The movie is a transfixing multisensory turn-on from beginning to end. But because its story is underplotted and its characters almost totally opaque, the weight of the film falls to its sumptuous visual palette—its abiding strength—and to its quasi-Nietzschean theology—its abiding weakness.
First of all, they call them motion pictures; the fact that the film is visually-arresting is hardly a point of criticism. As for it being "underplotted" with "opaque" characters, well I suppose if you might think that if you lack imagination or intelligence. Audiences may well have been "bewildered" by the film back in '82, but if so, they were stupid. If the characters seem opaque to Metcalf, maybe it's because he's shallow. (Birds of a feather: his wife laughed at the ending.) The plot is intricate and perfectly-structured; the characters are complex and ambiguous. The phrase "quasi-Nietzschean theology" is pretentious claptrap.
When I saw it in 1982, even as a teenager, I knew it was a great movie. In fact, I saw it three times in the theater during its original release. I was right, and the world was wrong. This illustrates a lesson: when the world says x, and I say y, bet on me.
But his theory about why the film gained popularity is even more idiotic than his musings on a cinematic masterpiece which will undoubtedly outlive his callow prose. I have to quote this passage, lest anybody think I am summarizing him unfairly:
If nothing else, Blade Runner is mesmerizing when caught in pieces; it murmurs beautifully in the background. Unloved on the big screen, Blade Runner found its perfect medium in VCRs and cable TV—in the fragmented, ambient multiplatform afterlife that has become, over the past 20 or so years, the common stuff of movies.
Well, to be fair, there's a glimmer of truth here: were it not for VCRs and cable TV, Blade Runner might have remained obscure, a forgotten masterpiece. But only a glimmer of truth. The notion that it's better when caught in pieces, well, that's ridiculous. I suppose if you lack the intelligence to follow the plot or decipher the "opaque" characters, it's less frustrating to have it on in the background as eye candy rather than actually trying to follow it. But if you want to appreciate the movie, it has to be seen all at once, watched carefully, because it's crafted so that details matter. And, well, the idea that it's "perfect" on the small screen is just absurd. When the final version was re-relased, the Main Squeeze and I saw it together on the big screen, at a late night showing. While that showing did involve a disturbing incident, the film itself is gorgeous on the big screen. Yes, it looks good on TV. But the visual appeal -- which even Metcalf isn't blind to -- is utterly captivating on the big screen.
Blade Runner is proof that greatness wins out, even when not appreciated at first. And Metcalf is proof that some minds are too small to be won over.