removing the tinny noir voiceover and looking at the film again a decade later had an effect for Siskel. Do I think he’s pandering? Listen to his comments. He talks about the quality of the actors and what they brought to their roles. Thinking about it, I think you get the performance of a lifetime from many of them, elevating the picture; Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah. I think it’s entirely possible to realize that Scott didn’t make your average action movie, and looking at the performances ten years later (especially without the noir voiceover that Harrison Ford admits he phoned in because he hated it) being able to appreciate the film the second time around.

    Personally, I think the film is a masterwork, a film that continues to surprise me with its layers and commentary and non-traditional method of storytelling. I adore Ebert’s written film reviews and agree with him about many things, but he is not very artistic, and this is a film dripping in artistic merit. We differed on The Usual Suspects and other films that don’t have a traditional storyline. We differ here, as well.

    One thing we both agree on; that Dark City is a better film.



  4. I am probably in the dissenting camp on this one.  Perhaps it is because I first saw the film when I was a kid, but I have always enjoyed it.  I don’t know that it is any ‘classic’ work of film, but I have never really viewed it critically in that manner.  For me it has always been a good, dark sci fi film.  I can take a step back and see how it might be boring in comparison with other films, I just personally have never found it so.  I read Do Androids Dream this past year and although I felt the story had a few problems, it was a fascinating read, especially given how far afield Scott went with the film vs. the PKD story.  Dark City is a far better film, to be sure and I have chosen to watch Dark City many times over in comparison to Blade Runner for that reason.  But I enjoy them both.

    While I almost entirely disagree with Scott’s comments that you posted in your ‘Jackass’ post I’m not sure I consider him a jackass in general.  I’m going to lose all credibility right now (if I had any to begin with!) when I say that the most that I’ve seen Scott talk is in the extras for the film A Good Year, which I know got raked over the coals critically but I just have a real sweet spot for.  I’m a sappy romantic and Marion Cotillard is just too lovely. In those interviews he comes off as an okay guy.  I’m not arguing whether he is or is not a jackass.  I just don’t have the background experience with seeing him be a jackass to make a concrete decision.

    As I sit here thinking about it, Scott did the same thing with A Good Year that he did with Blade Runner.  Took a story that would have been interesting to see on the screen largely as written and did something very, very different with it.  Perhaps that is his m.o.?

    There are always those who will say that sci fi is dead and/or that sci fi is not new and everything has been done before.  First off, anyone can make the argument that any piece of film or fiction has been done before and can probably find examples to back up their argument.  Film lovers and book lovers are not exclusively looking for something new. They are looking for something well done with an engaging story.  If you give me that I don’t care if it has similarities to something else or is completely unique.  To do either takes talent, a fact that is apparent when we see all the dreck that is thrown up on the big screen every year.


  5. Roger “caved” and admitted “Blade Runner” to his Great Movies canon last year.


  6. I’m not prepared to say that Dark City was better than Blade Runner, but could there have been a Dark City without Blade Runner?

    I’d have to look, but I’m sure that some of the most iconinc, influential movies were merely new and exciting, but not necessarily great. Aliens, Ghost Busters… are these classics? (I think so, but does joe sixpack?)

  7. RE: Roger “caved”…

    I haven’t seen the “Final Cut” of Blade Runner like Roger has, but I can’t imagine it being that much better from my perspective.  But who knows?  I could watch it again at some later date (through accident or coercion no doubt) and have a total change of heart.  As an example in books, I remember disliking H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine the first time through.  I tried again a couple of years later and loved it.  You never know…

  8. Matte Lozenge // January 15, 2009 at 2:25 pm //

    Blade Runner is first and foremost about the vision, the remarkably influential production design. It’s a unique and consistent atmosphere: casual yet stylized; dark and opressive yet revealing wonders; grim and polluted yet teeming with life; nihilistic yet centered on the desire to stay alive. It is one if film sci fi’s great works of world making, a world that is true to the noir framework of characters who can’t escape their past. Few other sci fi films are as memorable.

