But it was certainly a different story in 1982. BLADE RUNNER, heavily hyped as not only Ridley Scott's follow-up to ALIEN (1979), but also Harrison Ford's first film since 1981's blockbuster RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, opened well but nosedived its second weekend and fell short of recouping its budget. Considering Ford's recent track record of STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and RAIDERS, audiences didn't want a slow, bleak, philosophical, meditative film noir-inspired science fiction film that didn't offer much in the way of action. Not helping matters was that the released film, as we would find out in the coming years, was not Scott's preferred version, but a compromised one with a changed ending and voiceover narration added after the fact by Ford, who wasn't enthused about this decision and sounds like he's doing it at gunpoint. Nevertheless, the film, based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, almost instantly developed a fervent cult following despite disappearing from theaters rather quickly. It's easy to see why: even if you don't like the story or find it too ponderous and slow, there's no denying that it looks and feels like no other film. From Lawrence G. Paull's production design to Douglas Trumbull's photographic effects to the contributions of "visual futurist" Syd Mead to its rainy Los Angeles of 2019 to the hypnotic electronic score by Vangelis, then riding high on his CHARIOTS OF FIRE theme, BLADE RUNNER was a wholly unique cinematic vision that had never been seen before.
The incredible opening scene of BLADE RUNNER:
|Harrison Ford as Deckard|
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) delivering one of cinema's great speeches
No less than five versions of BLADE RUNNER exist--the 1982 R-rated theatrical, the unrated version of the 1982 cut, the 1992 "Director's Cut," the 2007 Final Cut, and, exclusively on the Blu-ray set, a pre-release workprint version--though the 2007 Final Cut is now considered by Scott to be official. Nevertheless, there are a small number of folks who prefer the 1982 theatrical. It gives you the proper visual impact, but it's not the film Scott wanted to make (which, all the way up to the just-released PROMETHEUS, seems to be the story of his career), has a happy ending (Deckard escapes with Sean Young's Rachel) and makes clear the many plot elements that co-writer Hampton Fancher preferred to remain ambiguous, though Scott has been pretty clear in his own interpretation of the "Deckard is really a replicant" ending. It took 25 years for Scott's intended version--really a fine-tuning of the 1992 cut--to finally see the light of day, and it works because its technical changes are not overwhelming. Scott uses 2007 technological advancements on a 1982 film but does it in subtle ways. He doesn't put the changes front and center in a way that takes BLADE RUNNER out of its proper era and context. I generally don't agree with filmmakers going back and enhancing or "fixing" a film with technology that didn't exist when that film was made, but if there is indeed a right way to do it, then that's what Scott has done with BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT.
John Carpenter's THE THING, like the 1951 sci-fi classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, is based on John W. Campbell, Jr's classic short story "Who Goes There?" The 1951 film had an Antarctica outpost attacked by an alien being (James Arness). Carpenter's film follows the story more faithfully: an alien life form infiltrates an Antarctica research facility and starts killing, absorbing, and imitating the protagonists. It's an exercise in nail-biting, sweat-inducing paranoia and Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster (son of Hollywood legend Burt) milk it for all it's worth. But what really set THE THING apart from everything else in the summer of 1982 was its shocking, inventive special effects by Rob Bottin. These gory effects were a major gripe for film critics of the old guard, who probably saw Carpenter as a symbol of all that was wrong with horror films in the early 1980s. His HALLOWEEN was instrumental in starting the slasher craze that was flooding theaters and presumably warping the minds of impressionable children. Horror fans who saw THE THING thought very highly of it, but it was a box-office disappointment at the time. It found a strong fan base once it hit video and then became a fixture on pay cable for the rest of the decade.
|Kurt Russell as R.J. "Hey, Sweden!" MacReady.|
The Norris defibrillation scene:
The point is, there were still a lot of older critics who didn't take a shine to Carpenter and HALLOWEEN and his gore effects and thought the new THING was an insult to the black & white classic from 1951. That is, if they deemed horror a real genre at all, which many highbrow critics didn't. The decades have altered that sentiment, even if Leonard Maltin's book still rates it a mere *½. Aside from Palmer's (David Clennon) top-loading VCR, Nauls' (T.K. Carter) Stevie Wonder-blaring ghetto blaster, and R.J. MacReady's (Kurt Russell) J&B-doused battle with the Chess Wizard, THE THING has aged better than arguably any horror film of its day. As a horror film, it's incredibly intense, and as a study in paranoia, it's top-notch. The characters are believable and they use their heads, and the film establishes ground rules and sticks to them, never cheating. Maybe one reason the film didn't catch on at the time or didn't initally seem appealing to audiences is because horror was fast-becoming a teen genre, and this was filled with cranky-looking character actors like Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, and Richard Dysart, with Russell (fresh from Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), Carter (a comedian who was just in Walter Hill's SOUTHERN COMFORT), and Thomas G. Waites (Fox in Hill's THE WARRIORS) the closest thing to "youth appeal." Maybe everyone was still going to see E.T. and if that was sold out, they opted for BLADE RUNNER because of Harrison Ford. Regardless of the whys, THE THING's day eventually arrived (last year saw the release of a passable but pointless prequel--also titled THE THING--about the events that led up to the 1982 film). Carpenter's THE THING is cherished by fans, and Carpenter, lambasted by film snobs for so many years, is finally held in high regard and lauded as a great filmmaker. I can't recall meeting anyone--in person or online--who doesn't think THE THING is one of the great horror films not just of the last 30 years, but ever. It's a classic, period. And the DVD commentary with Carpenter and Russell is almost as entertaining as the film itself.
BLADE RUNNER and THE THING proved to be films that were years ahead of their time, and both have not only stood the test of time, but they get better with each passing year. Not many 30-year-old films can make that boast, and two of them, so neglected and underappreciated in 1982, were released on the same day.
And then there's MEGAFORCE.
Hal Needham's MEGAFORCE also hit theaters this same weekend. Budgeted at $20 million (quite a bit by 1982 standards), it grossed about a quarter of that and was one of the biggest bombs of the early 1980s, even with a tie-in Hot Wheels playset and an Atari 2600 game. MEGAFORCE is pretty hard to see these days: it was released on VHS and aired on cable, but it's never been released on DVD (though there are bootlegs, and it periodically turns up on YouTube before being taken down), despite it accruing a bit of a following over the last 30 years. Used VHS copies start at $34 on Amazon. The action-packed story centers on Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick), the leader of Megaforce, a freelance organization of international mercenaries. Megaforce is hired to help the fictional nation of Sardun defeat an invasion by neighboring country Gamibia--an invasion led by Ace's former friend Duke Gurerra (Henry Silva). Filled with flying motorcycles and laser-shooting megacruiser dune buggies, MEGAFORCE is a total comic book fantasy, and Needham (director of numerous Burt Reynolds car chase comedies, starting with SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT) was said to be very discouraged by its horrible reception. Being released the same weekend as BLADE RUNNER and during the summer of E.T. probably didn't help. It wasn't exactly the big break to the A-list that TV star Bostwick was hoping for, either. Bostwick co-starred in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), but was primarily a TV actor by 1982, and after MEGAFORCE mega-bombed, he licked his wounds and went right back to TV, where he's enjoyed a busy career to this day with only occasional supporting roles on the big screen.
With the increased popularity of studios doing manufactured-on-demand DVD releases, it seems unlikely that MEGAFORCE will never see the light of day on DVD or Blu-ray, but there's no sign of it happening in the immediate future.**
**UPDATE: Actually, it appears Hen's Tooth is releasing it on DVD on September 4, 2012.