    The final cut is not so different from the Director’s Cut, but even though the differences are small and subtle they add up. The final cut is the most ambiguous in terms of motivations. All the narration is cut, which makes the ending even more tragic. Scott cleared away all obstacles to concluding Dekard is a replicant, but it’s still a twist you’ll catch only on repeated viewings.

    I think people who don’t care for Blade Runner primarily dislike the way the storyline is handled. Events are presented in a linear way, but it’s a world where emotions are guarded, difficult, ambivalent — not quite punk and not quite totalitarian. Appearances are not what they seem and motives are unclear. A lot is going on the the character’s minds, and a lot is left unsaid. The characters are hard to relate to, unlike most sci fi which presents the future as inhabited by our contemporaries with cooler toys.

    It’s not a film that grabs you by the throat and convinces you of its greatness. Noirs don’t do that. Instead its memorable qualities seep in by osmosis.

  9. That was really a low blow showing that awkward “love” scene in the first clip. 

    I can see how some think Blade Runner is boring, but for me it’s one of those movies that is just amazing to watch and that, given patience, has performances that pay off.  The narration was pointless and the director’s cut ending makes the movie 10x better.

  10. Jeff VanderMeer // January 15, 2009 at 8:37 pm //

    I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea of Blade Runner being “boring” unless you’ve been weaned on the standard Hollywood action crapola that just has a million explosions every few seconds. I’m also having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that the logically-challenged Dark City is somehow superior to Blade Runner. It’s literally like comparing a pimply teenager to a mature adult. I like Dark City, and thought it better on a second viewing, but it is operating at a different level of sophistication.

    And Ridley Scott isn’t a jerk just because he expresses a different opinion.


  11. I’ve always enjoyed “Blade Runner.” It has a quiet intensity and noir feel that moves me for some reason. When I went to school in Japan I rented it with a bunch of friends and the atmosphere of the movie was so evocative of the environment we were living in it was impossible not to feel connected to the movie. So maybe I have a sentimental connection to it, but it’ll always be one of my favorites.

  12. Siskel & Ebert have a few movies along the way that they haven’t liked but yet later changed their mind on.  The big one I remember is <i>E.T.</i>.  They slammed the movie at first but then later softened and admitted they were wrong and that it was a decent film. 

    It just shows that sometimes your view on a movie is based on factors beyond the film.  I disliked <i>Fargo</i> the first time I saw it, but on second viewing found it to be quite entertaining.

  13. Well, I’ve liked every variant of the film so far. Go figure. Maybe it was because I had been immersed in a lot of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling around the same time.

    As for Ridley Scott put me in the “he is not a jackass” category. Everybody has an off day, but he has had a lot more winners than losers.

  14. It’s hardly worth posting a knee-jerk reaction to the “look at me! Blade Runner sucks!” posts here. At least you are kind enough to link to all your past ones, so I can take a look at your previous failed attempts to stir up a flamewar.

  15. You know, Jon, two days later, I agree with you, partly.


    My comments and elsewhere are not meant to stir up a flame war, but instead trying to provide full disclosure of my own opinion.  If I didn’t say I disliked watching Blade Runner but posted about Siskel’s & Ebert’s unfavorable review, then it would seem a bit subversive, wouldn’t it?


    On the other hand, I’m cringing at my verbiage in this post.  I must have been feeling a bit ornery to call Ridley Scott a “jacksass” when such comment was not really necesary to the point of this post, which was to show that the much-lauded film received a so-so review from 2 well-respected reviewers.  Such tactics are better left to post titles of giant pop culture blogs.  (OK, maybe I’m still feeling a little ornery…)

  16. John, with hindsight I may have been to harsh anyway 🙂 Regarding Scott’s opinion on modern SF, I think of it as valuable. Thinking soley of PKD adaptations, for every “scanner darkly” there’s been two “next”s and “paycheck”s. I haven’t really been keeping an accurate log or anything, but there seems to have been a huge scarcity of SF films that push boundaries or really stand out and make me think. The Matrix was ten years ago now; I haven’t seen the fountain but from what I hear it might fit, and aformentioned scanner was at least novel, fairly accurate, and different; erm, other than that, I liked the children of men movie. But that’s not a lot of standout in 10 years.

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